Aim for the Punchline
Stories, in a way, I think are in our DNA, because we've told them way back to cave people, so we respond to stories. And I'm going to introduce two kinds of structures for stories. The first, I call it the punchline story, and the second, Shari mentioned, which is the hero's journey, or transformation story. I think we would say that, all of these stories here, the first five, could be thought of in terms of the punchline story, so I'm gonna talk about that first and then we'll jump to the hero's journey. So, punchline stories are shorter than hero's journey stories and they carry a message with them. What do you think are some of the key things people do wrong when they tell stories? Either in business or sitting around Thanksgiving dinner?
Draw it out too long.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, what else? You were gonna say that right?
Leave out details.
They leave out details, boy you guys are right on. They make them too long. Anything else you can think of?
There is no surprise.
Or they're obvious.
And the surprise elements, I think I'll talk about a little more with the hero's journey stories but with the punchline stories it's "this goes on too long". Which is bad enough at Thanksgiving dinner but it's really bad in a business meeting. And specifics, I love that because it's always more interesting when you don't say that somebody in my grade 10 class hit me in the back of the head. But when you say, Steven McKenzie was the guy who threw a spitball and hit me in the back of the head, we always remember that more, okay? So this is what punchline stories do. So Shari and I love creating frames, or I've heard you call them formulas. And what I always think with formulas, it's like anything. Learn the frame, learn the formula. Once you know it, you can throw it away. But this gets you into the ballpark really, really fast. And the whole idea of the punchline story, came from Pixar, one of my favorite, animation companies. Oh my god, I've watched so many with my daughter, but, Andrew Stanton who is a writer for Pixar, he gave a TED Talk and he said, every story needs a punchline. And... we thought about that and we thought, yeah, you have to know where you're heading to. And that's what Andrew Stanton said, whenever they're making their movies, for every scene they go "Where are you heading to?" So that's where this idea of the punchline story came up, is that you start out with your setting, which all good stories do and your who. And if you don't want to mention the name of your who it's always fun to say, let's call them Tony or Susie, right? Or George, or... Or uh, Pria. We can call them anything we want, let's say, oh we're just gonna call them Pria. Sometimes you're gonna give the where or the when, but we always have to know who. Then instead of going straight into your action which leads like you told me, to what I call the wandering river stories, go to your punchline and say "what is the message I want to get across here?" And then once you have that, then you come back into your action, and here, I give two points of action that you can make, and I'm really thinking about business sales stories here. They really can't be very long. If you absolutely must, I might give you, three points of action here, but keep them really, really tight. Shari, we were talking about, your bowl story earlier.
Yes, and we have not workshopped this and I probably tell it wrong.
Nope. No. So... Shari and I are gonna do a demo here, and then I'm gonna ask for people to get up and we're gonna do some punchline stories together.
Okay, so this is a story that is in my book, and what's interesting, I will say to Lee's point, to tell a great story, it takes practice over and over again. So I can write it in my book, and I was probably very tight when I wrote it in my book. I edited it, I had an editor, and one of the things you have to think about when you write is edit, edit, edit, edit, tight, tight, tight, tight. Just when you think you've edited it, edit some more. It's the same with a story, okay? So I'm gonna go ahead and give this a shot.
So it was several years ago and I was on my honeymoon.
We were in Hawaii. And we walked into a store and... there were beautiful Koa wood bowls. And my husband looked at one of the bowls and he seemed transfixed by it. So I thought, maybe I'll buy him a bowl. I haven't bought him any kind of present for our honeymoon. So I went up to the salesperson-- Now you have to know, I don't know anything about art. So I went up to the salesperson and I said "How much for the bowl?" And he looks at me and he said "Five." Five what, right? (chuckles) It's not five dollars, is it five hundred or five thousand? And I felt a little foolish. So finally, I asked him and I said, "Five what?" And he says "$5,000." Well, I'm blown away. I said, "Wait a minute, how long did it take the artist "to make this bowl, this Koa wood bowl?" And he looks at me with a straight face and he says "Thirty years... "to be good enough to make it in four hours." "$5,000." I didn't buy the bowl, but what I realized, and I've told this story to customers, is that when we get a price objection, it's not about, you know, how much you charge per hour. A lot of times people say "You charge what for a keynote?" "You get how much per hour?" and I will tell them the bowl story. That what they're paying for is all of the experience that leads up to that hour or those four hours.
