Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, October 22, 2018
Ronald Reagan was known as the Great Communicator. Leaving aside his politics, what does come through from his speeches is his ability to connect with his audiences.
A billion words are written every year either extolling the need to communicate, the value of communication, the lack of communication or the difficulty of communication. Carmine Gallo, a Harvard University instructor, has written a book, “Five Stars,” which purports to give us the communication secrets to move from good to great at this skill.
To Gallo’s credit, his book is not touchy-feely. The core premise is that being good at communication, good at talking, good at “mastering the ancient art of persuasion” is all about creating more wealth — for you. In other words, if you can learn to spin and combine words and ideas “to ignite people’s imagination,” you will get more money. You will be richer. His thesis is simple. In this age of artificial intelligence, globalization and automation — the one skill that can separate and elevate you above both the man and the machine are words — and how they are put together.
Notice, he did not say PowerPoint; he did not say text or email. Gallo’s passion centers on his study of the primitive brain and he says that, after thousands of years of evolution, the way we process information is still through the vehicle of a story, “through emotions and empathy.”
Now, this really resonates for me personally, since I frequently begin an interaction with this sentence, “let me tell you a story.” Sometimes it is a full and true story and sometimes it is a nuanced story, and sometimes my nose grows to Pinocchio size. The key is that the story is always in the service of communicating an idea, a point of view. You might call them fables with just enough reality to hold my audience and move their needle in the desired direction.
Gallo argues that mastering this ancient art of persuasion is a competitive skill. It elevates you above the rest. There are also another billion words written about leadership. And leading seems to be very closely aligned with active persuasion, not just giving an order. Even in the military, getting Harry to take Hamburger Hill with gusto, recognizing he can easily die, relies on persuasion and believing in the cause, or what he calls “articulating a vision.”
Gallo gives examples in his book ranging from Aristotle to my favorite wild man, Richard Branson, who says, “I do not believe you could be a great leader today without being a good storyteller.” Branson has a unique model for creating stories; he brings people to Necker Island, (his private 74-acre retreat in the British Virgin Islands), and he gathers the group around a fire pit. He says, “the best ideas for our companies have come from around a campfire.” Wow, I love that. It feels wonderfully primitive, and of course, we all know about going to a camp or a retreat and hearing ghost stories.
The master of all, according to Gallo, is Aristotle and his “three-part formula.” First, you need to have ethos, which is credibility and character. (Not just being a character, but having character). Second, you need to have “logos,” which is the logical structure to your argument. You cannot wander or ramble . Finally, “you cannot persuade another person to change their mind or behavior without pathos, which is emotion.”
We often make decisions based on emotional narratives without giving appropriate weight to compelling and possibly conflicting facts — being forced to later deal with the infamous, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Gallo cites TED Talks as powerful, because they tell stories. No bullet points are allowed. And finally, let’s go to show me the money. The statistics show that strong verbal skills will get you promoted faster than just experience. In business presentations, verbal trumps the visuals. The great persuaders have an unfair competitive advantage. What the great ones communicate is not just an idea, but “an expectation of what they hope to achieve.” They are the artists who mesmerize and spin a tangled web with words. That is not just a soft skill; it is fundamental to your success.
Rule No. 455
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.