Ty speaks on leadership, influence and storytelling. His books - The Power of Influence and The Power of Storytelling: The Art of Influential Communication - are used in graduate courses at multiple universities including MIT.
Alzay Calhoun: Hello, everyone, it's Alzay Calhoun with Coveted Consultant. Today I'm talking to Ty Bennett. Ty Bennett has written a couple of different books in the areas of influence, leadership, and storytelling. I found him from a book that he's written called The Power of Storytelling. Today we want to focus in on that topic and see if we can't figure out how to better use storytelling as a real business tool. First let me welcome Ty. Hey, Ty, how are you today?
Ty Bennett: I'm great. Thank you so much for having me.
Alzay Calhoun: Glad to have you. Let's begin at the top. Where in your career did you realize that storytelling was a valuable tool?
Ty Bennett: When I was 21 I started a business in direct sales with my brother Scott. We eventually built a very successful business, but in the beginning I was struggling to get people to take me seriously. I was 21, probably looked like I was 12, and I was struggling to get people to just see me as a legitimate business leader and to move people forward, to be influential, if you will. I started to really work on my communication, my presentations. I started to record myself, and one of the things that I would do as I went back and I listened is I would always ask myself, "Where did they engage? What point were they most interactive, did they seem to respond? Where was I having success?" It seemed that it was always in and around stories. Stories seemed to grab people's attention, to engage them emotionally and cause them to take action, to listen to me more intently.
That became a focus for me. It really came out of some failure in the sales process and in the leadership process to realize that stories were an important facet. The more I dove into it I realized that stories are truly the most influential form of communication, because they move people and they cause emotional response, which is what we want.
Alzay Calhoun: You realized there was an objection. You wanted your customers to move in a certain way, they weren't doing that because they had an objection. That objection was your age, right?
Ty Bennett: Yeah.
Alzay Calhoun: Help us connect the dots between ... Should a business leader think about having a story per objection? Is that how we should think about it, or should we think about storytelling a different way?
Ty Bennett: When I coach business leaders, I tell them, one, to start to document stories and keep a journal, a file, if you will, of different stories that you can use. A lot of those do come out of objections. How do you handle those? With our sales team, we would tell them to take a journal and to go out and to document the objections they face in the first hundred people they talk to, because in the first hundred people they talk to they would get every objection you're ever going to get. From that they would have those objections, and then we'd sit down and we'd talk about it. How do we handle that? How do you answer that? What's a story that can help to put that in a different perspective?
I think that's one of the things that stories do, is they do help handle objections. I think stories also are used to help to introduce a point. They're used to help validate a point. Sometimes we give the point and then we want to give an example of where that's been applied. Sometimes we use the story as the lead-up to introduce a new idea or concept or a product. Stories are often used just as a simple attention grabber. Sometimes stories are used in the closing process. Sometimes stories are used to help create a vision. Sometimes stories are used to help explain you and yourself, who you are as a leader.
Some of those stories we use over and over again, and some of those stories we may just use for a particular presentation that's done one time, but I think that it never hurts us to start to develop a file, if you will, a document of certain stories that you can use that are effective in explaining certain aspects of business, of yourself, of a product, or something along those lines.
Alzay Calhoun: Excellent. In preparing for today's conversation, you offered a standard approach for what businesses typically do in terms of storytelling. You called it solution to solution storytelling. Can you explain that, please?
Ty Bennett: The model for influential storytelling is the exact opposite. The model for a great story is really struggle to solution. You hook people with the struggle, you help people with the solution. If you think about it from a movie perspective, if we were to go to a movie today and we were to sit down and we were to watch this movie, we're all excited, we're anticipating a great movie, and it ends up being about a guy that just merrily skips through life, no ups, no downs, everything works out, everything's perfect, we would leave and say, "That was the stupidest movie I've ever seen in my life." There's nothing emotionally connecting, there's nothing relatable. There's nothing real there.
Yet in business, I think because we want to come from a power position, we often tell stories that are solution to solution stories. Think about how businesses tell stories. They say things like, "We're great and we've always been great, and if you work with us it's going to be great." Most people are like, "All right. See you later. Great." There's nothing that engages us. The truth is we exist in business to solve problems. In essence, there's a struggle. You exist as a leader to help your people move forward. You exist as a company to solve a problem, whether that's with your product or your service. If we can be vulnerable and real enough, authentic enough, to tell stories that help move people, see the struggle and relate to the struggle, if the struggle is relatable, then the solution becomes more credible.
It's really kind of counter-intuitive for a lot of people, because we don't want to show any vulnerability, we think it's a weakness, but in business the truth is vulnerability is a strength. Now, it's not a struggle for struggle's sake story. We don't want to hear that your life sucks. We want to hear that it did suck and now it's amazing. We want to see the transformational process. If we can tap into people's emotions and they can say, "Wow, that's exactly how I feel," then the solution is going to be exactly what they want.
Alzay Calhoun: What if I'm scared to do that? I heard everything you said and I get it on a conceptual basis, but now you're asking me to air my dirty laundry. You're asking me to tell about the time I fell and bumped my knee. That just doesn't feel like it's going to be an advantage for me. Help me feel better about that.
Ty Bennett: That's natural. Normal feelings. It's scary to expose ourselves a little bit and to show weakness. Again, I want you to think about the fact that, number one, if you're still stuck in that place, if you haven't got to a solution point, that's not a story you're ready to tell yet, because there's no conclusion to it, there's nowhere to move forward. If you have a product that helped you solve that, if you have advice that you gained through that experience, if you have an idea, solution, whatever it may be, then that's something that you want to share.
