How can storytelling help improve your business revenue? Alicia Dunam’s guest, John Livesay, has the answer. John is a keynote speaker, pitch whisperer, and storytelling expert. The author of Better Selling Through Storytelling, John shares some concepts from his book including his inspiring story from being laid off from work to becoming salesperson of the year. He shares the four elements that he believes make up a really good story as well as how he’s using the skill to convert clients to sales. Be inspired with John’s storytelling success and get ready to tell stories of your own!
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Increase Your Business Revenue Through Storytelling With John Livesay
I want to welcome to Authoring Life, John Livesay. You wrote the book called Better Selling Through Storytelling: The Essential Roadmap to Becoming a Revenue Rockstar. Welcome.
Thanks. It’s great to be with you, Alicia.
Storytelling is an important topic.
It’s quite the buzzword now. It always has been. In fact, Plato said storytellers rule society. It’s as true then as it is now, except Plato didn’t have to compete with the internet for getting people’s attention. One of the biggest problems is that people forget what you say as soon as you leave the room or hang up the phone.
You want to speak in sound bites or micro scripts and stories.
Stories make it memorable because if somebody can remember the story of origin about you or a story of someone else you helped and then they can repeat that story to somebody else, your message lives on.
It makes it viral. It creates a ripple effect. What if someone feels like they’re not a great storyteller?
The good news is there’s a structure that anyone can learn on how to be a good storyteller. It’s in our DNA. Caveman days we sat around the fire telling stories, but now we sit around PowerPoints and big events or on social media. The concept of telling a good story is something you can learn. There are four key elements that we can get into. The audience can learn how to be a better storyteller.
Why did you write this book, John?
I wrote my book because I wanted to help as many salespeople and people in general as possible get off what I call the self-esteem roller coaster. You only feel good about yourself if things are going great and bad about yourself if things are going bad. In sales, your numbers are up and you feel good or your numbers are bad. Up and down, and I went through a whole journey of that. It’s exhausting and it burns you out. Storytelling is the way to get off that roller coaster because you start to remember that who you are is bigger than your results outside of yourself.
How to get off the self-esteem roller coaster and into storytelling because your life is bigger. Our identity is bigger.
Anyone can learn on how to be a good storyteller. Click To Tweet
It’s bigger than who we are, whatever’s happening to us. For example, I got laid off after a fifteen-year career at Condé Nast. At that moment, I thought, “I’ve lost my job, but I haven’t lost my identity.” I remembered who I was that I could still reinvent myself. What happened there was I got laid off and I had to go from selling print ads to learning how to sell digital ads. It reminds me a lot of what happened to the silent movie stars. Some of them could make it to talkies and some couldn’t. All of us are selling ourselves all the time, even if that’s not our title. We have to figure out we are going to embrace this new world of technology. It’s happening at such a rate that people haven’t had to deal with this change before. Everything is being disrupted in almost every industry.
We have to shift ourselves and think, “Would I be like the silent movie stars that made it to talkies? What’s blockchain? Do I have to learn this? What’s this? What’s that? My head hurts.” All of us have to look at our lives through this lens of, “Am I embracing change and growing my comfort zone or shrinking it and shrinking it?” You realize that the key to learning new things and getting out of your comfort zone is a secret to grow in what you’re doing. I get laid off. I have to reinvent myself. I learn how to sell digital ads, which was The Daily Beast website. It was a whole new language. I got rehired back by Condé Nast two years after they let me off. I said, “If I’m coming back, I’m not coming back with any fear.” I lived in fear of the magazine going out of business. I’m not making my quota on and on.
I thought I’ve already had that and I’m fine. What happens when you don’t have a fear of change or fear of the unknown is you come up with creative ideas. You’re not in the headspace of fear. When I came up with the idea that allowed me to win Salesperson of the Year for the entire company and not just my brand, I thought, “I’m the same person that got laid off and I’m winning this award.” That was my big a-ha moment that made me want to write the book to say, “I’ve got to help people realize that life is going to be full of ups and downs. When we cannot have our identity tied to that, we’re going to be free.”
That’s powerful, not having your identity tied to the ups and downs of life. Can you think your way to that? You mentioned something specifically, fear. Fear is ingrained in us. It’s part of our neuroscience in terms of how we operate, fight or flight. When we’re in a place, it’s like, “I’m not going to be fearful.” Can you think your way to that or does it require some more deep, heart-centered work?
