Storytelling is a crucial skill for business. But, how can we create a story arc and narrative to our advantage? Well-known documentary filmmaker David Hoffman shares his knowledge on how to create powerful stories.
Storytelling is a crucial skill for business. But, how can we create a story arc and narrative to our advantage? Well-known documentary filmmaker David Hoffman shares his knowledge on how to create powerful stories.
David Hoffman practices a simple but profound idea. He says” it's not what you say that your audience hears. Your audience hears a combination of what you say and what they already think/feel. Therefore to communicate effectively, you must deeply understand the target audiences who you are trying to reach.”
David Hoffman is an 8-‐time Emmy Award winner & Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Foundation Fellow who has consulted to executives on audience engagement at more than a dozen Fortune 100 companies including AT&T, GE, Google, Verizon Wireless, United Technologies, Merck, Amazon & Sony. His start-‐up clients include Mesosphere, Yerdle, Cherokee Uniforms, Liquid Robotics & TEDMED. He has worked directly with leading entrepreneurs including Jay Walker, Jeff Bezos & Megan Smith.
Hoffman has recently been Executive Producer of LabTV, a Jay Walker (Priceline founder) media startup where Hoffman’s team produced over 1,000 videos on medical science that captured over 13 million views on YouTube in just 9 months.
Hoffman is a TED conference veteran who has presented at the conference on two occasions. Hoffman is also a documentary filmmaker with more than 150 national TV shows and 10 CLIO advertising awards to his credit.
Stories in business
Why do stories in business matter?
When are stories most effective in business?
Why do people get it wrong so often?
What makes a story effective?
What are common pitfalls that interfere with making stories successful?
Components of stories
What is a story?
What are components or building blocks of a story?
Explain the story arc?
Why does audience matter?
How should we define the audience?
What mistakes do people often make when defining the audience?
Can you describe attributes of people who tell stories well?
How can we train ourselves to construct effective stories?
When can we use stories to best advantage in business?
How can we use stories on social media in the right way
Michael Krigsman: Communication and storytelling is so foundational to every part of our lives. In business, we need to tell stories when we sell, when we buy, when we exchange. Today on CXOTalk, we are speaking with somebody who is going to teach us how to tell stories.
David Hoffman is a filmmaker. He has worked for dozens of startups. He's worked for many of the largest companies in the world teaching them how to tell stories.
I'm Michael Krigsman. I'm an industry analyst and the host of CXOTalk. David Hoffman, welcome. I'm so happy that you're here joining us today.
David Hoffman: It's an honor to be on the show, Michael. I appreciate it.
Michael Krigsman: David, very briefly tell us about your background. Give us a sense of who you are.
David Hoffman: Two things: You're looking at me right now. I'm an old man. I have a New York accent, maybe a little bit of ethnicity. That is affecting your perception of me. That's what I do.
I started 55 years ago. I worked for advertising agencies. I made the first Bulls commercial. I also have worked for big CEOs who are uncomfortable in front of the camera, like now, helping them to be more of themselves so the stories they told really affected the audiences. That's what I do.
Why Stories are Important
Michael Krigsman: David, let's begin our journey by talking about stories and why are stories in business so important?
David Hoffman: Well, everything is about, is the person understanding what you're saying? In business talk, that's tough. People are very often not concerned about what you're saying at that moment. What is it that makes a good story? How can I connect someone to a story so that they'll hear what I say?
I follow a rule, Michael, that I just love, which is, communication is not what I'm saying; communication is what you're hearing. What you're hearing right now is a combination of what I'm saying and 10,000 things going on in your own head. "Is this interesting to me? Is this useful to me? This is guy crazy? Should I be doing something else?" In my mind, "I have to go to the bathroom. I need a coffee."
How can I attract you so that you hear what I'm saying [and] take it in? That's communication. That's the story. Without that, if I just give you slides on a business presentation, you're almost immediately disconnected. You would never tell the person that, but that's what's happening.
If I say, "I'm about to say something to you that I think might help your life," which is, whenever you're communicating to your wife, your husband, your children, the school board, your business associates, your CEO, every single communication only works if the other person hears what you're saying and takes it in, attempts to understand it. That's what we're talking about today, I think.