Here's the thing. For me, when I go back and think about it, I remember certain things where I was like, "I don't know if that's okay to share or not." The truth is I've found that the more real and authentic and vulnerable I am in the storytelling process ... If I do it well, if I take them to a great place. You don't want to take them down to something negative and leave them there, and you don't want to present it in a way where it makes you end up looking like you don't have your act together or that you are not somebody that they should really buy into. It's struggle to solution, so that has to be strong.
What got me over that fear is the recognition that this way works better. It truly does. People respond to it better. You have more influence if you do it this way. For me, the desire to succeed overcame my fear of what it would possibly expose.
Alzay Calhoun: I like that. I think that's really strong. I took two things away there. One is this idea of struggles to solution is the core of the storytelling. If in my own personal story I haven't gotten to a solution yet, then perhaps that story isn't one I should be sharing. I also heard you say that in your business you had a core recognition: This way works better. If I want a better result, then I should use a better method.
Ty Bennett: Exactly.
Alzay Calhoun: Very good. For those who are listening and, again, following along, may still be on the fence about using this as a real tool in their business, be blunt and honest. What happens if you don't use the tool of storytelling, if you don't apply it to your business? What happens?
Ty Bennett: Here's the thing. We all do a little bit. Storytelling is such a natural, vital part of our communication process. It is the way that we think, the way that we process information, and so we do at some point. You're fighting something very natural if you're not using stories. You're not using the genetically programmed method of leaning that happens in all of us. Storytelling was the first form of communication that existed. It's the first thing that your kids learn before they learn how to read and understand logical concepts. They learn in stories, they retain in stories. You're fighting something that's very, very natural, and doesn't make a lot of sense in my mind.
What happens is you are not somebody that is engaging. You are not somebody that is influential. You don't move people forward in the same way. It's interesting. I have sat down with salespeople, my sales team when we were building our business, and I have sat there and watched them give very logical, very data-driven presentations that were very sound concepts, and the truth is people fell asleep. Nobody cared, and they didn't respond in the end. Then I've taught them how to still have the data and the logic, because that credibility needs to be there, but wrap it into a story that's engaging and engages people emotionally, and seeing the results that are so different. To me, what happens when you don't use stories is you don't have the influence that you could have.
Alzay Calhoun: The cost is influence.
Ty Bennett: Which is a pretty huge cost in business.
Alzay Calhoun: Yeah, right, because there's so many different situations where we need that influence for a variety of different things.
Ty Bennett: Yeah. I think if you're a leader, if you're in sales, if you're presenting, if you're a teacher, you cannot afford to give up any influence.
Alzay Calhoun: Right. Offer some baby steps, if you would. What are some baby steps that I should take if I'm thinking about applying story in this more structured way?
Ty Bennett: Sit down and think about the next time you're presenting or a place where you want to use the story. Then start to generate some ideas in terms of what story you would use there. One of the great questions you can ask yourself is not what's a great story to use in this to illustrate this point, but maybe go to the struggle side of it and say, "Where did I screw this up? Where did this go wrong? Where have we made a mistake in this arena?" Maybe there's a nucleus for a great story there. People laugh when we make mistakes, when things go wrong. It's just a totally different experience for the person.
Then I would really encourage you, especially if this is something that's new to you, is write it out and script it out and role-play it a little bit, just so that you have a basic premise of what you want to say and you feel comfortable in saying it. I just always have been amazed that people feel like it'll be more natural if they wing it in front of a prospective customer or prospect. I would rather do that in front of my friends or in front of the mirror multiple times and be pretty good when I go into that opportunity to move things forward. Just simple baby steps.
One of the keys is that question. Instead of looking and saying, "What's a great story?" because that's really hard to come up with, look at the situation and say, "Where did we screw this up?" Because that's the struggle part of that struggle to solution story.
Alzay Calhoun: I will admit that I'm guilty of winging it.
Ty Bennett: We all are.
Alzay Calhoun: I just go in there and tell them that story about x. You already made the point, but it's so much better when I take the time to give that story discipline and make sure I hit these certain points. Yeah, I'm guilty of that one. As a business and where you're taking things with your conversations on influence, leadership, and storytelling, what is a big project that you've got coming up?
Ty Bennett: I do mostly keynote speeches now, and write books. I do a little bit of coaching, but the majority is I do about 100 keynotes a year, so I'm business traveling and speaking for different companies. I share my message on storytelling for a lot of sales audiences and a lot of leadership groups, which is great. Probably the biggest next thing for me is I've got a new book coming out April 12th, so coming up here in a couple months. We just are starting the pre-order process and promotion and all of that, kind of fun. The book is called Partnership Is the New Leadership.
Alzay Calhoun: Very good. Partnership Is the New Leadership. If someone wants to reach out to you, perhaps hire you to speak to their audience, what's the best way to go about doing that?
Ty Bennett: My website is just my name, tyBennett.com. All contact information, everything is there, resources, lots of blogs, videos, all my products in the store, all that kind of stuff, so www.TyBennett.com.
Alzay Calhoun: Wonderful. Thank you, Ty, for your time today and just giving this conversation some practicality. Thank you, sir, and good luck in the future.
Ty Bennett: Absolutely. Thank you.