What I did is I put some faces on fear. I thought, “What am I afraid of when I was launching my own podcast?” Someone had recommended I do it. I said, “I want to go to the moon. I don’t know how to do any of that.” I went, “What am I afraid of?” The first one was the fear of rejection. I thought, “I’ve been in sales long enough to learn that the secret to that is never rejecting yourself.” When I would sell and if someone would say no to me and they go somewhere else, I thought, “Somebody else could’ve gotten a yes. Maybe they’re right. Maybe what I’m selling isn’t good.” Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t reject yourself and don’t reject what you’re selling.
The second fear was the fear of failure. “What if I have a podcast? Nobody listens to it. I’ll be embarrassed.” I went, “Failure is just feedback. I keep going until I get a zombie idea so great it won’t die.” The big one was the fear of the unknown, “What mic do I buy? How do I edit this thing? I don’t know any of those things.” Luckily for me, I found a company that that’s their business, done for you podcasting.” I tell people the secret to the fear of the unknown is don’t go it alone.
The power of co-creation, that everything we do in life is in co-creation. Anytime we separate ourselves, that’s a sign that we’re fearful. That’s the sign that we are scared. That’s a sign that we’re in the fight, flight or freeze. It’s like we had to get away from it. It’s separation. When you want to separate, that’s when you get to go close.
Lean in. There are three unspoken questions I’ve discovered that everybody has whenever they hear you pitch anything, whether it’s yourself to get hired, yourself to get promoted, “Buy my product, join my team,” whatever it is. People are listening with three unspoken questions. It’s important if we can help people identify what those questions are, they’re not going to say so you can answer them when you’re speaking. The first one is, do I trust you? It’s a gut thing. The handshake came about to show I didn’t have a weapon in my hand. You’ve talked about fight or flight. That’s where that comes from.
Eye contact, trust, “This is safe. I’m not going to hurt you.” People could go, “Okay.” It goes from the gut to the heart. Do I like you? This is important. The more empathy you show someone, the more likable you become. Gut to heart and then it goes to the head. People are thinking, when they’re listening to you tell about yourself or product or whatever it is, “Will this work for me?” If they can’t see themselves in the story you’re telling, they won’t buy or hire you. Gut, heart, head. Get people to trust you, like you and know you, which is the opposite order that most people think that they need. Get people to like you with a bunch of information. They’ll know you, tell a bunch of stuff and they’ll like you a little bit and maybe they’ll trust you. Start at the bottom. Start with trust, then build likability and then go to the head.
Another thing you mentioned is comfort zone. We hear that thrown out everywhere on social media. “Get out of your comfort zone.” I was coaching someone. I was suggesting in terms of her particular business, she was like, “I don’t want to be a life coach.” She’s in technology and I said, “Stay where you are and shift and create a strategy around that where you’re coaching in that particular industry because there are many life coaches. Look at this great experience.” She goes, “Are you telling me to stay in my comfort zone?” She asked me that question. I was curious about that because I’m like, “Comfort zones are interesting.” I’m a risk-taker. This is who I be in this world. I take risks and I want to be comfortable at the same time. I’ve backpacked around the world. I start businesses. I’ve been an entrepreneur for many years. I write books. I jump into things.
Part of that is I get to get out of my comfort zone and I get to be comfortable while I do it. To me, that comes from a place of home, safety. Maslow’s pyramid essentially that things are handled because I personally feel that when you have that type of safety, security and comfort that you can create more. When you’re stressed out about money, for example, you’re not in your creative brain. You’re not in your innovative brain. There are people getting uncomfortable and quitting their jobs, then they’re a hot mess.
My advice to your client would be, “I’m not asking you stay stuck in your comfort zone. I’m asking you to specialize in your niche because the riches are in the niches. If you’re already an expert in one thing that a lot of other people aren’t, I’m still asking you to get out of your comfort zone and try coaching in it as opposed to continuing to do that.” It’s stretching the comfort zone. Being in a comfort zone is like being in a velvet rut and walking around. I never want to be called. I never want to be hot. I never want to be stressed out. I just want comfort all the time. The illusion is if I have all that, I’ll always be happy when the reverse happened. Friends of mine that are therapists say people come into them all the time saying, “Everything is okay and I’m bored. I’m stressed.” You’re in a velvet rut. We’re built to stretch. When we don’t, it keeps getting smaller and smaller.
