Explore some of our past podcasts hosted by WriterAccess founder Byron White.
Bryon: Welcome back everyone. I’m here with Bernadette Jiwa. Bernadette, welcome.
Bernadette: Thanks for having me Byron. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Byron: I am so excited about having a meaningful discussion with you today about your book, ‘Meaningful.’ Okay I just had to say that, I could not resist.
Bernadette: You did it. You did it.
Byron: I did it. It’s over. But the book really is of course about story telling. Tell us a little bit about your interest in storytelling and what your roots are within that whole wonderful topic.
Bernadette: My roots are…I was born in Dublin so I say the storytelling capital of the world is that place where you cannot stand at the bus stop and somebody won’t have a conversation with you. They are my roots. Our story is part of the DNA in our country. I’ve worked in a lot of people facing roles. I’ve had a very sweet, good career from working in nursing to managing hospitality to entrepreneurship, and what I’ve found is that we tend to get bogged down in tactical stuff instead of trying to understand the story of the people we are hoped to serve.
Byron: Do companies have stories in your mind or do the people at companies really have the stories?
Bernadette: You know what’s fascinating is that companies do have stories. They sometimes get buried. One of the things I didn’t know before I worked with Adidas was that there was a real guy called Adidas that he used to obsess about how athletes ran and trained and performed. And I didn’t know that because it was hidden. That really was inspiring to me to think that every great company’s got some kind of story at the foundation of it.
Byron: What is it about stories that you have found make them so powerful?
Bernadette: Well, they’re a universal language. Everybody understands a story. I’m reading actually…I don’t know if you’ve read it, Byron…Ed Catmull’s book about creativity, the guy who is president of Pixar. It’s just fascinating to read about Toy Story and how they injected motion into their films and what’s important to people. It’s about connecting with how people feel and want to feel, not just trying to present facts to them. We’re emotional beings, that’s why stories are important.
Byron: Where do we go wrong with storytelling? By the way, is everyone a storyteller in your mind or do we need to learn to be better storytellers, and if so how do we do that?
Bernadette: Well, if we just take your first point, where did we go wrong, which is the reason I wrote this book…I’ve written other books previous to that which help people with their marketing and helping them how to tell their story. This book is about understanding your customer story first and that’s the key point. That’s where we go wrong. We don’t take the time to understand the customer’s perspective and the customer’s story and start there with our marketing and promotion efforts. So that’s answer to part one of your question. I think that we need to get a lot better understanding of the people we want to serve instead of just blasting our messages and our story out there first.
Byron: Stories can have deep meanings. You have a quote in your book from Michael Streg that says, “Who do you want your customers to become?” Do you think that your stories really need to align with your customers and what their vision is and what they hope to get out of your product or service or both?
Bernadette: That’s essential. If you look at, analyze any successful company from Apple to Patagonia to Uber, that’s what they’ve actually done. They’ve actually aligned their story with who their customers want to become. If you think about it like this, your customer’s life before your product and then there’s your customer’s life after your product. Think about how we were before iPhone or iPod or before Uber, how we went about our daily lives and how that changed us. I think that’s one of the tips I could pass on to people, think about your customer’s life before your product and then your customer’s life after your product.
Bernadette: I’m looking at that in the book right now and it’s really cool that you should center on that. It’s really great, great stuff in here. Tell us a little bit about the companies that feel like they don’t have a story. They don’t have even a before and an after. Maybe they’re in a business of a local gym or a softer or as a service model that is just doing a fairly mundane task of connecting people. I even looked at LinkedIn, it’s really a big hub to connect people. It’s not necessarily revolutionary, one could argue. What about these businesses? How do you dig and find stories?
Bernadette: If you think about something like LinkedIn, I think they’re pretty good at doing lots of things. When you think about what they were founded on, the principles they were founded on, that people who are at work, who needed network, people who are leaders in organizations, they needed networks, so they did start with a customer’s story, what do these people want, and that’s how you start digging in. For example, if you are somebody who wants to market to women, you need to understand that no woman goes to the bathroom and washes their hands without looking in the mirror. You need to be paying attention to…Something I noticed on my walk this morning…Don’t think I’m weird, but there was a woman walking in front of me who had really bad marks on the backs of her heels because some shoes had hurt her feet. You need to be paying attention all the time to what your customer wants and that’s how you dig up your stories because you connect what she wants with what you have to offer and there’s a synergy there.