Michael Krigsman: David, on the surface, it seems that speaking in terms that other people care about seems pretty easy, but yet it's also hard. Why is it hard and why do we get it wrong so often?
David Hoffman: I think most people present what they're offering. Here's me. Here's my offer. Here's my company. That is not taking advantage of how people hear. They hear what interests them.
In order to know what interests somebody, I have to know them. When I'm speaking to a TED audience, that's totally different than when I'm speaking like I was yesterday to three younger women who are in marketing who have a certain view of marketing.
I've got to know their view. I not only LinkedIn them; I YouTube them. I want to see what they're saying in the public sphere and also what their company is presenting. All of that tells me who I'm talking to, but I can't say things in the same way. The same things won't have meaning.
I say every audience is unique from one person to the world, if you're making a public statement, and you've got to know that audience. I studied your audience, Michael, before talking right now. I have an understanding for who I'm talking to, and it wouldn't be the same if I were talking to a business conference, let's say.
Grab the Audience
Michael Krigsman: We're talking about grabbing the audience and pulling them in. Actually, let me ask you. Is that what we're talking about? If we're talking about grabbing the audience by the neck and saying, "Come in!" or is it something different?
David Hoffman: Well, there's a 24-second soundbite; you're old enough to remember that. I know that very well. The audience may know. That was what they said on television. You had 24 seconds to attract the audience.
That isn't true anymore. We have Google and Google research indicates. Excuse me. YouTube. YouTube indicates that nine seconds max is what you've got. Hmm. I have nine seconds to draw you in.
A really good example from my youth: I'm 26 years old, I'm making AT&T television commercials, and the agency is Y&R, $150 million account. They're all there. The big cheese puts a phone on the middle of the table and he says, "What are we?"
We're a phone company, long lines, blah-blah. An old guy in the back of the room says, "It's got nothing to do with the telephone. It's got nothing to do with the wires. It's reaching out and touching someone."
Well, if you're old enough to know what that means, that's 25 years of AT&T's who we are. "We help you to reach out and touch someone." That line got me.
How can I, when I'm telling you anything in that first nine seconds before your mind wanders, get you to hear something that opens the door? Once the door is open, I think you're right, Michael. Then it's a matter of engagement. But at first, I've got to open the door so you become engaged and don't pay attention to my hat or my hands.
Michael Krigsman: All right. Well, that begs the question; how do we open the door to the listener? What do we need to do?
David Hoffman: I mentioned research. That's for sure. Research. Research. Know the person. Know what they care about. I think that's number one.
What else can you do to engage the person? Speak to them from your heart, soul, and brain.
I'm about to tell you something that's on the slides. Don't even look at the slides. What it says is communication is about what the person hears. I want you to think about that for a minute.
In my own life, I'm married, I have a wife, and I don't always communicate all that well to her. She doesn't hear what I say, and I don't understand that.
Now, what am I doing? I'm showing the person who is in this booth watching a PowerPoint presentation about me, about my life, about what I'm trying to say to them. Personalize. Personalize. Personalize. It doesn't sound comfortable, particularly if you're a businessperson. Totally critical.
The second thing, speak to the question that your listener has. The question may be--I've heard this 100 times--"I'm in IT. This seems impossible to set up and it isn't going to work with my existing systems." Many of you know that question.
Another question: "I don't think my ad agency will like this, or my PR firm." That always amazes me that they have enough power to influence middle management. That's crazy.
The third thing: "Don't have the budget." That's what the person is thinking. "It's a nice idea what you're presenting. I don't have the money." You have to know that because you have to speak to that.
Look, I'm going to tell you about something that does cost. I admit that. Let's say that up front. This is going to cost $5,000 a month, but I'm going to try to convince you that it has $5,000 worth of value, and I'm not a salesman but I do believe that to be the case.
I just said another critical thing: authenticity. Prior to the Web, "authentic," I never heard that word or "credible." Yes, we knew that in PBS television documentaries. But in corporate life, we didn't know that at all.
Now, because of YouTube, because of the enormous changes it's made in communication, all communication going up to advertising, the news, television, gaming, it's affected everything. Authenticity. Authenticity. You've got to be an authentic person. To be an authentic person, I have to share something about myself.