They don’t need to toss up their entire life because they’re bored. It’s the way they think. How can you reframe your circumstance? I teach this concept when I teach my women leaders and that is, I call it the princess and the pea. It’s a fairy tale. That story is around the test of nobility and sensitivity that the princess will be the one who fills this little pea on the mattresses. I share this story because as women leaders, we will feel there’s a misalignment. There’s a misalignment in my life. There’s probably going to be a misalignment in your life every day of your life. There’s going to be some misalignment. I was speaking with a company and I was traveling a lot. I said, “This is not aligned with my lifestyle.”
I told them, “I no longer want to do these. Give it to someone who is interested in traveling. I get to bless and release that.” When there’s a misalignment, there are a couple of ways to deal with misalignment. There’s the noticing of the misalignment. You can say this doesn’t work for me anymore. You can bless and release or you can reframe. I have a client who pays $4,000 a month for student loans. Blessing and releasing her job is not something. What’s available? The reframe is available. I bring that up because you might be uncomfortable in your life sometimes and you can throw the baby out with the bathwater, that’s a choice, or you can say keep the baby and just reframe.
Our mindset is everything. I talk to people all the time about building their confidence and how to do that. One of the techniques is to stack your moments of certainty. I have people write down 2 or 3 times when they knew they nailed it. The interview for a job, they got it. They got somebody out on a date, they got it. When we write those down, almost like an air traffic controller is stacking them and you look at those success moments and what you felt. I felt happy, proud, exhilarated. That’s what we fill our head with when we’re stretching ourselves out of our comfort zone as opposed to the negative self-talk of, “This will never work. What was I thinking?” We reframe it from that negative self-talk into moments of certainty when you did nail it.
The important thing you said there is feeling the feelings with that moment. If you feel that all the time, I say celebrate micro accomplishments. “What’s next?” I was one of those that I, “What’s next?” my way to 44. Let me enjoy the micro accomplishments in my life. Being here now is an accomplishment. The things in life that truly matter. It goes by fast as you said. Going back to that point is we get to celebrate the small wins.
I talk about a lot in people feeling like they have to be perfect in order to be successful or loved or accepted. This concept of being a perfectionist is not what we want to strive for. Our brain is wired so there’s like, “Don’t tell me what not to do.” You have to replace it with what to do. I said, “Let’s create a new word and call ourselves progressionists instead of a perfectionist.” A progressionist is someone who celebrates their progress. That’s why the Fitbit works well. Look how many steps you’ve done so far. Video games, all that stuff celebrates your progress.
They get into the next level. Imagine you’re climbing Mt. Everest and you’re halfway there. Here comes the reframe. Do I look back and go, “Look how much progress we’ve made,” or “Look how much further I have to go.” It’s the same thing on whatever your goals are, weight loss, career growth. This concept of celebrating progress, especially in a corporate situation where you’re celebrating it with a team and make that part of the culture, we’re going to acknowledge and celebrate progress as opposed to constantly complaining and focusing on what we’re not doing yet shifts everything up.
Tell us about storytelling because that’s what you’re going to talk about. Let’s jump into that.
There are four elements of a good story. I’m going to tell you the story. We’re going to break it down so you can see how they work. Going back to my client, Martin, who I worked with his confidence on. There are moments of certainty. He said, “One that stands out was remembering that I was born in South America, but I grew up in the Netherlands. When I turned eighteen, my parents took me back to South America, dropped me off naked in the Amazon jungle to survive for two weeks because of my culture. That’s the rite of passage into manhood.” “Martin, that gives me goosebumps. Let’s look at that story. What lessons did you learn in the Amazon jungle?” “I learned how to focus, pivot and persevere.”
