When it comes down to it, telling a story plays a huge part in being able to make a sale. The stories you tell ignite something emotional within the person you’re speaking to, and it’s those emotions that drive the momentum of a sale going forward, so it’s an essential skill to learn. John Livesay, also known as “The Pitch Whisperer,” is a sales keynote speaker. He speaks with Penny Zenker about shortening sales cycles with the power of telling a story. Take back time and accelerate your sales with the advice of John and Penny!
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The Art Of The Story And The Sale With John Livesay
I am excited for you to be here because you are committed to thinking and acting more strategically. That is how you’re going to work smarter. I’m super excited to have John Livesay with me because his specialty is storytelling. I want you to see how through connecting with emotion through your story and authentic connection can help you to shorten your sales cycle, to make more sales, and to increase the connection that you’re creating in those relationships. John has been noted or called the Pitch Whisperer. He is a sales keynote speaker and he shares lessons that he learned from his award-winning sales career at Conde Nast. His TEDx Talk, Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life!, has over a million views and his bestselling book is Better Selling Through Storytelling. He’s also a host of the Successful Pitch Podcast and it’s being heard in over 60 countries and he has an online course on becoming irresistible when you pitch. Welcome, John.
Thanks, Penny. It’s great to be with you.
The Pitch Whisperer, I’m already intrigued and excited by l your bio and how you can shift sales teams from being an ordinary performer to being those rockstars.
That brings up a great point. I know what a horse whisperer is and a lot of people know what a dog whisperer is. I’ve never heard of a pitch whisperer. The whole goal of a great elevator pitch, a great introduction, any kind of hook, is that it intrigues our brain enough to go, “Wait, that’s something new. It sounds familiar, but there’s a little twist to it. I am intrigued.” That’s the goal, to want to know more. The problem most people make when they give their elevator pitch is they think it’s an invitation for a ten-minute monologue as opposed to saying something that intrigues people to say, “That’s interesting. Tell me more. What is a pitch whisperer?” You then have to have it ready to go.
It’s a story in itself and that story, I’m also hearing the results that you’re getting. We’ve got the intrigue, we’ve got the results, and we’ve got lots of areas of credibility. How did you come to this field?
I majored in Advertising when I was in school. I love the combination of entertainment and business, and a jingle on a commercial or a headline that pulls you in or people talking about commercials. I cut to majoring it in college and getting to be interviewed by Adweek as to what I thought were the best Super Bowl commercials that were telling the best stories. That’s what big brands are doing, spending millions of dollars on production and at the time to tell their story in a 30-second spot. I went through some intense sales training in the computer tech industry. That is great training for figuring out how you get people to spend millions of dollars on computers. I went and worked at an ad agency doing commercials for movies when they were coming out on DVD. That honed my skills.
Movies are also a story. That’s a perfect combination.
How do you reposition a movie that didn’t do so well theatrically that you might want to get people to rent it or watch it on a DVD or wherever? It was great lessons of you can reposition a movie, and then I talk about genres of storytelling when I give my talks to sales teams. Figure out what your genre is and here’s a movie that’s using it and here’s a brand that’s using it. What did you connect those dots for people? They start looking at movies differently. They start looking at commercials differently. They go, “They’re following the rags to riches genre.”
I love hearing how people connect the dots to come about to what their gift is. It’s usually rare that somebody finds their gift right away. It’s got to be through a path.
Big brands spend millions of dollars to tell their story in a 30-second spot. Click To Tweet The path is the hero’s journey as they talk about in storytelling. I was selling advertising for many years and then I realized that whoever told the best story was most likely to be memorable because that’s the big problem. When you don’t tell the stories, you just push out a bunch of facts and figures and people forget, then the next person comes in and then it all becomes a blur to the buyer. They think, “I’m just going to buy the cheapest.” When there’s a story, there’s an emotional connection. People buy emotionally and back it up with logic. That’s a first a-ha for most people. If you buy a sports car, they’re not saying how many miles per gallon it gets. They’re saying how fun it is to drive or how sexy you’re going to feel in it.
It is important and often, there are different brain people. There are people who think with the logical side and that’s where they live. There are those creatives who are on the other side. What’s your experience been? We have a lot of people who are productivity mongers, some people who want it because they’re on the creative brain and that’s not the way they think and there are others that want more of how they think. What are some of the responses that you’ve had with people who have interacted with your storytelling that show how each of those sides of our brain embraces from the storyteller? Not from the receiver but from the teller.