Michael Krigsman: Those are two foundational elements you just said. Number one is, listen to the question. What you implied is, listen to the question that's in the listener's the viewer's mind. They may not have expressed it. Then number two is, give an honest answer. Is that a reasonable summary of what you just said?
David Hoffman: It is, but I should add another element that is pretty critical. Communication, as I said, but let me just draw it. This is who I am. This is who you are. If I can find that X point, I'm really communicating.
We didn't talk about, "Who are you?" That's tough. As you know, any of you who work in corporate life know, some people are horrible presenters and have secondary interests. There are turf battling and all kinds of stuff inside that is affecting what you actually say to the outside. You've got to know who you are.
I have an example that is older than most of you. Who was Jane Fonda's first husband? Tom Hayden. Tom Hayden was a political activist, a radical, very powerful in the United States and Jane Fonda married him.
He says on television, "What's wrong with America?" He says, "I'll tell you what's wrong with America. My father worked in the Chrysler plant and my father just bought a Honda. Does that not tell you something?" He said, "When the Chrysler employees themselves don't buy the car that they make, America is in trouble."
You've got to know inside your own company what do you feel. Not what are you trying to sell, but what do I feel? Well, I genuinely feel -- I'm using Zoom right now for example. I said to Michael, "This thing really works. Beautiful. Simple. Excellent to adjust. Works." I said, "Michael, that's good if Zoom people feel that way."
Uber people are a little complicated, aren't they? We're hearing so much negative stuff about Uber that we don't know. I don't even feel the same about my driver this week that I felt last week because they're analyzing all the sexual abuses that have taken place.
By the way, that's another issue, isn't it? The news. What they're saying in the press [is], which is the first place the person is going to look when you've left the meeting, if they're interested, who are you on LinkedIn and what do you say?
I'm going to tell you a really interesting thing. I've just read these statistics. What do you think the percentage of people who search you on Google versus YouTube in the B2B space? Well, I would have said 10% search YouTube. It's 50% to 60%.
Michael Krigsman: Are you serious? Really? Who would have thought?
David Hoffman: Here's why. Google has 150,000 responses. You know that. The first ones oftentimes come up to be Amazon or eBay. It's whacky. It's good.
The YouTube algorithm and search system is way, way better. If it's seen over the last months that you've searched on business practices because you're in the ethics space, it's going to present you those videos. That's a really important thing. Your B2B people are seeing about you, your company, your offer, and the competitors on YouTube.
Most companies use their YouTube channel as a library. It's funny. It's just got a bunch of videos going all the way back to when the product was different than it is now. Can you believe that? They use it as a library, but it's a public space. It's like being on a network.
The other thing they're doing is they're making commercials. Now I'm going to tell two statistics I love. In two years, millennials will be 50% of our population; in two years, 50% of our workforce.
Millennials, I'll tell you a couple of things about them I know. They don't buy PR and they don't buy advertising. It doesn't work. They're always saying in the journals that I read, "What are we going to do to reach millennials? We can't reach them?"
The reason you can't reach them is because you're selling soap. Even if it's good soap, you're selling soap. Millennials don't buy PR.
When somebody comes on and they have the standard music, the titling across the screen, the camera is moving along the talking head, and he says, "I've been using your product for 55 years and I think it's great," but you notice the eye contact is off, it's a goner for the millennials.
What are they doing? Under the age of 50, 75% of my videos, and yours too, are being watched on a cell phone. Hmm. That's something to think about, isn't it when you have all this silly stuff you're showing and nobody is looking at that? They're looking at this, so audio becomes critical.
If I'm in Hollywood and I'm a big screen, I'm in an IMAX theater, the visual knocks me out. You see the moon. Ah!
Now I'm on my cell phone. I'm looking at the moon. It's completely meaningless.
Out of Africa, the great film, starts with this pan of the African plain. What does that look like on this size screen? Nothing.
My face, I know if it's still in focus. Now we're talking. You can look at me. If I say something, your audio is critical.
Audio is critical. That tells you a lot about storytelling, about effective presentation.
The Story Arc
Michael Krigsman: I want to remind everybody that we're speaking with David Hoffman, who has been working as a filmmaker and storyteller working for some of the very largest companies in the world as well as dozens and dozens of venture-funded startups. David, we've been talking about communication with the audience, but let's now shift our attention to the components of a story. We hear about this thing called the story arc. What is the story arc and how do we construct an effective story?