“We’re going to take those lessons from the Amazon jungle to the concrete jungle of being an entrepreneur.” When he told that story to investors, he got a startup funded because they thought, “We can invest in the guy that survived the jungle and he’ll survive anything in business.” That’s a short little story. Elements, exposition, paint the picture, who, what, where, when. We know where we are and when I was working with him on this, I said, “Martin, if you don’t say it’s a rite of passage in your culture, it sounds like child abuse. Not too much, not too little, but get us there. Describe the problem.” Clearly, he’s naked in the Amazon jungle for two weeks. The solution, he not only survived, he learns these life lessons, persevering, focus. The resolution is the real secret to a great story. What is life like after that event? You got a startup funded because telling that story showed instead of told that he has grit. It made it memorable. That’s an example of how to tell a great story.
It’s the power of show me, don’t tell me. It follows the quest to the hero’s journey essentially. You had me at Amazon. The hero’s journey is being called on the adventure and that there’s a variety of different people that support you. There are this death and rebirth process. Coming back with the elixir, the solutions, the lessons learned, the golden nuggets of what you learned through that process of the death and the rebirth. It’s the death of the old and it’s the rebirth of someone new.
What is life like after that rebirth is the secret. I worked with a lot of companies and turning the boring case studies that they present when they’re trying to win new clients into case stories. When they have a story that they tell of someone else they helped that was just like you, people see themselves in the story and they want to hire you. That’s the whole benefit of having great stories. Don’t forget your own personal story of origin. When I was working with an architecture firm, I said, “You’re going to show your team slide. If you hire us, this is who you work with. What are you going to say?”
The more empathy you show someone, the more likable you become. Click To Tweet
“My name is Bob. I’ve been here for ten years.” “Bob, what made you become an architect?” “When I was eleven years old, I played with Legos. I have a son that’s eleven and I still play with Legos. I have that same passion for any project.” “How about you, Sue? Where’d you work before here?” “I was in the Israeli Army. I make that same discipline and focus from the Israeli Army to make sure this project comes on time and under budget.” There are case studies into stories then telling your own personal stories because people hire people they trust, like and know. What’s the best way for them to do all that? Tell your story.
I’m in the storytelling business. I help people write books. I’ve been doing it for many years. What I’m finding is people are coming to me and they have stories that they feel ashamed of. You shared stories of being in the Israeli Army. It’s admirable. Learning Legos so these are things you could share in a public setting. A process that I’m working with people who are using their storytelling as a way to heal is the book writing process.
Lisa Nichols says this, “When you stand on your story and not in your story, that’s when you know that you have healed.” I will find that when we’re in the process of the book writing, when they’re telling the story, it’s almost they can’t. I had one woman tell me her story that no one else knew, not even her husband and family. She kept this her whole life. To be able to hold space for someone in that way is such a powerful opportunity. Some of my clients are about to launch their books. They’re going to be sharing stories that no one else knows and they’re going to be sharing secrets. What would you recommend in that, especially in the corporate setting, that you have a story? What if someone has something that they weren’t proud of before they became an architect type of thing? Do you keep that quiet or do you share it?
We’re the director of our own movies. We get to craft the story. If you have a secret, whether it’s something you did or said in the past that you’re ashamed of or you’re not telling people about your sexuality or whatever the secret is, people don’t know what the secret is. They just feel it.
You’re being inauthentic.
There’s something about you that’s not relaxed and open. I don’t trust you. I don’t even know why.
They don’t even get to the trust bed. They can’t get to the like because they can’t even get past the trust.
I tell people that you tell your story in a way that there’s no energy charge on it. You have to heal yourself first. You have to forgive yourself. Forgive other people, whatever it is that you don’t like. Let’s say you’re going for a job interview and you got fired or laid off. You’re embarrassed or ashamed and angry that happened. You cannot bring any of that negativity into your next interview. It’s like a date. You can’t talk about your exes and how horrible they were and expect somebody else to want to bring you into that.
The key to telling your story, if it’s something that is not a positive necessarily, is you don’t bring a charge to it. If someone says to you, “I’m gay,” and they’re embarrassed and ashamed. The word that you’re going to like him, that’s a different energy. If you are fine with it, you present it as a neutral thing. “It’s who I am, take it or leave it. I made some mistakes. None of us is perfect. If you’re looking for somebody perfect, I’m not for you.” That’s how you frame your stuff. You own it, heal it and present it in a way that you don’t have a negative charge on it.
The healing thing could be a process.
