This week, I’m joined by Mark Carpenter, Serial Storyteller, Founder, Trainer, Consultant, and Speaker. He co-authored “Master Storytelling”, a book about how to turn everyday experiences into stories that teach, lead, and inspire. Throughout our conversation, Mark explains why storytelling is so compelling for most people and teaches us the basics of creating captivating stories. We also talk about transforming day-to-day experiences into authentic, persuasive, and engaging stories and why most leaders fail to see storytelling’s massive potential.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. I am thrilled with the guest that we have today, I can’t wait to tell you about him. He is a serial storyteller who is on a mission to bring more humanity into leadership and sales. He has leveraged his storytelling ability over the years in marketing communications, public relations, corporate facilitation, and as a college professor. Welcome, Mark Carpenter.
Mark Carpenter: Thank you, Steve. I’m thrilled to be here with you today.
Steve Shallenberger: I feel the same way. I can assure you this is going to be a wonderful podcast, it’ll be stimulating. I promise you’re going to get some new ideas today. I’ll tell you a little bit more about Mark. He works as a consultant and speaker to teach others what he’s learned along the way, and he shares his secrets to purposeful and effective leadership and his best-selling book, “Master Storytelling: How to Turn Your Experiences into Stories that Teach, Lead, and Inspire.” So, when he’s not speaking, training, coaching, or creating new content, Mark is likely hiking or snowshoeing in the mountains near his home. Mark and I discovered this morning that we live 30 minutes from each other. He was raised 15 minutes from where my home is. So, we’re going to have fun. He loves to play the piano, bragging about his grandchildren, and writing children’s books. So, Mark, tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you and what you’re doing today.
Mark Carpenter: Well, that’s such a tricky thing to do in a short amount of time, because I know we only have like 30 minutes or so in this podcast. I can go on and on and on. But let me just start with this: I’ve always been somebody who’s loved stories. As a kid, my mom was a reading teacher, so I’ve read a lot of books, that was always part of our household. My first career, I’ll say, was 20 years working in corporate marketing, communications, and public relations. So, I was telling the story of our organization to its various publics. There was a lot of storytelling involved in that. And then after 20 years, I transitioned my career into facilitation and teaching. This is where I started to teach as an adjunct professor. I’ve done corporate training and facilitation; storytelling is a huge part of that. And a few years ago, I made a comment to my wife: “I want to write a business book, and I’m not sure what it is.” She kind of rolled her eyes at me and said, “Oh, I know what it is. You’ve got to write a book about how you can take everyday experiences, and turn them into stories that teach important principles and endpoints.” I looked at it and I thought, “That’s not a book; that’s just what people do.” And she said, “No, it’s what you do because you’ve done it for so many years.” But you need to crack the code on that so that you can help other people do that, who it’s not as natural for as it is for you. And I started talking to other people about it, and they said, “Yeah, I would love a book like that.” And then got together with my good friend, Darrell Harmon, and we co-authored this book back in 2018, and created a course that goes along the same lines that teach people what we know and what we learned in the process; to take those everyday experiences and turn them into points where you as a leader can take real-life experience and tap into the power of storytelling to touch the hearts and minds of those that you’re teaching, leading, selling it to, and inspiring.
Steve Shallenberger: I love it. That’s a great story. Well, I’ll tell you, having a great partner, wife, significant other, whatever, that can inspire you and see the difference you can make. That’s very cool, Mark.
Mark Carpenter: You’re right on. Sometimes you need those other people. There’s the translation into the business principle. You need people around you, who will see things that you aren’t seeing so they can say, “No, this is the direction to go,” even when you’re too close to it, to see that that’s a great idea.
Steve Shallenberger: I’ve got so many questions just popping all over my mind. Here’s the first one: Why do people like storytelling so much? I mean, they do. They can just sit around the campfire or sit on the edge of their seat.