David Hoffman: First of all, let's think of everything as a story. A story is a point on a presentation. A story is how you entered the room when you first came in. A story is how you leave the room. We call the door opener and door closer. They're all stories.
There's an arc to this timeframe. Let's say the meeting is 20 minutes, 30 minutes. Let's give it 30 minutes. You walk in. Five minutes of chat; you want coffee. Fifteen minutes of presentation. Ten minutes of, what are your questions?
Some people ask the questions first. Big mistake. I don't want to know who you are when you're looking at my face. I want to give you a sense of who I am to you, then hear your questions, and a five-minute wrap-up.
There's your arch. You enter the space. You begin to present, and you present your story. The person asks questions and that's a dialog. You close out and you leave.
The first you need to know is, everyone looks like someone. If you're a woman 35, you're beautiful, and your name is Rebecca, and I'm a man, 35, I'm going to notice your looks first. If you're black, if you're Hispanic, if you're Jewish, if you're tall, if you're short, if you're fat, if you're wearing a very fancy suit, if you're not wearing any suit, if you had high heels on as a woman, if you're dress is red, this is the first five minutes when the person is meeting you.
They're not really meeting you. Ten thousand conscious and unconscious evaluations are going on. Do I care? Do I believe this person? Do I like this person? Is she pretty? Is he handsome? Is she ugly? Is she weird? You know what I mean. If you hear your mind do it, it's barely amazing that you can actually pay attention to the other person at all, and you're really not.
Now the story begins. The first thing I want to do in the arch is engage you. You engage by personal. You engage by a connection. "I know you've been in business 25 years and you've probably heard 50 people like me. I understand that."
The person immediately says, "Well, this person knows a bit about me. They know I've been in business. They know I once worked for Xerox."
That was a woman I met yesterday. Her mother worked for Xerox. Boy, I knew Xerox. "Wow, that was a great company once," I said. That was a start of an engagement.
I move that in the story arch to, what is my unique selling proposition? It takes me a while to get there, but I may have five points. If I make all those five points, you know I've lost the audience. They're not writing notes.
They're already tired of the 15 minutes. They've got 15 emails they didn't answer. Boy, is that true, isn't it? Fifteen emails they didn't answer, a surprising amount of Facebook and YouTube going on during the daytime, some Instagram, if you look at statistics, in the workspace. So, all of that is going on. I'm starting to lose you.
Now you come to it, the unique selling proposition and the pain point. If I don't say the pain point to the listener, then I'm giving my proposition, which could sound very good, but the pain point is also important: your costs, time, hassle, training, whatever I can think of because I've been in these situations where I can see, on the face of the other person, concern, questions. What concerns you?
What have I said that interests you? What have I said that you don't like? Personal. Personal. Personal. I, what have I said?
Now, in a public presentation, you better know who you're talking to, which is YouTube and a searcher. Let's think about that a minute. The search changed communication radically. Prior to that, I told you something that you came to hear: a meeting, a TED Talk.
Now, I have to find you because you searched something that relates to what I'm about to say, so you care. How I already get that, that you care? All of that is going on in the arch.
I'm coming to the end of the arch. I'm sorry I changed the subject there for a minute. Was that good or bad in my storytelling? Did you stay with me? [Laughter] I hope so. I hope Michael did.
Anyway, the end of the arch is questions. Questions need to be heard. Hearing means, don't have your answer. If you have your answer, it'll sound like, "Here's my canned answer to your question, which I've heard 100 times." Do not do that.
Look at the person. They care. What can you say to them? By the way, if you agree with them, you've got to say, "Yeah, that's a problem. We don't have that yet. That's something we've got to do."
Michael Krigsman: David, we have an interesting question from Twitter relating to the story arc. Chris Petersen asks, "So, you're telling your story and how do you recover your flow if you step on a landmine hidden in your listener's memory? How do you get back to that story and make it meaningful?"
David Hoffman: Okay. Let's look at the big picture for a minute. Fun. The big picture. IT used to be up here. IT is now down here. Even among IT people, they're trying to keep their job. I'm telling you stuff you already know.