Byron: Tell us about relevancy and how important it is and how we can develop stories that are relevant to our customers.
Bernadette: It’s actually the same thing. If you can’t empathize with your customer and you don’t understand what it is they care about, how can you create a message that resonates with them? I used to say, “Relevance is the new remarkable,” but actually I think now relevance is the new requirement. If you look around in any business that’s succeeding right now you’ll see that, from yoga pants to coffee.
Byron: How do we turn the stories into sales?
Bernadette: Isn’t that an interesting question that we’re immediately jumping to how do we turn the stories into sales? I would say the better question to ask is, “How do we turn stories into connections and deepen connections?” I think that’s the role of story, it’s to deepen connections with your customers and to help them feel like they belong and that they matter, and not to just go for the quick win.
Byron: I was empowered to go out on the road and try to train 100 or more salespeople on how to sell, and I took a strange tact on how to do that and I went out and I basically began my presentations to everybody by saying, “Stop selling and start listening to your customers.” I developed a socratic program, if you will, what I took out on the road and it was received very well. What was interesting about that exercise was it was all about truly listening to your customers and really learning to ask great questions, being inquisitive, being curious and learning about their needs. Now, storytelling is a little different than that. Storytelling is arguably, you could say is talking and sometimes you need to listen. How do you balance storytelling with listening?
Bernadette: Well, if you think about storytelling, I think that [0:08:55 possibly] where we get bogged down with storytelling is that we think it’s all about narrative, we think it’s all about telling. Actually, if you think about brands storytelling, it’s much more subtle than that, it’s much more nuanced. You’ve got things like visuals, you’ve got logo design, you’ve got how their things feel, you’ve got user experience…Let’s compare products in talking about self-created service; why is it that Slack is dominating right now? How have they grown so quickly? What is it the people love about that self-created service? What they’ve done is they’ve created a story around the product. They’ve made the product fun to use. They’ve helped people to feel like they belong there. They’ve made it intuitive and easy, constantly improving it. They’ve created a dialogue in there, a tone of voice, a brand personality, so it’s much more nuanced than, “Let us tell you our story about how great our product is.”
Just when you were talking there about going on the road…I went to see Jordan Belfort presents The Wolf of Wall Street. He came up with this story that Dicaprio reenacts in the movie and he says to the person in the audience, at one of his conferences, “Sell me this pen.” He points and shows him his pen. “Sell me this pen.” And people immediately start talking about well this is a really beautiful pen, it’s silver. They start talking about the features and the benefits. What he was trying to communicate was, “I don’t care about that. What do I care about? What can this pen do for me?” That’s where the telling part comes in, still goes back to empathy, still goes back to the customer’s perspective.
Byron: Tell me how storytelling fits with what I like…sort of diving into these days deeply which is this sort of customer experience. When customers experience your brand, if you will, there are many layers to that. There are many touch points in the life cycle; your product, how you’re being greeted by customer success people, your design, your logo, your brand, your image, these are all touch points. How does storytelling fit with all of those touch points; particularly with technology there’s a lot of touch points, the product as I mentioned and all these other touch points…Where does storytelling fit in? What is its place in that life cycle with a customer?
Bernadette: Its place is like the thread that runs through everything. If you think about your values as the thread that runs through everything that you do, then the story… There’s a storyline that runs through everything you do, and I think we forget that. Too often we’re so focused on getting to the end result that we forget that the customer needs to have that common thread that runs through, and that creates that feeling of continuity to help them think, “Well, this is a story I can believe in because it’s a true story.” If we think about a brand that does that super, super well, it’s Patagonia. Everything that they do aligns with that founding story with their values, even to the point where you feel like they’re compromising sales. They’re not. They’re actually in it for the long game, so they do things to keep their story consistent. I think it’s that consistency that helps people to become aligned with the story.
Byron: How can I get freakishly good at telling stories and writing stories? Are those two one and the same in your mind?
Bernadette: Some people are better at sitting down and contemplating and writing for sure. Speaking is obviously a skill and it’s like anything, you need to exercise that muscle. Storytelling, whatever, written or spoken, you get better by practicing. I was looking the other day at my first blog post, 750 blog posts ago; they’re not the same as they are today. Anybody who is…We just talked about Roger Federer. I’m sure Roger when he started out wasn’t as graceful and as amazing as he was when he was winning Grand Slams, so it’s about practice, exercising the muscle, and exercising the storytelling muscle.
