Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories
Ev Williams
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The secret structure of Steve Jobs’ stories

How to spellbind crowds and sell your vision.

Ev’s piece reminded me of a TED talk by Nancy Duarte. She is a principal at Duarte, a firm which assists big brands, experts and causes with telling their story to maximize impact.

By impact, I don’t mean people turning up to your luncheon because you bought pizza. I mean people dragging their friends and family to your event because you have an earth shattering idea that can change their world.

If you’re any entrepreneur, marketer or salesperson worth their salt, you have probably read at least one piece about Jobs’ selling ability.

“He just had a gift,” you might say.

While he probably did use several different presentation techniques while on stage, he most likely focused on this structure that Nancy reveals in her talk.

I’m confident that understanding this structure will put you in the same league not only of Steve Jobs, but others who have altered the course of history, like Martin Luther King and Barack Obama.

It’s not telling a good story, talking about benefits or showing, not telling. All those things are important, but they’re the 20%. The 80% goes beyond techniques and goes beyond the product.

Pull of possibility

“We hunger for direction and inspiration. We want what’s important to us to get better — our bodies, work, home, and relationships. We want to imagine ourselves transforming our lives, and the lives of others. We want to feel good about our evolving narratives. It’s why we read books, scan the Internet and flip through magazines. We’re looking for the before and after stories. We want to feel the pull of possibility; of moving beyond our existing reality.” — Tom Asacker, “The Business of Belief”

Nancy’s presentation reveals a universal truth about humankind:

We want our lives to change for the better.

While we live peacefully, religiously sticking to routines that give us stability, we want any excuse to evolve. Whether we know it or not, we’re living lives of quiet desperation.

That’s why when someone comes along and offers a transcendental experience on a silver platter, we lap it up.

To create that transcendental experience, you have to have a very clear understanding of four things:

  1. the status quo: what are people’s lives currently like? What’s their day-to-day routine? What do they secretly crave?
  2. the lofty ideal: this is the most important aspect of the four: the “what if”? Can you articulate this question clearly? Steve Jobs would have asked, “what if smartphones could be less machine and more human?” Martin Luther King Jr asked, “what if black and white men could walk on this earth in harmony?”
  3. the objection: the objection is important. Understanding the concerns people have before they voice them proves that you really know who they are. Like Nancy says in her talk, it’s actually an opportunity to give your talk more momentum than if you just talked purely about the benefits.
  4. the star moment: the star moment is a crucial moment of the presentation. It’s what people will talk about long after the presentation has ended. It’s what makes a thousand people all gasp at the same time. It epitomizes the lofty ideal.

What if you’re not selling iPhones? What if you’re trying to promote awareness of inadequate funding going in to malaria prevention in third world countries?

Bill Gates created a star moment by releasing mosquitoes into the room in the middle of his TED talk in 2009. The shock value made it a talking point, even to this day.

What if…?

If you’re having trouble articulating the “what if…?” statement, don’t worry. Answering any of the below questions can lead you to the same point. The key thing is to have a critical understanding of what’s going through your audience’s head.

  • If only I could… (what if you could?)
  • The world would be a better place if… (what if it were like that?)
  • Imagine a world where… (what if it were like that?)

In each case, the “what if” version does two powerful things:

  1. it turn it from a pain point into possibility point.
  2. it gets people to visualize the ideal end goal.
Often, starting with the “what if…?” and nailing it will allow the rest of your presentation, speech or mission statement to write itself.

What if you had the courage to only do the work you love?

How much happier would you be? What separates the people who have the courage and those who don’t? Vulnerability. Accepting that they’re good enough to do the work that gives their life meaning.

1percentbraver.com is a community of people all ready to accept that they’re good enough. They get access to an online magazine that tackles problems like maintaining peak personal performance and how to promote yourself. They also get access to a recorded interview with a person of influence who’s used their vulnerability to empower instead of weaken themselves.

First edition launches June 30th. Click here to apply to join the Founders Shortlist and tell me what work gives your life meaning. If you’re a good fit, I’ll save you a spot for the launch event.

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