So, if you step on a landmine, like the guy is worried about his boss. When I do IT work for IT people, 75% of the time the guy is afraid of the boss or afraid of the CIO. It's fantastic, the domination by management of technological change without understanding of what that's doing at the level of people who have to deal with the day-to-day costs, radical change, what should I listen to, what should I not?
Yes, there are some great people in this area, but most people suffer. So, if you step on a landmine, I'd go with it, even if you don't make a sale that day, even if you don't get yourself in as a consultant. The person will look at you totally differently if a landmine stops you cold.
You mean you once were raped? Because I'm using an example now of the fascination of the #MeToo movement to a person who cares about that. I'm fascinated by the evolution of that movement and the person's face turns white. That's a landmine, right?
I go with it. The meeting stops. Let another meeting take place. The person will give you that meeting. That's my advice.
Michael Krigsman: You've just described a situation where the story arc, we're throwing out the planned story and we have embarked on a completely tangent story because of circumstances and we really have not much choice about that. Let's go back and just recap the story. The story has the beginning. It has the middle and the end.
David Hoffman: It's Shakespeare. You set the audience up. You develop a traumatic situation, which in case it's between you and person or people you're talking with. It's going like this. The ideas are going like that, ideally. You come to a high point, which I call the unique selling proposition. What's my point, really? You let that play out a little bit, and you have the end. To me, that's the drama of the arch.
You know going in that you're not in control. You're going in with what you have to say, what you think the person cares about, but there's this element Chris mentioned, which is, things happen you did not expect.
The boss walks in in the middle of the meeting. Could that be ideal? You're introduced. You have a chance to say something to that boss. You say, "I'm really enjoying this meeting with Chris. He's giving me insights I didn't have and I don't know where it's going to go."
The boss hears that. The boss likes the employee. It's a moment in time. You all know what I'm talking about, but it requires an appreciation of who you're speaking to without any repetition of what you've said 50 times before.\
Why Stories Fail
Michael Krigsman: Let's troubleshoot for a moment. You tell your story. You put your presentation out there. It's falling flat. People are not downloading it. They're not watching your video, whatever it is. What does that mean? Where are the pitfalls and how do we troubleshoot the problems?
David Hoffman: Well, every situation is different, in part because every venue is different. Look at that. Instagram, I don't know why most businesspeople are spending any time on Instagram and social media. Twitter, I understand what it is and why you have to be there.
We all know there's a lot it does not do. For some people it's useful. For some companies it's dis-useful. For the press, it's very useful. For many of us, it's not useful. That social media I wouldn't personally spend a lot of time on, either as a corporation, as a salesperson, as a communicator. YouTube becomes useful because you can have a clip; not a movie, not a video, but a clip.
Somebody asked me last week about Salesforce.com and about Dreamforce who had never been there. I could do a little clip about my experience at Dreamforce and how spectacular that is as a conference if you are a Salesforce user. Maybe two minutes, I just talk.
I have my notes in advance, by the way. I never--even this interview--do any kind of communication without having an understanding for where I sit. Then I don't look at the notes. You all know that. That's irritating when a person is in a meeting and they go [stare at paper].
There's something about that that's not authentic, not credible, not live. I think I'm saying things that can sound disconnected from what your daily life is. But if you go into your next meeting of any communication of any kind and see what I'm talking about if you watch the person's face and you try and put yourself in their shoes. That isn't easy.
Particularly, 50% of the CEOs I've worked with don't know what they look like, sound like, talk like, or feel like. They really don't know. I either become their psychiatrist, which I don't want to do, or I say, "You know, you look uptight," and here's the key line, "and I can't change that. So, let's deal with that you're uptight."
Here's an example, a good one. United Technologies, I'm working for the CEO. They've got to fire 20,000 people in the next year. The CEO is about to make his public announcement, which also includes videos and things in the internal television network. It's awful. It sounds like, "Well, we're forced--" It had nothing.
I say, "Come on. Feel for these people." His change as a very rigid, not a good presenter, was incredible. He starts off by saying, "I'm not a good presenter and I know I'm going to sound corporate, but I want you to know that the thing I'm about to say hurts me personally because many of you I've known." That's what he said, for real.
