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Speed Review: The Storyteller’s Secret

Speed Review: The Storyteller’s Secret

Speed Review: The Storyteller’s Secret

From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t

by Carmine Gallo


Your Story Is Your Most Valuable Asset

One day in Pakistan, Taliban enforcers boarded a school bus, found the young girl they were seeking and shot her, leaving her for dead. But Malala Yousafzai refused to die, and her story would become a rallying cry for women’s rights around the world. Yousafzai, explains communications author Carmine Gallo, is not just a survivor; she is a storyteller. She grew up in a family of storytellers — people would walk for miles to listen to the sermons of her grandfather — and through her speeches and her best-selling book, I Am Malala, Yousafzai continues to inspire and lead a global cause for justice.

Tools for Communicating

The Storyteller’s Secret, the eighth book by the prolific Gallo, is, not surprisingly, filled with compelling stories but equally filled with specific tools for communicating more effectively. The book is divided into five parts, focusing on storytellers who “ignite our fire,” “educate,” “simplify,” “motivate” and “launch movements.” Each chapter within each part focuses on a specific tool, with stories or speeches by two or three speakers used as examples. The featured communicators run the gamut from the very famous (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates) to the not so famous (civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, entrepreneur Charles Michael Yim), all of whom have a story to tell.

For example, although Steve Jobs is recognized for his innovative genius and intense personality, the Jobs in this book (Gallo has written two books about Jobs) is first and foremost a superb communicator. In one of the most iconic speeches given by a businessperson, Jobs introduced “three new products” that would revolutionize the world: an iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator. These three products, the audience soon discovered, were actually one product, the iPhone.

Another Jobs example demonstrates that a story doesn’t have to be long to be effective. Jobs took just one sentence to tell a story that John Scully, the Pepsi Company CEO Jobs was trying to recruit, could not resist: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

Each chapter begins with a story, followed by a section that focuses on “The Storyteller’s Tools,” before closing with “The Storyteller’s Secret,” which recaps the core lesson of the chapter. One chapter, for example, tells the story of television megaproducer Mark Burnett, who arrived in Los Angeles at the age of 22. He was then a former British paratrooper with no connections and one type of experience: waging war. After working for two years as a nanny and then as a sidewalk T-shirt salesman, Burnett would go on to create and produce such blockbuster TV hits as “Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” “Shark Tank” and “The Voice.” Burnett’s storyteller secret: the audacity and optimism that comes from supreme self-confidence.

In many of the chapters, Gallo provides the neuroscientific underpinnings of successful storytelling. For example, our brains are hardwired to pay attention to the unexpected, which is why his sudden release into the auditorium of a jar of mosquitoes helped Bill Gates to focus the attention of the audience on the dangers of mosquito-borne illnesses. Likewise, research by the director of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine showed that audacity was the one factor that differentiated scientists who made major breakthroughs in science.

Although the book is filled with a variety of tools, Gallo also highlights some of the basics of storytelling, such as the “rule of three” — that is, to use groups of three whenever possible. The best speakers divide their key points into categories of three.

The rule of three is also apparent in mottos such as “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and the basic three-act structure of storytelling. Another of the basics of storytelling is to make sure the story contains a struggle between a hero and a villain.

At the end, Gallo gathers the secrets and lessons of the book in list format, offering readers a valuable, succinct manual for effective storytelling that can be used in any situation. Demonstrating just how versatile the rules of storytelling can be, Gallo applies the template of Pixar’s stories to Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In sum, whether you’re telling a tale about animated toys or accepting the world’s highest honor for your heroic efforts to save lives, a story is still a story.

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