Mark Carpenter: Yeah. It really is part of who we are as human beings. You think about this evolutionarily that back in ancient days, we learned to speak much earlier than we learned the written language. Spoken language was there long before written language was. So, how did we communicate important principles to each other? It was through story. This is how we connect with other people. This is how we decide “Are you in my tribe? Are you not in my tribe?” In terms of how these people tell the stories and what they tell the stories about. So, from an evolutionary standpoint, this is really who we are as human beings and it’s how we make sense of the world. Now, I’m going to fast-forward centuries because, in more recent times, there’s been a lot of research that shows why this happens. And it gets into the chemical reactions of what’s happening inside of our brain, that as we listen to a well-told story—and this ties to the researcher, Dr. Paul Zak—we get an increase in three chemical reactions in our brains: One is oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the trust hormone. So, as you’re telling me a story that I can relate to—I just shared with you my experience about my wife, well, you can relate to that experience because your wife’s been a trusted advisor for you—all of a sudden, there’s an increase in oxytocin in your brain, which makes you trust me more. Put a little conflict in the story—my issue of “That’s not a book, that’s not a thing”—and it gets you a little suspense. And that increases the cortisol in your brain just a little bit, so you want to know what’s going to happen? You lean into that to say, “What’s going to happen next in this story?” And then when it comes to a satisfactory resolution, we get an increase in dopamine. And dopamine is that sense of satisfaction, something good has happened here, and there’s a resolution that we’ve come to. You get a bit of dopamine every time you check a box on your checklist or cross something off that list because you’ve accomplished something. People get it when they level up in a video game, or take a little piece of chocolate and that gives you a little dopamine increase, too. So I love to say that stories are like lollipops for our brain; they just give you that satisfactory feeling and it’s kind of fun. So, there’s some real science behind why stories are so impactful for us.
Steve Shallenberger: Why is storytelling so underutilized with leaders and people in general?
Mark Carpenter: It’s under-recognized is what it is. People don’t realize how powerful stories are. I think sometimes people are using stories without realizing it, and without being intentional about it. So, they’ll share a story, but maybe they haven’t crafted it in a way that takes advantage of all that brain chemistry that I just talked about, to help them teach, lead, sell, and inspire. So, I think a lot of times, as leaders, we say, “Well, I need to be a serious leader.” I remember the first time I was put in a people leadership position, I was like, “Okay, now I’ve got a title. I’ve got to be a serious leader here.” And I think I’ve leaned more on the position and “I’ve got to show data, information, and speeches to lead the way.” And we don’t see storytelling for the power that it has in helping us accomplish those serious leadership goals that we need to accomplish. So, I think it’s just under-recognized and that’s why it’s underutilized; people don’t see it as a powerful leadership skill.
Steve Shallenberger: So, Mark, tell us what’s in the book. How can it be a help for me or any leader or a person to do better at utilizing storytelling, because it is so powerful?
Mark Carpenter: This is in the book, as well as in our workshop that we teach on master storytelling. We talk more about the science behind it, about why it works and how. The interesting thing is, every time I introduce the science to people, they go, “Oh, my gosh, I can see that now.” It just opens them up to this light, that they see how that actually works with them. Let me talk about “Where do you find stories?” That’s one of the big questions that we get from people is, “Well, but I’m just a regular person, where am I going to get experiences that I can turn into stories?” And the key thing there is they are everywhere, you just open your eyes to them and look around. So we give people some tips on how to find those stories. And then once you find the experience that can become a story, how do you craft it intentionally so that it leads to the result that you want so that it’s actually making a point that you’re trying to make? We talked about some nuances within that storytelling, and then how to get better at storytelling. So, that’s kind of the high level of where we go in the book and in the workshop.
Steve Shallenberger: So, Mark, from your experience, what are the three biggest mistakes people make in storytelling?