Marian Knopp, who’s a virtual assistant, watched one of my webinars on telling stories. She signed up to take my course because she said, “I’m left-brain oriented. My job is to make my clients more productive and take tasks that they don’t want to do or shouldn’t be doing. It’s not a good use of your time.” She said, “My greatest a-ha moment was realizing I needed to shift from my whole life. I don’t think in my life in terms of stories, if I want to get people to hire me, I need to be able to tell my own story.” She hadn’t even thought of that as a skill she needed.
She thinks numbers and so she communicates numbers. She doesn’t realize that’s important, but maybe not the selling point that gets people to take action.
If you’re going to hire a virtual assistant, you want them to make you more productive. You also want to have an emotional connection with them. You’re trusting them with your passwords. You’ve got to have a sense of who they are and how they got there. Everyone’s story of origin, which is what you asked me to tell you is key to learn how to do it. I’ve worked with creative people. I got an architecture firm. They design airports and law offices and all these things, interior and exterior. They have to sell their work to get hired. I helped them win a $1 billion airport project redoing the Pittsburgh Airport. It was between them and two other firms that were in the final three. They said, “We typically show our work and hope that’s enough to win it.” This client said to them, “You all could do the work. That’s why you’re in the final three. We’re going to hire the firm we liked the most because we have to work with you for the next six years.” That’s when they said, “Get John in here.” What? How do we even start to make ourselves likable?
To stop you there and have people think about that. When you’re bidding for something and you’re in the top choices, it’s true. They know that all of those choices can do the work and it does come down to who they’re going to like best or who they trust also. It comes down from that connection.
Let’s talk about that because the old way of people’s thinking, “If people get to know, like and trust me, that’s the phrase we’ve heard a lot.” The problem is that when people think, “First you got to know me, then you’ll like me and then you’ll trust me. That means I need to get you to know me so here’s a bunch of information.” I tell people the order is wrong. You need to start with trust so it’s a gut thing.
How do they do that?
The handshake came about to show we don’t have a weapon in our hands. We’re in a fight or flight response when we’re building trust. Certainly in the introduction, social proof, all those things. Eye contact if you’re in person or even on a Zoom call. Make eye contact and let people know that this is a safe place. Their fight or flight response can turn off from either our friend introduced us, other things. It then moves from the gut to the heart. “Do I like you?” It’s the likeability factor we talked about. The way you show more likeability is empathy. The doctors spend more time with patients they like, teachers spend more time with students they like, the better you show you understand a problem that a client is experiencing, the more empathy you show for that, the more they think you have your solution and the more likable you are. The phrase is, “You get me.”
I heard them FBI negotiator, Chris Voss, talked about that. “You get me, that’s right” was one of the things he said that you’d built that connection. He’s talking about during a negotiation of a hostage situation. That goes to show you it works in any situation.
It works in every situation because you’ve got to get that empathy factor built. The better you described the problem through empathy, what it feels like to be overwhelmed or whatever the issue is, and then it goes from the heart to the head. Still, it’s not an invitation to dump a bunch of information. It’s, “Do I see myself in the story of another client you’ve helped?” Will this work for me? It’s the unspoken question there. Once you answer that and you’ve told people a story of someone else you’ve helped or in the case of the architecture firm, I was helping them tell their story of another airport they renovated. Originally, they had some before and after pictures. There was no story. We turned a boring case study into a case story that was compelling and memorable and that’s what caused them to win.
Those are beautiful important nuggets. To say that the industry talks about that know, like and trust and you’re saying flip that around. How does that go?
The easy way to remember it is gut, heart, head. Move up so the gut is your trust, your heart is about likability, and your head is about, “Will this work for me?”
I got it. It makes so much sense.
That’s what causes our brain to want to learn something new. The old way of doing this was we just accept it, but when we taking another look at it or hear another perception of it and a reason to do it, that’s what causes people to change behavior.
They have to be connected to it. What else do you think is important? When people start to tell their story, what are the common mistakes that they make that may throw them off from getting that connection that they’re looking for?
The biggest mistake I see people making is that their stories don’t have a point and they go on and on. We’ve all been stuck at a party where someone telling a story and you’re like, “Is there any moral here? Is there any ending anytime soon?” The problem is people don’t understand the structure to tell a good story. They either put 2 or 3 of the things in but not all 4. Let’s help some people not make those mistakes and give them the four parts of a good story so that they can start being better storytellers. I’m going to tell you a story and then we’re going to break it down.