Byron: How far do you think a CEO needs to go in telling their personal story with regards to getting their message out, the pressures they have to lead the clan to be this iconic figure on the top? How deep do you feel a CEO should go in talking about and telling and revealing their story to the world?
Bernadette: I think it goes back to understanding the purpose of doing that revealing. What does the audience need to know and why do they need to know it. That’s what it comes back to. It’s not about, “Let me bear all and let me be their friend.” It’s about, “How can I purposely tell my story because…” You don’t need to launder all your dirty underwear. It’s a case of understanding the people that you serve and understanding how your story and revealing that and telling that in an authentic way can actually help them to become better at what they do and to own their work and to grow your organization.
Byron: Let me give a good example of how I debate that all the time as the CEO of our company. Here’s a cool story…I think so at least. In 1992, I lost a testicle to cancer actually. It was an interesting time of my life; I was getting married at the time. With a good sense of humor about a year later I started a golf tournament called the Lost Ball Golf Tournament. It ended up raising over $100,000 for the Jimmy Fund. I worked on it for 10 years and had a great audience, a lot of fans and a lot people that jumped on this opportunity. I had articles written about it in the The Boston Globe and other newspapers, and it was a really interesting moment. At the time I was starting a business and I went public with this thing that happened to me and it ended up turning it around and having a great experience with Dana Farber and treatment that I went through...I chose to tell that story at the time. I’ve kind of not exactly made it a center piece of my current business model, but would you tell that story again? Do you think that the people of WriterAccess, that I’m blessed to represent all of these wonderful writers and all these customers, the 18,000 customers, 10,000 plus writers, do you feel that that’s a story worth telling? What are your thoughts on that?
Bernadette: It’s interesting, timing comes to mind there Byron, because it was the right time to tell that story…And that’s the other thing, there’s a right time to tell stories. That really related to what your goals were and what your people’s goals who wanted to follow you were and who you were leading at the time. I’ll give you an example from my perspective. The introduction to my current book is very personal and I’m a very private person. I don’t share my personal stories or my family on social media. I don’t feel I need to. But for this book, I was urged by a friend and mentor who came to me and said, “Okay, if people only read one page of this book Meaningful, what is the page that they need to read? And you haven’t written that page.” I went and wrote that page and it’s a story about why I wrote the book which relates to losing my brother 15 years ago and all of the things that I wished that he had the chances to do that we all have the chance to do today. There’s a time and place to tell your story and you know it when you feel it. If you’re doing it authentically, from a place of not just…as you did…not just getting attention for your story but for the greater good of what you’re doing in the organization, then that’s a great thing.
Byron: I’m sorry for your loss with Johnnie. Was that your first literal page of the book that you comment on there?
Bernadette: Yeah. That’s the very first page. I hadn’t written it…The book wasn’t written. The manuscript was done and I sent it to a friend and mentor, and he was reading it and he said, “There’s a page that’s missing.” And quite rightly, he says, “Some people might only read one page of this book. What’s the page they need to read?” And that’s the page.
Byron: Do you feel…
Bernadette: I wrote that in half an hour or so…I wrote that in about half an hour, it just came. When you’re in that flow…
Byron: Having read it, it certainly ties the entire book together and your purpose and meaning for potentially writing it one would think.
Bernadette: Yeah. Well, I hope so. It wasn’t easy to share but I’m glad I did.
Byron: Tell us about that deep connection that storytelling has. Is that really what we’re trying to do when we share stories and tell stories? Are we trying to connect on a deep level with someone else? Do you feel that stories, even though we write books that are read by people, do you always feel like there’s a one-to-one connection with a story?
Bernadette: I think there is if you really love a book. I think about the books that I read as a child where I had no connection to the culture. If I think about Laura Ingalls, ‘Wilder’ and the stories that she told about pioneering, nothing that related to me and my life but there was just some deep connection to her there. I also say in the book where the ultimate paradox is two things we want; we want to be seen and we want to hide. I could go on to say we want to be seen and we want to reflect back to people who they are and that’s really important as storytellers. I think that’s what you get from Pixar which is what makes his stories resonate so deeply, is they reflect back to us who we are as human beings. I don’t think it’s possible to do that without a one-on-one connection with the audience, even in a big movie theatre.
Byron: Do you have any advice on where we should go to listen to examples of great storytellers telling stories?