Mark Carpenter: I think number one is something that I mentioned earlier, and this kind of his overarching with the others that I’ll say. Number one is that they aren’t intentional about it. They want to tell a story, so they just tell a story. But they aren’t intentional about “What’s the point that I’m trying to make there?” And by not being intentional, it leads to what I think is the second mistake, they either put so much detail in there that people get lost in it, or they rush through it and get too quickly to the end, and people aren’t sure what the point is. And it doesn’t tap into some of that brain chemistry that I just talked about. The third mistake, and this ties back into the intentionality as well, is that they’re focused more on themselves than on their audience. The story, even if it’s your story, it’s based on your experience, but if you’re telling the story with purpose and intentionality. It’s not about you, it’s about the people who are listening. So, think about how this is going to connect to them, how it’s going to help them, how it’s going to move them to some action that you want them to take. And if we don’t keep sight of that, we’ll tell the story in a way that doesn’t connect as powerfully as it could with the audiences that we want to connect with.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, great. Just a quick little sub-question on that, from what you’ve learned, how do you make it the right balance? Not too much detail, but it’s pertinent, and then turn it around so that it is of benefit to whoever is the listener or the intention of the story. So, how do you make it not too detailed? What have you found?
Mark Carpenter: The Goldilocks effect; where am I going to get this not too hot, not too cold, but just right? And it starts with that intentionality, it starts with understanding “What is my purpose in telling this story?” This is a Steven Covey principle, of course: “If we don’t begin with the end in mind, then we start wandering around in that story looking for that end,” looking for what that purpose is that I’m trying to get to. And that’s the mistake that I see that people make. The other part of it is, and we have this in the book and the workshop, we have a simple structure that you can put it in, where there’s an introduction, there’s a current state that you’re going to get people into — who are the characters? What’s their goal? What’s the conflict that comes in? What’s getting in the way of attaining that goal? And then what’s the change that happens at the end? What change do we come to as a result of this? And that’s where the intentionality comes in. Because it’s getting to “What is this change that I want to show here at the end that’s going to help people make progress, that’s going to help people move along?” Now, sometimes people will look at that and say, “Yeah, but the story is that I have and the experience that I can think of, they were all times when I stumbled, when I didn’t get to a good change.” Fantastic, because that’s an opportunity to say, “What could we have done differently here to get to the change that we really wanted to?” So it’s the learning point, not necessarily that every story has to be a hero story, it could be a learning story. And those are sometimes the most powerful stories you can tell. So, it’s taking that experience, being intentional about what you’re moving toward, and then just crafting it very simply to get to that point that you’re trying to make.
Steve Shallenberger: I love this discussion because it’s all about becoming your best — it’s “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” Wherever we are on this spectrum, I expect we can be better storytellers. It’s just about continuing to find ways to do that. Albert Einstein said, “It’s 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” In other words, you really have to work at this. But I love the fact that wherever you’re at, we can get better. How do people find impactful stories? Because once they start learning how to do this, it probably becomes better. So, what’s your experience there, Mark? How do you do it? How do you create this imagination? Go to work and 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, and all of a sudden, I guess, they hit and you say, “Oh, there’s a story I can use and that makes sense.”
Mark Carpenter: I’lI answer your question in the form of a story. Several years ago, I was facilitating a trainer certification for some content that I was teaching. And as part of their certification process, they needed to share a story that related to their segment of the content. I was talking to the group about where do you come up with these stories. And this one participant says, “Oh, I just make them up. I just invent stuff.” I was fighting that balance of how do I tell her I think that’s a bad idea and still maintain a safe environment here in the room. And another participant bailed me out by saying, “I’m not sure that’s gonna come across as authentic.” I was like, “Oh, good, now we can talk about this.” Well, this one participant got in panic mode, because she was like — it was the same question you’re asking: “Where am I going to find these stories if I can’t just make them up?” So we talked about looking at all different areas of your life. And here’s the biggest key, Steve, it’s being aware that you’re looking for them. It’s being aware that you want to capture those things. We talked about that, and it did not bring her panic level down at all. She was really worried about this at the end of the day. Well, the next day, she comes back, she does her segment, and she tells this wonderful story about an experienced that she had been night before, on the elevator in the hotel. So, I asked her, “Where did you come up with that story? Did you make it up?” She said, “No, that really happened to me.” And you could tell in the story, it was so authentic. You could tell it really happened to her. She said I was in my hotel room, working on this teach-back, I was so stressed about the story, I just needed to clear my head. So, I said, “I gotta go take a walk.” I got into the elevator, I had this interaction with this woman where she reacted badly to s something that I did. I started walking around the hotel, I was thinking about that, and I went, “Wait, that story makes the exact point that I’m trying to make in my teach-back.” And I love telling that story because it illustrates this point: if you’re looking for them, they will be there. You can find the stories all around you. So, if you have a point that you need to make, start looking for experiences, and talk to other people about their experiences, you can borrow their stories.