The classic Harvard Business Case for this experience is Bhopal Union Carbide. Twenty-two thousand people dead in 24 hours and the CEO has to do something. Good one, huh? Does he speak corporate bologna talk, which everybody knows is bologna and you hate him for that?
This CEO, I think his name was Anderson, cried. A tear came from his eyes when he spoke. He got on a plane that night and he flew to Bhopal. You may remember that if you're old enough where he flew. These people were ready to kill him. This man did brilliantly for his company.
The Tylenol scare, which is another Harvard Business Case, is similar. Somebody cared about that.
So, in my own opinion, you have to know something about who you are and you have to be critical or let an old guy like me or an interviewer like Michael tell you honestly what they think. That isn't easy. I tried asking my wife, but I don't really trust her in this regard.
I'm in a meeting with senior executives at an oil company unmentioned. The CEO included the chief financial officer. I'm about to enter the meeting, and the guy bringing me into the meeting, I have a chance to talk with. I say, "You know I'm not dressed like all of you, and I know I don't sound like you, but can you give me any advice for how I could do better in this meeting?"
He says to me, "David, we wouldn't be hiring you to be one of us. We're hiring you to be you. Be you."
I say that to all of my startup people who think they know everything about how to present. "You look like a 27-year-old wiseass," I say. Now, I can say that because I have white hair. Although, to tell you the truth, I did say that when I was young as well, and I lost some jobs because of it. That's my answer to your question, Michael.
Sell the Vision
Michael Krigsman: All right. We have another question from Twitter. I'd like to weave; I'd like to go back now to talk about the audience because understanding the audience is so crucial. Gus Bekdash asks a very telling question here. He says, "How do you sell a vision to an audience of people who are very detail-driven, and how do you explain something technical to a layperson?"
I think the fundamental question, therefore, is, I have a message. My audience is out there. I have to communicate that message. How do I match it up? Sometimes it just doesn't match?
David Hoffman: You ask a question with two parts: vision--boy, is that a challenge--and technical. Let's look at vision first. I think a vision is a risk, but an honorable one. I'm sure you feel that way also. A vision is, I see it; I don't know that we will ever get there, but if we don't hold that in our heart.
When I first went into Google as a consultant, and I see this thing on the wall that says something like, "The very best information at the very right moment at the lowest price." That's a vision, right? It's still aimed at that vision, so vision has to be credibly hopeful. It has to be slightly religious/spiritual. It has to step out of the day-to-day business. You can't just state the vision.
You know this very well, the person asking the question. Every single company says, "Be good to our employees." Oh, really? I'd like to know when you were last good to your employees?
"To be good to our customers," or whatever they say. You could take one and paste it on the other, except for the guys who really could stand behind what they feel.
In Pepsi, I don't know what their thing was, but it should have been, "We're just as good and maybe better than Coke." That may have been their internal word because that's what they said for so many years.
In the vision space, you've got to admit there's a risk. Not everybody will get it. Some people will feel it and video is always the best. Video is an emotional medium. Text is horrible. Vision on text just doesn't work.
Our vision could be to change the world and save climate change. No. It just doesn't mean anything, but you could say it in a video in a way that is emotional. My own experience with video, very simply, is still, be real, authentic, rather than salesy and advertising.
Now, in the IT space, boy, I've been there 25 times and you've probably been there a hundred where the other guy's eyes are closing either because you're too technical, but yet you feel that technical is important, or you're not technical enough and he really knows what he's doing. Those are the guys who look at one slide and figured your whole business out.
Who is the person you're talking to? I make that point for a reason. There are some people, really, who you have to say, "Look, I'm going to give 20 seconds of technical, but it's really an hour because I know that's not important to you, but I also know if I don't say it, you won't understand something about what I'm about to say." The person who is more technical than you will always be a novice.
It's when President Reagan said, in answer to a press question, "You know, I don't know," his ratings went from something like 56% to 76% because he didn't know the answer to the question. We know how powerful that is.
When the person is way, way smarter than you are, they're at this technical level I cannot believe where the whole thing gets built in the guy's head in one minute, I act like a novice. I would if I were you. "Here's what I'm talking about. I know you see what I'm saying but let me lay it out there so that you can put it in your head." That would be my answer to your question. I hope it helped.
