Media mogul Peter Guber crafted a successful career using the art of storytelling. After putting his skills to the test on the big screen, in the boardroom and as a professor at UCLA, Guber knows what it takes to get his point across to all types of audiences. He’s the chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group, which has produced such films as The Kids Are Alright, Soul Surfer and this summer’s Never Back Down 2. Before launching Mandalay, Guber served as chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures. He has produced a number of award-winning films, including Gorillas in the Mist, Rain Man and Batman.
With his experience in bringing stories to life, it’s not surprising to hear Guber explain that to engage people, you must entertain them. Here, he talks to SUCCESS about his new book, Tell to Win, and offers a few tips on how to relate a story that moves your listeners to action.
SUCCESS: Why did you write Tell to Win?
Peter Guber: Tell to Win explains what I have learned by being in every way a professional storyteller—making movies, television shows, theater productions, presentations, being in front of the camera, being in the news and being a professor. Although I’ve spent my life creating stories, I found out in my own third act that I had the accent on the wrong syllable.
The focus has to be on telling a purposeful story. Stories have the power to move people to buy a product, become an employee or give you a raise. A story is a vehicle, a tool that propels people to action. I decoded the power of stories in my own life, and I believe that power is waiting to be unleashed or unlocked for others—especially in business.
What is the power of a story?
PG: I would describe it as the way we were designed, the way human beings are wired. Stories are how our species has survived. But you can use stories for your success, not just your survival. There is power in telling your story and in hearing others’ stories … stories to bring people to action.
Do you think people really know how to tell a story?
PG: Intuitively they know it because they know how to listen to a story; they are terrific listeners. But for some reason there is a disconnect between listening and telling a story. Listening and telling stories require the same tools, but when people go to tell a story, the first thing they do is start listing bullet points, data, facts and statistics. And that doesn’t work.
How can we become more effective storytellers?
PG: First of all, you have to get the order right. When people want to tell a purposeful story, a story that gets people to buy a product or become a client, most folks start off by thinking: I’m going to motivate them. The truth is that you don’t control anybody; you barely control yourself.
Before you speak your first word, you have to know your intention. If you can’t identity your intention, don’t open your mouth. If you walk into the room and your intention isn’t clear, people know it. Get clear about your intention; once that’s clear, you have authenticity. That’s the first and most important thing.
Second, know that all great performers and athletes get themselves ‘into state.’ They ramp up their energy levels and dial down anxiety, so their attitudes pull them toward the outcomes they desire. To get into state, relax your body, control your breathing and focus on the emotion you want to move in your listener—let yourself feel that emotion. Remember, if your story and your intention are not compelling to you, they won’t be compelling to anyone else.
Third, know who you are dealing with. Who is your audience? Prepare for your meeting or presentation by finding out everything you can. What’s their back story? Ask, Who am I speaking with? What’s the context? What are they really interested in? That’s the clear channel. Don’t try to be interesting; be interested. Doing your homework shows you’re interested, which creates a relationship base before the transaction.
What makes stories so effective as a sales tool?
PG: If you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it.
Think of yourself as not in the information distribution business, but the emotional transportation business. Emotions bonded with information become the story. If you don’t hit their hearts, you won’t get them as customers. When you tell a story, you create a relationship base. Relationships are enduring and hold a lot of opportunity, so aim your stories at the heart, not the wallet. Your potential customers want to know what’s in it for them. Is the story generous? Is it contributory as opposed to focused on you and your needs? People want to know that your feet, tongue, heart and wallet are all going in the same direction. Show them how they can win, because if it’s just you winning, they’re going to feel and see that. And remember, all telling is action-oriented. What do you want them to do? What’s your goal? Don’t hide it; pride it. If you’re hiding something, they won’t trust you. If it’s not worth telling your listener what your goal is, you shouldn’t be in the room.
What are some misconceptions or mistakes people make when telling stories?
PG: So many people say, ‘I can’t do it. I’m not a good storyteller.’ But you’re doing it every single day. You’re telling stories all the time; you just don’t realize it. Stories are how we tell people about what happened to us that day or to talk about what we want to do. The ability to tell stories is in your DNA. If it wasn’t, your ancestors would have been eaten. In terms of [all human] history, there was no writing until ‘a second’ ago; before that it was all oral narrative.
A mistake is to think of your story as a monologue. Some people don’t leave room for people to participate. You want them to metabolize the story; you want them to own it. To make that happen, you must engage as many senses as you can. Nobody wants to be a passenger; they want to be a participant. The idea is that the power of telling a purposeful story is interactive; entertainment is interactive. In a speech, people don’t hear you after the first two minutes. Use narrative stories as a vehicle to ignite the emotional base. Engage your listeners, their hearts and their senses, and they will remember the emotion, experience and the purpose of your story.
A story isn’t the icing on the cake; it is the cake.