So Shari's really good at vivid detail and personalized detail. So we've got that going on which you said. Let's do a, I want to do just a quick edit. When you give your setting, give it in a tighter frame
of time and then cut out... a few of the action of "and then", "and then", "and then".
Cut a little bit of that out before you get to your punchline so you're taking a more direct route.
So... I was in Hawaii and with my husband on our honeymoon. And he laid eyes on this gorgeous bowl. And I thought maybe I'd buy it for him. So I asked the salesperson "How much for the bowl?" He said "five." Five what? I said "Five what?" He says "$5,000." I couldn't believe it so I said "$5,000?" "How long did it take the artist to create the bowl?" He said "Thirty years... "to be good enough to make it in four hours"
Okay, so what did you think? Comments? Here? Tighter?
Yeah, it's more concise.
Tighter? Yeah. So what she's doing is spending less time right here at the beginning and spending more time getting to the message or the punchline which is really where the power is.
This is really scary being this vulnerable on camera. (audience Lee and Shari laugh) I knew my lines before!
You did at coaching.
But I made her, I said, you have to promise me you won't practice this story. Shari, do you want to talk about the whole idea of, the objections, and setting up... stories that you could tell, for objections, then we can--
Yeah, so again, one of the most productive way to use these stories is to use them to overcome customer objections. There's many ways that you can use them, but what we want to give you today is a frame work and equip you with one or two stories that you can use to overcome your most difficult objections. So what I'm gonna ask you to do, and I'm gonna ask the audience to do it as well, is I want you to write down, I want you to get this, write down... three things... your clients might think are true about your products that are objections that you know aren't true. Okay, I'll say that again, three things. So when I told the story earlier about the photographer, for an example, people thought, oh, it's just like a cell phone image. Why would I need to pay $800? So they think, that what I do is, fairly similar. Right? Maybe not exact. So again, give me one or two, three if you can do it, things that people think about your product or service that you know aren't true and they show up as objections.
Copywriting for social media. Some clients think that... "Why would I want to pay that rate, it's just social media." But there's a lot behind social media to make it effective,
'cause you have to connect with an audience. You have to strategize. So there's a lot of layers behind that that not all clients understand.
Great. Can you pass the mic and-- Yes, you've got a mic.
I would have said the exact same thing and then in addition I only need your services for a month.
That's what I've told you for years.
A time frame, right.
In the 20 proposals I've made.
That, because the school's small there's no socialization.
That their business isn't large enough to be able to benefit from the solutions that we're providing.
Richard, what are the solutions that you're now providing?
Well, that was in reference to voice over IP products. Voice over IP solutions, so, transferring from just plain old telephone service into a more expansive suite such as messaging, mobile application access, many other things.
People wanna talk to a human. So, the context on that is, one of the products we offer is a, business SMS...
Messaging, and so that is one of the objections we get is people wanna talk on the phone.
Okay, so what we want to try and do now and I'm amazed at all of these objections, is try to figure out... a story. a third party story, right? We're gonna talk about first party stories more in the hero's journey, but here a third party story that you might be able to tell... that would help the person you're talking to, your client, overcome that objection. Now, it could be the one you said, or you've written two or three down. This is where you have to go back and dig back into your past people you've dealt with before and see if you can come up with a situation where you were able to solve this problem before, am I right?
Yeah, and I can tell you that, very often, we don't think we have a story and you'll think "Well, but that's not really a story". But once you put this frame or this formula to it, you'll be amazed, that you can really build, a better story. Now that doesn't mean that you're not telling the truth about the story but there's a frame that you can use that brings the story to life, and I think that's what Lee and I are sharing with you. And stories, when they're practiced, get better, and better, and better.