Characteristics of Great Storytellers
Michael Krigsman: Okay. Very good. What about the characteristics of storytelling, or storytellers? What makes a great storyteller?
David Hoffman: A great storyteller is somebody who watches my video clip on YouTube and sticks through the whole thing, right? I have one guy right now. He has 2.5 million views and I've only put it up a month ago - 2.5 million. He's telling a Vietnam story about himself. Ninety-five percent of the people are watching the whole story. That's a great storyteller.
We are not great storytellers. Everybody watching this is not a great storyteller, chances are, including me because, at moments, I lose you. At moments I have you and, at moments, it's not so great. That's all of us.
What we do, I try and I cannot do that in this medium, is pay attention to you. I can't even look at Michael's face right now, so I'm seeing no one. You can tell on CNN Nightly News who is actually looking at Anderson Cooper and who is seeing nothing. Seeing nothing is very tough to talk to.
My answer to that question is, always try to see, know the person you're speaking to or the people. If you can't do that, you have to make certain you're presenting yourself credibly and authentically, yourself, even your company, credible, credible.
Do I believe it was Smith Barney or Goldman Sachs three months ago that has a commercial. Get this. "We've been around for 140 years as your trusted partner and financial friend," or something like that. The CEO doesn't believe that. Come on, now. Goldman Sachs, you've been around for me for 140 years? You've got to be kidding. That's the agency selling bologna to the company that then forces its people to say it.
You don't want to ever be in that spot. If I'm talking to you right now, I can credibly stand behind what I'm saying rather than speaking bologna that I don't even believe myself.
Credibility and Authenticity
Michael Krigsman: We have some really nice comments on Twitter. Mark Orlan is saying, "What wisdom and experience from David Hoffman. Really enjoying this interview. What a great storyteller." Thanks so much, Mark. We are thrilled that you're joining us today.
David, you just mentioned credibility and authenticity as foundations of great storytellers, but they're not the same. Somebody from a large company with a good track record walks in, a CEO. For sure, they don't have to do anything. Credibility walks with them, but that's completely different from being authentic. Let's drill into authenticity and talk about that.
David Hoffman: Thank you for that question. Never thought about it before. You're right. Credibility is a matter of what you've done. Truthfully, that's so true. You could be 25 on your first startup and you're not the guy who is on his third startup and the other two he sold for $30 million to $500 million each, for sure. Some people look totally not credible, but their track record is.
Yeah, Marc Andreessen was that way when I first met him. He just talked really fast. I couldn't believe the guy could become so fantastic as he is as an investor and an articulator of the future. That's really interesting.
Take away credibility. Let's deal with authentic. A man who wrote me the compliment, which I very much appreciate because I have no idea what the audience is thinking right now. There should be a rating system on Michael's gadget: talk more; talk less. Something I could see.
I thank you for that but, my feeling is, authentic is about personal, to some extent. Authentic is about missteps in speech and authentic, most importantly, is about knowing what you can change about yourself and what you cannot: your accent, your rhythm. There are great presenters and not, but if I know who I am. Watch it some time. You'll see some really bad presenters who are speaking to their audience aware that they're not so good at this.
I work with TED on TED Talks. I'm a Tedster; proud to be a Tedster. TED Talks are, as you know, incredible. A lot of time is spent on starting with the personal. That's one of the rules of TED. You cannot pitch your product, your company. You must start with you, some reason you're there or concern you have.
When you get the big CEO on the screens that they get at TED, and even the biggest who are interviewed by Chris, you'll see him start off by saying, "So, you've been in the business 34 years. Are you still liking it?" or something like that. That's the start of a formal business interview.
I think that's good to keep in mind for authenticity. Keep yourself aware of who you are and be the best you can for who you are, not somebody else.
Michael Krigsman: Could we say that credibility is a function of your history but being authentic is being honest and exposing your vulnerabilities? Would that be accurate?
David Hoffman: Yes, that's a part of it. I think that's really good. Let me think about credibility one more second with your audience.
A track record is interesting because, when track record talks to track record, you've got to be real careful, but there's hierarchical. You know how males are. Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. So, I have to watch out.
I have a credibility mark, but there are places I have not done well. In advertising, television commercials, mine are okay. The guys who are doing great, I look at them and go, "Oh, boy. That is not me."