Bernadette: Yes. Neil Gaiman. Just Google anything that he’s ever done in speaking and… He did a reading at the New York Public Library of a Christmas carol recently. If you can listen to that and the way he articulates himself. If you could listen to his Make Good Art commencement stress, fantastic! He’s just a phenomenal storyteller and he’s the guy I’d point you to.
Byron: Terrific, helpful. I’m on it. I think all this will be after listening today. Two final questions for you; who would you like to hear from and how can they get a hold of you?
Bernadette: Who would I like to hear from? I’d like to hear from entrepreneurs, people who are in the midst of launching a business they care about, that they really understand the audience that they want to serve but they’re not sure how to connect with them. They can get a hold of me at the storyoftelling.com.
Byron: Terrific. It’s been great having you with us today Bernadette.
Bernadette: It’s been an absolute pleasure Byron.
Byron: I look forward to the next and we’ll talk about that on another time. Is there a book you’re working on? I’m curious. Is there an encore?
Bernadette: There’s something else brewing, so yeah. I’m not going for Seth’s record of 18 or anything but the book finds you and there is something else brewing, Usually I’ve got another one as the last one is finishing, so it’s interesting how the book finds you. What about you Byron? What are you up to?
Byron: Well, thanks for asking. The audience of course will be bored with my story because it’s not as illustrious as your deep book. By the way, your book, Seth Godin called, ‘The most important book for your boss to read this year. Buy it, share it, make it real.’ We talked about that earlier. What a wonderful…I hope to write a book someday that will get a quote from Seth Godin exactly like that one.
I’ve published a few books. One is the Content Marketing Road Map; I was very proud of and it has been helpful for people. I tried to write my second book on a challenge that our customers have in working with writers and it’s called ‘The Professional Skill And Price Guide.’ It tries to answer a question, “What do you expect when you pay more for content?” sort of like a hard question to answer so I go through some examples throughout that and then that’s sort of interesting. Then I wrote a book for the conference that I run, content marketing conference called, ‘103 Content Marketing Tools’, which involved not only myself but a whole bunch of people that did a bunch of research on all the content marketing tools out there. I’ve sort of self-published over at Life Tips, a publishing company that I started a gazillion years ago and still is active and going and I’m podcasting over there, so I’m just a fan of writing. I love to write and…But I’ve got one brewing, I’ve got something brewing, sort of like you do that ties in with some speaking that I’ve done and it tries to focus in on how to make content snap, crackle and pop. That’s been some fun and I’ve had some fun speaking about that and also speaking and bringing in metaphors. I didn’t talk with you about metaphors today but I would have loved to ask you questions about that. I’ll ask it now, since we’re still live here. What are your thoughts on metaphors and the importance of metaphors in storytelling?
Bernadette: Hugely important. I would love to get better at it. That’s one skill I would love to get better at is that, especially in speaking. I think they’re hugely important. I think Seth, you mentioned, he’s fantastic at that. If you want to go again, if your audience is looking for somebody to follow in terms of storytelling, Seth is a great storyteller. His inbound marketing, inbound conference keynotes are incredible, so yeah if you can add links to those, people will learn a lot.
Byron: Well Bernadette, we’ve had a lovely discussion today. My goal is to try to get over to the Australian Open Tennis Tournament and we were talking about that earlier. If I make it over there, I’m going to look you up and we are going to go watch some tennis together.
Bernadette: It’s right here in Melbourne right now so you could jump on a plane and get here by the weekend.
Byron: Just tell my wife that. If Nadal was still in the tournament, my wife would be begging me to take a flight over there with her, but really, really a fan. Of course we talked about Federer and how graceful and wonderful he is. Talk about…His body language tells stories, wouldn’t you agree?
Bernadette: Absolutely. Incredible. I was just saying to you Byron, that I watched him the other night, and you just could not take your eyes off the man. It was just…Every move he made was just grace and poetry and you just thought, that’s art; that’s not sport, that’s art. Phenomenal. Phenomenal.
Byron: If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in this call Bernadette is that first of all, we’ve told some great stories together today, both you and I, and I feel this is the first time we’ve ever spoken on the phone together, but I think we’ve seen storytelling really come to life with you and I just getting to know one another, it’s kind of interesting.
Bernadette: I know. We’ve never even said hello before, so how good is that?
Byron: Well, we’re discussing plane trips, connections. It’s been just great being with you here today so thank you again for tuning in with us. We’ll look forward to having you back.
Bernadette: Thanks Byron.
Bryon: Thanks everybody for listening. We’ll see you next week.