The Storyteller’s Secret

Summary Written by Kate Cadet
"Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century. In the information age, the knowledge economy, you are only as valuable as your ideas."

- The Storyteller’s Secret, page xvi

The Big Idea

Brain control

"Drugs produce an especially powerful surge of dopamine – one so intense that a single hit can hook a person for life. Scientists are finding that the very same reward centres in the brain are also involved in persuasion, motivation and memory. These findings have profound implications for your success."- The Storyteller’s Secret, page 5

I’ll admit it. I never realised the significance neuroscience can play in proving which stories work and why, until I read this book. The concept seems counter-intuitive to what we’ve previously been taught about storytelling. That is, don’t kill your audience with facts and data – connect, using emotion. But the fact is, science has proven the brain chemicals cortisol and oxytocin make people pay attention and evoke feelings of empathy towards speakers.

Neuroscience also boosts the argument for why authenticity and being genuine are an essential part of successfully capturing the hearts and minds of an audience. For storytellers, science confirms people really can tell the difference between a real smile and a fake one; proof (if we needed it) that using a personable and friendly style really does makes an impact.

Our attention spans have declined. According to Lloyds TBS research referred to by Gallo, the average adult attention span has dropped from 12 minutes in 1998 to a mere 5 minutes in 2008. Why? Social media exploded in 2008 and now, simultaneously, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat to name just a few, distract and challenge our ability to stay focused.

Nevertheless, storytellers in the book like Adam Levine and Richard Branson, who suffer from ADHD and dyslexia respectively, show us that we have capacity to turn constant distraction and inability to stay focused into dedicated concentration. By keeping things simple, and using language that activates the brain through vivid mental images while presenting a story, we can give our audience perspective to an idea or situation they previously had little personal experience of.

Steve Jobs is cited repeatedly in The Storyteller’s Secret as someone who captured attention extraordinarily well. Yes, we are becoming a little fatigued by the business world’s addiction and constant references to Jobs’ and Apple’s success, and why we must all aspire to emulate similar storytelling techniques, but Gallo’s justification for referencing Jobs (a lot) is summed up beautifully in this simple statement: “Jobs delivered wow moments in every product launch”. After a quick re-watch of the 2007 iPhone presentation, you’ll be inclined to agree.

Insight #1

Find your hero

"Once listeners are figuratively walking in the shoes of the protagonist – the hero – they feel as though they have a stake in the outcome and are willing to do whatever is necessary to help the hero reach his or her final destination."- The Storyteller’s Secret, page 219

Bryan Stevenson, who received the longest standing ovation in TED’s 30-year history says “Narrative is hugely important in effective communication”. This sentiment is supported by Oprah, John Lasseter and other ‘characters’ featured in The Storytellers Secret, having learned the impact their personal stories can have on audiences worldwide. While individually unique, the link between these leaders and legends’ stories is the relatable hero at the heart of them; themselves. They bring the audience into their personal struggle by sharing how they overcame adversity to discover something about themselves or their business along the way.

Now, think about your personal journey; where you are today. Consider that defining moment when you faced a challenge that actually taught you a valuable lesson, although you didn’t see it at the time. Whether it’s a sad moment, a funny or totally outrageous event, this is the element of your story that can capture attention, connect and educate. You are the hero.

The ‘Dramatic Arc’, a Hollywood film industry concept, or the ‘Classic Storytelling’ structure adopted by the likes of J.K Rowling outlined in The Storytellers Secret, can help build a story by organising your content into three clear parts.

The Dramatic Arc

  1. The backstory: Sets the scene, the hero, the place, the challenge
  2. The emotional hook: The hero’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, their elusive break
  3. The resolution: Reaching the goal, how the hero makes the impossible possible

Classic storytelling

  1. Trigger event: An initial fact, event or action in the hero’s life
  2. Transformation: The hero is affected by a change of some kind
  3. Life Lesson: The hero learns a lesson to live a better life

Finding your hero and weaving your personal experience into a story using a dramatic arc or classic structure will help you build a strong narrative that will impact your listeners. Remember, storytelling is about emotionally connecting with your audience.

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Insight #2

The strength of simplicity

"Say what you mean and mean what you say and preferably in as few well-chosen words as possible."- The Storyteller’s Secret, page 114

TED Talks are limited to 18 minutes. Why? “Because great storytelling doesn’t have to be complicated” says Gallo. Richard Branson, Ernest Hemingway, Steve Jobs and Winston Churchill are highly regarded for their skill in keeping things simple. Using uncomplicated language, their ideas are easy to understand and their level of influence is high.

Research in the book suggests that our short term or ‘working memory’ only helps us remember three to seven items at once. For instance: “Ready, set, go” and “Lights, camera action”.

To simplify storytelling, start with one idea before bringing in more. Practicing the ‘rule of three’ can help you achieve, well, three things:

  1. A simple template to build your story
  2. A way to share ideas in a way your audience will remember
  3. Inspire action!

Some other final tips from Gallo on delivering a simple story:

  • Use pictures to help audiences remember and understand content
  • Avoid awkward language by using two syllable words where possible
  • Be brief and articulate
  • Practice your story until you can create interest in 60 seconds or less

This book is dedicated to 50 featured visionaries and risk-takers who have mastered the art of storytelling and who inspire us to live better lives. Beyond the individual stories, The Storyteller’s Secret really teaches us that simply put, a good story can help explain an idea, but a great story educates, entertains, inspires, and ultimately fires up our collective imagination.

Read the book

Get The Storyteller’s Secret on Amazon.

Carmine Gallo

Carmine Gallo is the communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. He transforms executives into extraordinary presenters—working directly with the companies that touch your life every day. A former anchor and correspondent for CNN and CBS, Gallo works directly with the world’s top business leaders to help them craft compelling messages, tell inspiring stories and share their innovative ideas with a global audience. Gallo has addressed executives at Intel, Cisco, Google, Medtronic, Disney, The Four Seasons, SAP, Pfizer, Linked In, Chevron, SanDisk, Univision,, and many other global brands. Gallo is also a popular keynote speaker whose customized multimedia presentations are a hit with audiences around the world.

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