There are places I'm not strong and there are places I am. I have to know what those are. That's credible.
In a female space, male to female, which I'm dealing with lots because females are so great in the workplace, so skilled, I don't know whether I should present myself as a male who is kind of point oriented--one, two, three, four, five--will she hear that way or do I have to switch to a more female way of speaking, which has a three-dimensionality to it? It's something I have to ask myself all the time in terms of my own credibility.
Then people always say, "He's won Emmys eight times." I'm an eight-time Emmy Award winner, and even Michael says that. I don't know that that matters to anybody. For example, it does not matter to me. I don't care how many Emmys you have.
I do care that I made a PBS show once for a Navy contractor that PBS said, "We're never going to run your show. It all makes the military look good." I ran the rough cut for them and they put it in the primetime and it was the second highest rated show that year on PBS. That's credibility for me. Is it credibility for you, my audience? I don't know.
I can tell you that I've worked for some terrible CEOs and some terrible CIOs and some terrific ones. Fortunately for me, the terrible ones fired me. I didn't last very long.
Advice to Storytellers
Michael Krigsman: David, as we move towards finishing up, what pieces of advice do you have for people that are listening who want to tell a story better? Maybe summarize this story for them.
David Hoffman: Everybody should want to tell a story better, including me. First, I'm going to watch this show by myself. I don't know about you folks, but I don't like seeing myself with other people in the room.
Then I'm going to watch you with my wife who is brutal. "Oh, why did you roll your eyes that way? Why did you put your hands up that way? You're wearing the wrong hat and you have a little bit of unshaven spot there." That's torture.
All of you who aren't great storytellers are uncomfortable. That's a natural part of the feeling. The first thing I would do, admit it. It's difficult to be perfect.
To be David Muir on the Nightly ABC Report, I cannot believe that guy. He reads perfectly. He looks perfect. He's a human being. He's kind. Children love him. I say that every night, "That's a guy I'd like to be." Does he have anything negative?
Most of us, we have negatives. We have uncomfortableness. Try to accept that, I say. Then go on and speak to the person or group that you know something about and be open.
I think what we said, was it called a bombshell? Something steps on your foot. Ooh! Do you just go on? Do you change the subject? Be cognizant of that.
This is Jeff Bezos. He just said this last month, which is, "I don't care about my brand when I'm talking or people are in the room. I want to know what they say about my brand when I'm not in the room." Is that not great?
What will you leave with that the person will say, "Well, he was interesting," or, "What he said had some good stuff in it. I don't know," or, "He's just a salesman"?
Eh, "He's just a salesman," and all of us are salesmen, every one of us listening, watching, Michael, me. Eh, so I don't want to ever be called "just a salesman."
Michael Krigsman: How do you choose topics that are great topics for your stories?
David Hoffman: There is no such thing as a great topic, my story, in my view. Everything involves the listener. What does the listener want to hear from me is a great story, right? But that great story is not the same for a person in the business of making money or a person in the business of saving the planet. Both are my clients from time-to-time. They're very different.
A great story is, what would get these whale people who care about whales to pay attention to David Hoffman that he can make your thing better? That's pretty much how I pitch myself. You've got a thing you want to do, say, position, I can make it better because of my presence. That's my pitch. That's my story. But how it plays out depends on who the listener is because that doesn't sound like anything unless I put it in the personal.
Could I make Michael's story better? Yep. I could. I could show him how I could do that.
Is he the key to the story? Yes, and he is who he is. I can't change that, I don't try, and you shouldn't either.
I hope this has been helpful to you. I really appreciate Michael giving me the chance. I've never done anything quite like being interviewed by Michael for his audience, you guys and girls.
Michael Krigsman: David, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. I hope you'll come back. Let's do it again.
David Hoffman: It'd be my pleasure, for sure.
Michael Krigsman: We've been speaking with David Hoffman. He's an eight-time Emmy Award winner. Check him out on YouTube. Search for David Hoffman on YouTube. His videos, his documentary clips are extraordinary.
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Thanks so much, everybody. I hope you have a great day and we'll see you again next time. Bye-bye.
Published Date: Jan 25, 2019
Author: Michael Krigsman
Episode ID: 575