One of the things I do with my clients as part of being the Pitch Whisperer, like a horse whisperer is, I help them with their confidence, calm them down when they get in front of people and they get nervous. When stakes are high for getting a job or getting hired as a client or whatever is going on. I had them write down some moments of certainty in their life. When you ask someone out on a date, got a second date. When you ask your spouse to marry you, you got a yes, you got a job. Remember those moments of other successful things and write them down.
Some people’s stories don’t have a point; they just go on and on. Click To Tweet I had a client, Martin, do this. He goes, “The thing that stands out for me, my big moment of certainty is remembering that I was born in South America, but I was raised in the Netherlands. When I turned eighteen, my parents took me back to South America and drop me off naked in the Amazon jungle to survive for two weeks because, in my culture, that’s a rite of passage into manhood.” I go “That gives me chills. Let’s work on that.” I said, “What lessons did you learn in the Amazon jungle?” “I learned how to focus and pivot and persevere.”
I said, “It’s great. Take those lessons from the Amazon jungle into the concrete jungle of being an entrepreneur.” When he gave that pitch and told that story, he got his startup funded because the investor said, “This guy can figure out anything because he survived that.” That’s a short little story. What makes it work is the structure. The first part is exposition like a journalist. Who, what, where, when, paint that picture so people know where they are in the story. I said to Martin when he was practicing it with me, “If you don’t say that’s a rite of passage in your culture, it sounds like child abuse.”
Who wouldn’t do that to their kid?
You need to paint that picture. We know he’s eighteen. We know he’s in the Amazon jungle. We know why he’s there. It’s a great exposition. The problem is he’s there naked for two weeks. That’s the stakes that are high. The solution is not only does he survive, but he learns those life lessons of focusing and all that good stuff. Here’s the secret sauce. It’s the resolution of the story. By telling that story, he got a startup funded and he could survive the Amazon jungle to the concrete jungle. That makes people lock that in and makes it memorable. “I hadn’t thought of the Amazon jungle compared to the concrete jungle.” That’s something new. That’s going to make me remember that story a little bit better and there’s a nice resolution to it.
Do you know what I love about that? You just did that in two minutes. In gaining people’s trust, it doesn’t need to be a long story. It doesn’t have to be thrown out and whatnot. I have a question for you as a speaker. I know you do a lot of speaking and I do a lot of speaking and there are lots of different philosophies. There’s an idea of introducing part of the story, leaving an open loop and then coming back to the story. What’s your position on that in terms of engaging people and getting them more connected?
When I am telling a story, I tell the whole story because my whole goal is for people to have that emotional journey with me and then learn how to become a storyteller, but there are certain techniques. For example, when I give whoever has hired me to come and speak my introduction to read, I don’t have them read my bio. I customize an introduction and do an open loop in the introduction. One of the things in the introduction is, “John Livesay met Michael Phelps and he’s going to share that story of lessons he learned from meeting him in his talk.” That’s an open loop. Now they’re like, “Maybe I should listen to this guy talk. I can’t wait to hear the Michael Phelps story.” I use it there.
This is awesome. You’re helping us to understand what the structure is and the common mistakes are that people don’t use all of those elements or they talk too much and go in too much detail without bringing it to the problem, the solution and the resolution. Are there any other core tips that you wanted to bring to the audience?
The real core tip is making sure that there’s a life lesson, not just for you but for the audience. Since I’ve already teased out the Michael Phelps story, why don’t I tell that story? When I was selling advertising, my job was at a fashion magazine and Speedo was in my territory. They were coming out with a line of sportswear. I went to call on them to see if they’d consider advertising. They said, “No. We’re going to advertise in a fitness magazine.” I said these two magic words, “What if?” That’s a great tip for everybody to get people in the imagination part of the brain. I said, “What if we treated your sportswear like it was high fashion. We could have a fashion show around a hotel swimming pool. You could invite Michael Phelps since he’s a spokesperson. He’s on your payroll and you got all kinds of publicity.” They liked that idea and so I got the advertising but more importantly for me, I got to meet Michael Phelps. As a former lifeguard, that was a big thrill.
I said to him, “Michael, everybody says you’re successful because you’ve got feet that look like fins and your lung capacity. I’m guessing there’s something else” He said, “Yes, John. My coach said to me, ‘Michael, are you willing to work out on Sundays?’ ‘Yes, coach.’ Great, you just got 52 more workouts in a year than your competition.” The question becomes, what are you willing to do that your competition isn’t willing to do to get yourself at that Olympic level of your business? Did you see how I did the same structure again? I told you how I got to meet him and I described there was a problem. They were saying no until I came up with that solution or that idea. The resolution is all about those Michael Phelps life lessons that made people don’t know that about him and then tying it into what are you willing to do that your competition isn’t? It is a great takeaway for people through stories.