And... in the punchline story you do work backwards in a way. You go and you say, I need to find... a story... about... Like for me, I have this story that I often tell in public speaking because I tell about the first time that I ever stood in front of an audience and I was so nervous I thought I was gonna collapse on the floor, right? And then you have to go and find the story. Where is it in your past, in your client? So I want you to just take a few minutes, right now. You've got your objections or you've got problems that you've been able to solve. If you can come up with a story, think into your back, unearth that up from the ground, and we're gonna workshop those stories. So I want you to come up with one or two. Probably just one story idea and then I'm gonna ask for people to come up here and workshop them... with us.
And start with, the punchline. So just, really quickly, some of you told us what the problem or the objection is, just to illuminate this for our home audience, you were saying a copywriter is a copywriter is a copywriter. What might be, a good punchline... so that you could work backwards? Let's look at that for a moment. What might be a good punchline?
On the spot I would say a copywriter is a copywriter is a copywriter that will get your audience right to you. But you need to find the right person. And it's really, really rough right now.
Okay, great. So you can see, she's gonna start with punchline and work backwards and you wanna think: "What objection am I trying to overcome?" So when I told the bowl story in my long, roundabout way, what I was trying to say is, it's not about the time that you're gonna get, it's about all the experience that went into it. You know, it's justifying the price, okay. So, I want you to think about, what is it exactly that you're trying to say and work backwards on that punchline.
So think about a story... And... when you have one, put your hand up so I can see. You have a story! Great! Would you come up? Great, I'll get you up next. And the reason we're doing demos here is because, again, you can understand this conceptually but it's one of those practice experience things that you have to try it out and then try it out again and again, okay? So tell us your punchline.
Well, the problem that we're overcoming, or the objection is that we only need your services in public relations for a month.
Which, I can totally understand someone not understanding what we do.
And to that I would say a few years ago we were hired by a coffee roasting company to get them positive press about being in existence and, you know, being noticed, and then in turn, building revenue, and that's what we did. And we worked in the very beginning before they were even open and they were still doing construction and putting in the roastery, we had already pitched the New York Times on a trend piece and then opening took a year, but by the time that they were open, the trend was in place and the article came out. So, sure, you might think you need our services for a month, but if you hire us for a month there will be no New York Times piece because these things take cultivation, they take relationships and most of all they take time.
Excellent. Good first try. Would you mind going through an edit process with me?
Give it to me.
Nice set up. Good set up. Use some more specific details.
You have specific details. I'm saying, like, you said "Get the New York Time "magazine."
what else did you do in there in terms of specifics that you can get if you...
With the roasting company if you get in... a year in advance.
Sure. It's a peculiar thing. People might think to have a coffee roastery in Utah where people think it might be odd that most of the population is drinking coffee, so that's interesting. So upon that information and knowing what the general public thinks of Utah and coffee drinking, I called a dear friend of mine who's a longtime contact, who's a food writer for the New York Times and said: "Don't you think this is peculiar and a good trend piece, "that all of these roasteries are coming to fruition."
So that's how you got it in to New York Times. So now let's go back to the story and say setting. Let's bring up the story.
I was working with a roasting company. Bring up the fact that it was in Utah.
People don't drink coffee in Utah because they're not supposed to drink coffee? Or what's going on in Utah.
Well, you know, the demographics show that there's, you know, quite a few...
Oh, okay. So mention that it's in Utah.
You know, religious folks, where that's not cool.
So we get that specific up there.
Then, in the action, then what we did is,
and say, "boom-ba-da-boom-ba-da-boom, what we did."
Okay. Then your punchline is... so if what?
If we were only contracted for a month,
None of this would have happened.
Oh, so, if we were only contracted for a month, we wouldn't have been able to do this.
If we're contracted for a year we can set up--
Right, I mean the sky's the limit.
Okay, let's try it again.
Oh my god, okay. (laughs)
It's this distill, distill, edit.
Just go really tight in here.
I wanna hear boom, boom, boom, what you did for this roasting company.
And then your strong punchline.
About how, what you can do in a year.
So start out quick setting.
So a few years ago, a new roasting company was preparing to open in Utah and we capitalized on that being a trend piece and also kind of peculiar and interesting to the news.
So, we used our deep contacts with food writers, one in particular that we know and love.
