Carmine Gallo: Everyone can be an inspiring storyteller—here's how

By Jamie Rosenstein | People Analyst

Carmine Gallo is the bestselling author of nine books that have been translated into forty languages. He is also a popular keynote speaker and instructor at Harvard University. Recently, Carmine was invited to the Google Mountain View campus to discuss his new book, Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great. I met with Carmine while he was visiting Google and asked him for inclusive storytelling tips that can work for many different audiences.

How do you balance crafting a message that resonates with individuals from different backgrounds while also appealing to the broadest possible audience?

Crafting a message that resonates with all audiences requires that you know one fundamental rule of persuasion: The tools we use to communicate have changed, but the human brain has not. Understanding how people desire to consume their information allows you to understand how to grab and keep the attention of any audience, whether they are highly technical or broad-based. For example, most listeners want to consume information in the form of narrative. We are wired for story. Storytelling is not something we do; storytellers are who we are. There’s a difference between dumping data on people in a random order and actually structuring the data in the form of a narrative.

Could you share tips on tailoring your style, content, and approach to ensure you're meeting the audience where they are?

Start at a thirty thousand-foot perspective and drill down. The human brain craves meaning before details. In other words, start with the big, broad picture of what you intend to accomplish with your presentation. If you’ve done your homework and you know your audience well, you can decide which details to leave in and which to eliminate if they happen to be too technical. Second, always ask yourself this question: What dreams am I helping my audience/listener fulfill? In other words, do not sell the product; sell the promise of a better life for your listener. Nobody cares about your product. They care about their lives, their hopes, and their dreams. Show your customer how your product or idea will help them fulfill their dreams, and you will win them over.

How do you ensure you’re not tone-deaf to cultural missteps?

I always customize my presentations to my audience. This is a crucial step for any communicator, regardless of where they’re speaking. It will help you avoid cultural missteps, whether we’re talking about geographic or corporate culture. It requires some homework. Ask people who live in the country or work at the company about the culture. I like to ask what the boss wears. Speaking to a company in Dubai is very different than speaking to an audience from the same company in Silicon Valley. The company’s the same, but the geographic culture is different. One might be more formal than the other. If an audience is made up of highly technical or financial people, they’ll want to see more data and numbers than an audience that represents a broader cross section of people. Homework should be part of your preparation for any presentation.

What are the challenges of leading and communicating in a technology-centric society and how can we overcome them?

Complexity is the enemy of effective communication. Your audience is already deluged with data and information. Do they really want to see fifty data-heavy slides in your presentation? Probably not. The secret is to hide the complexity. How? Here’s a tip: stick to the rule of three. The “rule of three” simply means that people are largely incapable of carrying more than three or four things in short-term memory. Great writers have known this for centuries. Books have a beginning, middle and end. The Declaration of Independence gave us three rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Aladdin was granted three wishes, not twenty-eight. You get the idea. Give your audience 3 key messages and bundle your information into one of the three categories. Too much information simply adds to the clutter.

What role do you see gender playing in communication strategies?

I think many people might be surprised at just how important public speaking and presentation skills are to their career advancement. For my new book, Five Stars, I interviewed many young career professionals—women, especially—who saw their careers soar as they became more comfortable speaking in front of groups. They were promoted faster than their peers and were selected to be on leadership tracks. If you’re passionate about your idea, have created a strong story and practice your delivery, you’ll come across as confident. Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, offered some great advice while speaking at a women’s conference. She told the audience that leadership today requires 1) Competency. This makes sense. If you’re not competent in a role, there’s not much use talking about the other traits. Competency requires a growth mindset. Always keep learning. 2) Courage. Professionals must have the courage to make their voices heard and to speak up. 3) Communication skills. In today’s world, it’s not enough to tell someone what to do you. Instead, you have to inspire them to take the journey with you. Develop these three qualities and you’ll be a standout leader.

What is one word that captures what a great communicator is to you?

INSPIRING. The word "inspiration" means to be infused by the spirit. To be an inspiring communicator, you must be inspired yourself. You have to be genuinely passionate and enthusiastic about the topic. Inspiration also means to lift people higher. Inspiring communicators make you want to be a better person. In my twenty-plus years of studying leadership and communication, I’ve concluded that you don’t need to have the best speaking skills to be successful. You can be mediocre communicator and still be financially well-off. But I’m much more intrigued by leaders who raise the bar and ignite our imagination. Those leaders—and they’re rare—are inspiring. Here’s the best part. Anyone can learn to be an inspiring communicator. The first step is to have an idea that inspires you. Once you do, you can learn the skills to share that idea persuasively.

You can watch Carmine's full talk at Google's Mountain View campus here:


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