Paul Smith on How To Create Surprise and so Much More on Storytelling | Episode 119

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Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts in business storytelling. He’s one of Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers of 2018, a storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell, Sell with a Story, Lead with a Story, and Parenting with a Story. He holds an MBA from the Wharton School, is a former consultant at Accenture, and former executive and 20-year veteran of The Procter & Gamble Company.

Paul has two different types of typical days, one involves been at home wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt writing a book, the other on an airplane heading to/from and event or speaking at an event. There is nothing much in-between.

One of Paul’s favorite fails comes from when he was working on his book. Prior to looking for a publisher, it’s important to first have a literary agent to represent you, this is when Paul first had to send proposals. He sent a total of 6 proposals before the 7th one responded with a maybe, on the consideration of changing the proposal. So Paul worked with them for 3 months editing and adapting it over and over before finally presenting it to the head of the company who responded by saying it was a lot better, but they would still not represent him. However, he then took this proposal and sent it to an 8th agent who immediately said yes, she then took this and presented it to the first publisher who wrote him a publishing contract. The main lesson Paul learned here was persistence, he also learned it was important to get help from people along the way and if people say no, it’s important to ask “why not?” as then you can learn from the experience.

One of Paul’s favorite successes come from his 5th book that recently came out. He has been working on this book for 6 years and has published 4 books since he started working on this. His first 4 books are business books around storytelling. This book is much different, it is a biography about a man who is deaf in both ears, blind in one eye, has a learning disability and couldn’t speak till the age of 10 and who has led a fascinating life. Paul had a hard time getting it written and a hard time finding a publisher. The thing that he feels made the difference is he simply put the story of how the two met at a storytelling festival. So he used those storytelling abilities first hand! He made a summary of it in the episode, so listen up!

Paul believes as someone who’s about to tell a story the first thing you must ask is “What is your objective in telling this story?” in other words, what is the experience you want your audience to have? From here you can pick a moment in time to craft a story in time. The structure that Paul prefers to follow for his stories involves 8 questions.

The first question for a short story is “Why should I bother listening to the story?” Give your audience a reason to listen to the story. The next 5 questions are “Where and when did it take place?”, “Who is the main character and what did they want?”, “What was the problem or opportunity they ran in to?”, “What did they do about it?” and “How did it turn out in the end?”. The last two questions are “What did you learn from it?” and “What should I go do now?”. These questions are aimed towards the business audience, for games specifically you might not need the final two questions however the first 6 steps in Paul’s opinion are fundamental.

A best practice for Paul is having a surprise somewhere in your story, he finds is an effective technique to make the story more memorable, enjoyable and effective at whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. The surprise physiologically makes it more memorable due to the adrenaline it releases. Paul’s technique to create a surprise in any story is by hiding information that should be delivered at the start of the story and revealing it at the end, if this is done smartly you can create an effective surprise ending. There is a great example he shares as well.

He would personally love to hear from the developers behind the games of Minecraft and Skyrim on the podcast as these are huge games in his Children’s life. He’s particularly fascinated with the creativity of Minecraft and interested in the storytelling behind Skyrim.

A book Paul would recommend from his own collection that he thinks would be most applicable to a game developer is his 3rd book Sell with a Story as the majority of the book is around how you craft a story and useful techniques around this.

Paul would say his superpower around writing business books is the fact he’s been a business executive for 20+ years of his career and knows the stories that are required. He believes this is a unique combination in this space.

Find more information about Paul on his website:


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