That works for the New York Times, and she agreed that it was good, it was a good sell. So she pitched it to her editor, but things--
And what else did you add?
That we had time, we had some time and these things take time. The pitches take time, the relationships take time, and what was great about this is it took them a year to open the roastery which was the exact amount of time it took to get the story in the New York Times.
Oh, good punch line. (murmuring and applause in the audience) Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was a-- (applause continue) And since that was a great punchline. So it was exactly the time. And your name is?
Katie, Katie found that, by doing it out loud here and you can tell when your punchline tweaks 'cause I saw people smiling there in the audience, and saying... Yeah... Okay? So that was great.
Yes, and nice work. (audience applause) Let's take another one. So, what objection are you... dealing?
The objection that I'm going to be covering is the standard disqualification, like, I'm not a fit for this product
or my business is too small to be a fit for this product.
Specifically, this was with a lawyer, and lawyers were one of my favorite clients to sell to because they always wanted facts. And this client in specific, this was for voice over IP services.
So, the goal was to sell them on a product that would not only save them about 60% on their phone services, but to provide them a plethora of features and services.
Okay, so we'll start the story then. Good.
We've got the context.
The context there, they story was that the customer said I am not a fit for that. I said, "Well, I tell you, I hear this objection every day." "I have a customer, they are at J and L Legal Group." "I signed them up for our base phone package "with no liability whatsoever." "They tried it and they ended up loving it." "The reason why is that they're "no longer tethered to their desk." "They get about two hours back of their day daily, "and the reason for that is now they can get their "phone calls on their app and not only are they "able to do that and leave the business office, "but they're also saving so many hours a day and "being able to spend that time with their family." And by, kind of leading in with that story, it was being able to give them all these objections to overcome like, I am a fit for this because this legal office was just the same size as me and they were able to be successful. And it was more of a story to overcome that versus saying you are a fit.
Right. So Jared, let's separate the story. He's got a lot of information there and it's kind of shwoom. There's a lot, okay, let's just purely separate, the story out. So you're talking to these people. They really don't think it's a fit and they're saying no, no I don't think this is gonna work. So now we're just gonna do the story. You know, I have, this client, If you can mention the client's name
or where they were, da, da, da, so we got the setting. And what are the actions you did for the clients? You, I think this is, you know, what this really is, is a before and after sort of story. So your first one here is your before.
They had these kind of problems, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Then after, they were able to leave their desks.
And he hit a third level motivator, didn't he?
Did you hear that?
[Woman In Audience] Yes.
So he's not only, stories can do both, he not only hit an objection.
You did a beautiful job of saying "And he wasn't tethered to his desk, so he had more time." That's emotional. Again, I just want to bring this up. If all we're doing is using stories to show somebody how to save money, then people are gonna shop us just like a commodity. So he's talking about something that's a real heart level motivator. Oh my god, time? Nobody has enough time.
So that was beautiful.
So is your punchline about time?
Yes, I used to say,
If I could give you a device that saved you two hours a day, would you buy it?
Use that. Not the buy it, but, I can give you a device that will save you two hours. Something like that at the bottom. So, think of this quick setting. The action of who the company was. So, you're talking to me. I am your client and you say, you know I had a company that... who were here. This is what their problem was before. This was their after, and my punchline. Okay?
Okay. So, very similar situation. I had a customer who wanted to save time.
We were able to provide them the product. They were able to save two hours a day just by being able to access calls on their phone. And not only that, they save about $600 a year just as well.
So, I'll walk you through it. Setting, tell me who they are.
I had a client. You don't have to use the name, but use a made up name. Who? Tell me the client?
So I had a client. His name was Keith from J and L Legal.
Yeah, and they weren't sure they wanted this product, right?
Why? Tell me why they weren't.
They felt that they were too small to be able to benefit from the features.
Yeah, and what were their problems?
Their problems were: They were spending too much time at their desk and spending too much money to do so.
Okay, so they had a problem with their features. And then what did they do? They took your product and...
They took a shot at our product and we were able to save them time and money.
And give them a better quality with our product.
And punchline, they saved?
Punchline. They saved $600 a year.
