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How to Tell Better Stories

a man telling a woman a story after a workout - how to tell better stories

Strip searches were new for me.

Standing in the waiting area of a maximum-security prison was, too.

I was there for my first powerlifting meet. A skinny kid hoping to weigh over 198 lb. so that I could compete in the same group as my 270-lb. friends. I was scared to be separated from them, scared to get locked in there forever, scared to embarrass myself with my lifting.

Crossing an international border to reach the prison was the first barrier.
Two huge friends in the front seat of the truck. Me in the back.

Border guard: “Where you guys going this early in the morning?”

Driver: “Kinross Prison. We’re doing a powerlifting meet with the inmates.”

The guard looked at the driver. You could see his brain ticking boxes: “Powerlifter.” He looked at the passenger. “Powerlifter.” Tick. He looked at me.

And looked again.

Asked the driver, “Where’s he going?”

“He’s the bait,” the driver replied. The guard laughed. Border guards laughed in those days. He raised the barrier. We drove through.

I was almost disappointed.

Prison Bars and Barbells


We cleared the security at the prison and passed through locked doors with warnings: “Don’t sweat off the stamp on your hand” and “Don’t get separated from the group.”

We got locked in the gym with 50 lifetime inmates.

Then the guards left.

Three barbells on which 50 men were to warm up. In 10 minutes.

The terror of the prison, the terror of my first powerlifting meet, the terror of failure—all of it came to one sharp point when I stepped onto the platform. I felt the sharp knurling of the bar cut into my back. My last fear was, “Will this bar get bloody?” and then I started to sink with it.

Wound to my tightest point, I sprung up from the bottom of the squat so fast that my feet left the ground. I jumped with the weight and came back down with a thud.

Three red lights glowed: I had failed my first lift. But the hardest part of the day was over.

I relaxed. I laughed along with everyone in the room. My next squat was good. My final deadlift was great.

Inmates shared their workouts with me. When they were called to their cells for a headcount before lunch, I napped in the gym with my friends. Then we began the slow process of leaving a prison.

The jokes—“winner gets to leave!”—were funny now.

The Goal: Have Them Believe Your Message, Not Just Notice It


Good stories are:

  • True.
  • Relatable (people can put themselves in your shoes).
  • Consistent (told in your own voice).
  • Much shorter than you think they should be.

The people you’re trying to reach and resonate with are not persuaded by facts. You can’t argue someone into buying from you. “But it’s only the cost of a cup of coffee each day!” doesn’t work. They don’t just want to know about what you do, serve or sell—they want to know why. They want to know your story.

Every successful individual and organization has figured out how to influence and inspire people and create the change they seek to make by telling better stories.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Talk about the things people care about.

We all tend to suffer from “the technician’s curse”: We project what we know onto everyone else. But they don’t know what we do.

What do people actually want to know?

Click here to download our Storytelling Workbook.

Flip to the checklist on the last page and you’ll see the top questions your clients are asking.

2. Tell stories instead of giving “the answer.”

You probably asked some of the same questions people are asking—even if it’s been awhile. Tell people how you (or a client) overcame the obstacle or answered the question. Show, don’t tell.

3. Be truthful.

Lies are sticky, but they’re always uncovered.

4. Publish every day.

There’s no such thing as “writer’s block.” Plumbers don’t get “plumber’s block.” When you open a business, you open a media company. Show up.

5. Don’t try to convince anyone to do anything.

You can just facilitate what they already want. Arguments and rants don’t stick—but feelings do, and if you make people feel angry (or worse, dumb), they’ll stop giving you their attention.

6. Don’t be perfect.

I’m not. But I bury the bad with the better. Someday I’ll write a better post than this one. No one is flipping through your back catalog and comparing things. Every day is an opportunity to tell a better story.

7. Forget the “likes.”

They don’t matter. Publishing on social media doesn’t make you money; it makes Zuckerberg money. Your number one goal on social media is to get people off social media (and onto your site).

Telling Your Story


On tomorrow’s episode of Two-Brain Radio, I’ll walk you through great storytelling step by step.

You can download the Workbook here—and Two-Brain clients can get white-labeled blog posts to copy, social-media templates to use and daily prompts to help you tell stories better.

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