When you’re giving a talk, that’s not your therapy session. Heal that stuff before you get on stage. Don’t start crying uncontrollably in front of an audience. They don’t know what to do with that.
You got to stand on top of it. This is what happened and these are the lessons learned. You’re giving value to the audience. It’s a different come from. It’s someone who’s mastered their story versus they’re still in it and being victimized as we speak.
When I work with clients, I’m telling a story. I said, “You’re not the hero. You’re the Sherpa helping somebody climb Mt. Everest or Yoda in Star Wars.” When you’re painting a picture of someone else you’ve helped, in the case of an architect’s firm saying, “Here’s our case story of another airline we helped, another airport we’ve renovated.” The hero of that story is the other airline or the other airport. The other people go, “I see myself. You help them do this and you’re going to help us do that.” That’s what I want. I want to go on that journey with you.
That’s interesting that you said that you are not the hero of the story especially when you’re sharing case studies of clients. You are the Sherpa. It’s a certain type to be a salesperson. I’m a salesperson. We’re all salespeople. We’re all selling ourselves. It’s not to speak from the I. To be like, “I did this for them and I did that.” It’s telling their story from the context of if you’re sharing a case study of a client. I have a lot of clients who’ve become Amazon bestsellers, New York Times bestsellers, written a book, started with nothing, had a book and now they’re getting consulting and TV opportunities, for example. When I share that story, do I even include myself or I’ll just say I have a client?
Include yourself as the Sherpa that helped them and you take them on the journey. Let me describe X, Y, Z author before they were an author. Here’s what their life looked like before. Here are all the challenges, the problem. Here’s the secret. The better you described the problem somebody faces, the better they think you have their solution. In the structure of a story, you’re describing the problem. They knew they had a story and they didn’t know how to get it. If they could just get a book, they could get on TV, but they didn’t know how to get the book out. They didn’t know how to write a book. They couldn’t finish the book. Whatever the problems are that authors face.
The solution we came up with was A, B and C. After the book has been out a year, it’s the fact that it hit this bestseller list is now all of these new things are part of their world. You’d take them on the journey and the person is saying, “That author sounds like me.” They used you to help them get on that journey. Your closing question simply becomes, “Does that sound like the journey you’d like to go on with me or do you want to try and stay stuck in your own frustration and try to climb Mt. Everest by yourself?” It’s a different mindset of how all that works.
One thing that I wanted to share in terms of sales when you’re in this conversation is when you share those case studies, what you were able to do was support them going from their present self to their future self. When we’re looking for our next level, we’re looking at, “I’m here, how do I get there?” You are that supporting. I do this in my webinars and I do this in my conversations with people. I have a great story because I had a woman come up to me and say, “Alicia, I want to be the Latino Suze Orman.”
Instantly we get it. I wouldn’t even call the Latino Suze Orman. She’s Eva Macias. She attended Bestseller in a Weekend. She finished her book in my follow-up program. She launched her book to bestseller status on Amazon. She made money in her book launch party because she had booths and all of this, with 500 people in the community supporting her. She’s launched it on a National Margarita Day. She had different sponsors sponsoring tequila or what have you. Within two weeks, Telemundo, Univision and now they have her on speed dial.
When you create content, the media is hungry for it. For example, I have in my book, Better Selling Through Storytelling, the ability to go from invisible to irresistible both in your career and in your dating life. The soundbite that got me on KTLA as well as Fortune and Inc. was, “Are you stuck at the friend zone at work?” That’s what the journalist said. We all know what the friends are dating. What does it look like if we’re stuck at the friend zone at work and how can we get out of it? That is how I turned my book into content that the press wanted to cover.
When you do write a book, you create segment ideas that will speak to the audience and you can cut and splice it. There are many opportunities for that in terms of being an expert in taking a sales conversation and making it consumer-friendly like it’s something on KTLA.
Ad Week interviewed me on my thoughts on the Super Bowl commercials and which ones were telling good stories. I was a storytelling expert who gives talks to sales teams. It expands beyond that because ad agencies have to pitch to get new clients. I solved that problem for anybody who has to pitch against the final two, whether it’s a law firm, an ad agency, a PR agency or tech companies. That’s my niche. I help you go from forgettable to memorable and win new business. That’s the soundbite. “I get it. I know why we need you.”