It’s important that it’s true. A mistake that I see or experience is that it feels like it’s not congruent with someone. They might be telling a story that they don’t feel natural in the story. Either it’s not true for them or they haven’t practiced it to prove it.
The other technique I did there, I don’t know if you noticed it or not, is I told the story in the present tense through dialogue. That pulls people in. “Yes. Coach.” “Michael, are you willing?” Instead of saying “Michael’s coach asked him.” I told that as if it was happening in real time.
I never knew that one. That’s a good difference. By telling it in that first person present, is it engaging people more?
It’s like a movie that I’m listening to dialogue. I can see myself. John said, then Michael said. It’s a story within a story. I’m telling you the story of my conversation with Michael and then I’m taking you into the story that Michael had with his coach, all in the present tense. That’s the fun part of when you get great at storytelling, you can do multiple stories within stories.
I have two questions to ask you before we wrap up and find out how people get more information about having you speak. I know that you’ve got your book and online courses so we want to find out more about that, but before we do that, what would you consider to be a shortcut? We’re talking about productivity. What’s your shortcut that you use to get ahead?
My shortcut is old-school. I was talking to a friend who was feeling overwhelmed and he said, “At the end of the day, I don’t know if I’ve accomplished anything.” I said, “It’s a common feeling, especially if we’re quarantined, everything blurs together.” My shortcut is I write down the night before three things I need to get done the next day. I then look at that list at the end of the day and just the physical checking off that box makes me feel good.
It’s dopamine. We’re feeding our self with dopamine for sure. It then helps you to focus on those three things because you decided the night before, you don’t waste any time when you get up, and you’re just on it. Is there a question that you ask yourself? What’s the result of that question for you? It could be productivity like this primary question that drives us, that we constantly ask ourselves.
I can tell you when something upsets me or someone has said or done something that is upsetting. I asked myself this question. It’s a relatively long question. Will this matter in five minutes from now, five days from now, five months from now, five years from now? The more time I put on that question to myself, “Of course not, I won’t even remember it and I’m making such a big deal out of whatever happened.” That helps me keep perspective with that question.
What’s your definition of productivity and why?
Gaining people’s trust doesn’t have to be a very long story. Click To Tweet My definition of productivity is figuring out what I want to get done and then getting it done, and not always having it done by myself and outsourcing things that other people are great at.
We can’t do it all ourselves and we’re not the best person to do it.
I don’t do my taxes, for example, nor do I cut my hair. Things like that.
Thank you for all of your great wisdom that you’ve shared with us. I took a lot of notes so I know everybody else took a lot of value away from this as well. How do people get in touch with you? Give them the sites that they can go to and what it is that you have that you’re offering and that you’re excited about.
We’ll have a free gift for everybody. If you take out your phone and type in this number, 66866 and then type in the word “Pitch,” you’ll get a free PDF that has some of my best storytelling secrets in it. If you want to find out more about the online course where you can dig in and start becoming a better storyteller and then work with me once a week for ten weeks in a group setting, it’s at JohnLivesay.com/sales. That will take you there and if you can’t remember any of that, just Google The Pitch Whisperer and my content will show up.
Thank you so much.
Thank you, Penny.
Thank you all for being here. I know that you’ve heard these stories and you can see the impact that it had on you, how they grabbed you in, and how it would move you to take action. You can now relate on how that’s going to serve you when you put that into practice in your business. It doesn’t matter whether you have your own company or you work for a company, because you may not be a salesperson doesn’t mean that these stories aren’t important. They’re important in your relationships with your family. You want to get your kids to do something. How can you tell a story that’s going to motivate your kids? If you are able to use your stories also to help your team, to motivate your team to move forward, no matter whether you’re in sales or operations or anything.
This storytelling is a way to connect better and also collaborate with the people that you’re working with. We’re all working with someone in some capacity. Not to mention that John and I didn’t talk about this, but this could be another session that he and I have. There’s always the story that you tell yourself, and that’s also just as important as the story that you’re sharing out and what story you’ve chosen to live in and how you’re going to tell the story and write the story for your next chapter. We’ll leave that as an open loop for you to come back and perhaps John and I will take on that sometime in the future.
- Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life! – TEDx Talk
- Better Selling Through Storytelling
- Successful Pitch Podcast
- Marian Knopp
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 and has an online course on becoming irresistible when you pitch. “
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