And they saved two hours a day.
There you go! Do you see what that is? I was just pulling it out of you chunk by chunk.
Because that makes it more into a story the way we just did it.
Does that make sense to you?
And I might add one thing to make it even more emotional. What was the person's name?
Keith, and now.
Yes, yes, yes.
And not only save time. And now Keith, is no longer tethered, to his desk.
You know? Are you interested in saving two hours a day and no longer being tethered to your desk, right?
So we can take that a step further even and then, that gives it something personal. Barbara?
One question came to mind. Is it important to put qualitative and quantitative in the brief punchline story?
No, you don't have to put. It's not that much of a formula that you have to put qualitative and quantitative.
But sometimes you have to really dig deep and think about what the offer really was, that it gave you. So, in a recent, story that happened to me when I was working at a tech company, I had to tell them a story. But my punchline for the story was similar to yours Jared, was that... by taking the time, 'cause when I teach workshops, and when Shari and I teach workshops, sometimes they're long workshops 'cause there's all this practicing involved and they said, "Well, we don't want the practicing, we just want--"
The formula. (chuckles)
The formula. And I said ah, I can't do that. So they finally went for it, but my punchline when I tell that story is that, it actually ended up saving them time, because everybody learned to communicate more accurately. So that's more just qualitative. It doesn't have the quantitative in it. Great, thanks Jared.
Thank you very much.
Alright, we're gonna move on to the hero's journey.
And I wanna, right before we get to the hero's journey, make a couple of comments. There's five rules, to a good story and I want you to remember these rules. And again, no matter what kind of story you're telling, remember, they can hit an emotional motivator, solve a problem, overcome an objection, but there's certain rules, and rule number one: it should be specific. We talked a lot about that. There's research that shows, the more specific a story the more believable it is. They found in courtrooms, when litigators gave very specific details, "it was 4:00 a.m., you could hear "the creak of the door", right? People were more apt to believe it. So it'll be more believable, and if you read any good newspaper article, they are gonna be very specific. There is that who, what, where, when, okay? So specificity is very important when telling a story. It creates a mental image, makes it more believable. The second thing is, and this is huge, I hear this mistake happen all the time: you want it to be relevant to the person in front of you. So, again, let's say you're selling catering services. And your client, is a very well-to-do, high fashion... couple. You don't wanna say "ah, you remind me of these folks, "they're on welfare, they live--" You know, right? You wanna make sure that it's relevant and that it's like-to-like client, alright? So again, when you're in a B2B sale, you wanna talk about a similar company. Similar size and you can use it to be impressive and to show who you're working with. You know, that reminds me, you know, when we were working with adobe. You know, when we were working with Salesforce. Whatever the case may be. So you want it to be relevant but if you're talking to a small company about Salesforce, they're gonna feel a little blown out of the water, right? So that's gonna be very, very critical. Number three: it should be about a third party. Not always, but the reason that I say that is, if you talk about how you used the product, like if Lisa's talking about her school, and she's talking about how her child uses Halstrom Academy, it's less believable than a customer. She's supposed to use the product, right? That's what she does. Next: you want a third a third party story to serve a purpose. What do I mean by that? Serving a purpose means it's got to have a reason. So you don't just tell a story to tell the story. "Oh, well I've heard to tell a lot of stories, "so I'm gonna tell a lot of stories." Whenever we tell a story it's got to serve a purpose, there's gotta be a reason, and again, it's gotta hit one of the, I don't wanna say one of the big four, I wanna say three. You don't wanna tell a story that hits a factual something, you want to tell a story that either solves a problem, hits an emotional motivator, a heart motivator, okay, or overcomes an objection. So it's gotta serve a purpose.
And that actually is your message, your punchline. That is your message, which is the purpose it's serving. And that's why you have to aim for that message. Yeah.
Mm-kay, and, the final rule we've been talking about is: You need to aim for the punchline.
So when you tell a story,
There you go!
You better aim for that punchline, and something that Lee and I found that's very interesting too, and for those of you, any of you who do any public speaking, I can tell you, you can take the exact same story and by changing the punchline, it changes the story. Very, very interesting.