The key to learning new things and getting out of your comfort zone is to grow in what you're doing. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting when we talk about soundbites, I had a client who said, it’s one of my best quotes, “I wanted to write a book for 40 years. Alicia helped me do it in a weekend.” That tells a story.
The reason why writing a book is powerful is because within the word, authority is the word author. Most people don’t think about it like that. They don’t hear it. When you say authority, you don’t hear the word author. When you see it and look for it, you go, “It’s always been there.” You help people own their authority. You cannot finish the book, subconscious won’t let you, unless you completely own that you’re the author and the authority of that topic. If you don’t feel like the authority, you’re like an imposter or whatever the issues might be. You won’t become the author.
It goes to that mindset stuff again. The thing is in life, we find evidence for everything. If you’ve wanted to write a book for decades and you haven’t done it, there’s evidence I’m not good enough. There’s evidence that I can’t get things done. There’s enough evidence I’m a procrastinator. Once you do it and you have the empirical evidence, that’s why I say that when we do acts of esteem, we improve our self-esteem, going back to your self-esteem roller coaster.
I would also invite people to stay focused on your own progress and you win. When I used to swim competitively, I beat somebody by staying focused on the wall. He turned his head half a second to look.
There’s a picture on the internet, Michael Phelps and the guy looking at Michael Phelps. You’ve got to run the race against yourself.
It’s the same thing with book sales. “I have a book. It’s not good enough unless it hits this list in this amount of time.” There will always be someone else who’s doing something bigger, faster, better than your ego. Turn that off and saying, “I’m running my own race. Whoever gets the book and gets value out of it, that’s what I care about, not numbers.”
I had a client launch a book. He got to Top 75 overall on Amazon. He sold thousands of books on one day. He didn’t get to number one in the categories because it was someone that had the print book, eBook and audiobook. He’s like, “I didn’t get to number one.” What we did, because I like to fix things, we switched his categories. He was number one. It’s perfect. It’s all good. We get to recognize and be self-aware. It’s our ego. We get to honor our ego. With that, John, what are some thoughts that you want to leave the audience with when we talk about storytelling?
The big thought is to stop selling and stop pushing information about yourself or whatever it is you’re selling. When you tell stories, you become magnetic and memorable and you pull people in. If you want to pull people in, instead of pushing out information, you want to stop being pushy and become persuasive, tell a story and you’ll become somebody people want to hang out with because everybody loves a good storyteller.
In terms of the show being Authoring Life and you talked about the author, authority, and authoring life, how are we the authors of our life?
For me, it’s constantly going back to that reference of I’m the director of my own movie. If I get stuck on a scene of what somebody said to me in the past or I’m playing out a horror movie of what the future could be in fear, we can say cut at any time and get back in the present moment because that’s the only place there’s any peace of mind.
We can only breathe in the present. Where can people find more about you, John?
Amazon, my website, JohnLivesay.com, and if anybody texts the word PITCH to 66866, I’ll send them a free sneak peek of the book.
John, thank you so much for being here.
Thanks for having me.
It was wonderful talking about storytelling, being your own author of your life, director of your story. Thank you, John.
- Better Selling Through Storytelling: The Essential Roadmap to Becoming a Revenue Rockstar
- Eva Macias
- Bestseller in a Weekend
About John Livesay
John Livesay, aka The Pitch Whisperer, is a sales keynote speaker and shares the lessons learned from his award-winning sales career at Conde Nast. In his keynote “Better Selling Through Storytelling,” he shows companies’ sales teams how to become irresistible so they are magnetic to their ideal clients. After John speaks, the sales team becomes revenue rock stars who know how to form an emotional connection and a compelling sales story with clients. His TEDx talk: Be The Lifeguard of your own life has over 1,000,000 views. His best selling book is Better Selling Through Storytelling.
He is also the host of “The Successful Pitch” podcast, which is heard in over 60 countries. These interviews make him a sales keynote speaker with fresh and relevant content. Audiences love him because they know he’s been in their shoes.
John has been interviewed by Larry King and appeared on TV as an expert on “How To Ask For What You Want And Get A Yes.” John currently lives in Los Angeles with Pepe, his King Charles Spaniel, who welcomes him home after he returns from being a keynote speaker, reminding him of the importance of belly rubs.
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