Mark Carpenter: The other side of it is anytime you have an emotional reaction to something that happens to you, there is likely a lesson learned within that experience, there’s likely something that you can share within that moment. And that can be an emotional reaction of fear, anger, disgust, joy, or excitement, whatever the emotional reaction, there’s probably a lesson there. A quick example of this: Just last week, I was working on my garden, and I was putting some paving stones into my garden to have little steps between so I could weed easier and harvest easier. Well, I was moving the paving stones from the back of my car, and I pinched the middle of my fingers. So, think about the part of your finger, that soft pad there on your middle finger. I pinched that between two paving stones. You’re feeling the pain right now, aren’t you?
Steve Shallenberger: Yes.
Mark Carpenter: See, now we’re getting some oxytocin and some cortisol going on. I pinch that and I was like, “Oh, that hurts.” My wife asked me a very fair question when I was telling her about it, she said, “Did you swear?” I was like, “No, I didn’t. I was good in that moment, I didn’t even swear.” But I thought about that, looking back to it, because there was a strong emotional reaction there. I thought, “What’s the lesson?” Does that happen to us in business, where something happens, and it may be a little pinch point, but it hurts in the moment? We lose a client, or somebody makes a mistake, or an important team member leaves us and it hurts at that moment. But if we get so focused on that little thing that hurts, we lose sight of our bigger goal. I could have lost sight on “I need to get the garden finished” in that moment to “I need to go care for my finger.” But I didn’t. I said, “Okay, I’m just gonna get this done and I’ll take care of that later.” Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, of the bigger vision when you have little pinch points that happen in your business.” So, you see, there’s a little lesson that can come from that very simple story because I recognize the emotional reaction that I had within it.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I’m so inspired by this discussion that we’re having today because, certainly, in my profession, as a leader, as the president of a couple of companies, it’s a powerful process or way mechanism to teach others and to share something I’m passionate about. It makes it more fun because I suspect the very things that you talked about, these chemical releases that somebody received as a deliverer, a sharer, I feel the same thing. So, it creates a way to share. But think about other responsibilities, professionally, as a trainer, facilitator, and stories as a parent or a grandparent, trying to drive home a point. It’s important to all of us. What would your recommendation be for people, maybe some of our listeners, feeling like they’re not naturally very good storytellers? What encouragement would you give them? What advice?
Mark Carpenter: I’ll answer that question, but I want to go back to what you said, too, about where you use storytelling because you’re spot on. Steve didn’t pay me to pitch his book or anything, but there are a couple of chapters in his book that I go, “Storytelling is all about this.” You’re talking there about leading with vision. A lot of times we lead with vision, we create a mission statement, a vision statement, and we put these words on the wall. Well, vision is not about words on the wall, it’s about behaviors in the hall and how are you going to demonstrate behaviors in the hall; it’s by telling the story of what people actually do that represents that mission and vision. That’s one of the powerful ways that you can use a story as a leader. You talk in your book about building trust and being an effective communicator, storytelling is a great way to build trust. We talked about how it increases oxytocin in the listener, that is a trust hormone. You build trust within people, as you tell the stories to leave them, rather than just throwing out a bunch of numbers or some platitudes. The same thing about effectively communicating. There’s research that shows that people who hear things in the form of a story remember it much better than if they see it in charts and graphs, and they find it more credible. So, there are all sorts of places that you can use it. And I love how your book really connects to some of those strong places to use: storytelling. Now, to your question about how do you get better at this. I’m going to put that back to a question to you, Steve, you’re ready for this one? I didn’t prepare him for this at all. The very first time you hosted a podcast. Did you feel like you were a good podcast host?
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, not at all. No, I felt like, “Oh, man, I hope I can make it through this.”
Mark Carpenter: So, why didn’t you just give it up? Why didn’t you just say, “I can’t do this, it is just not natural for me, and I’m not very good at it”?
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I just knew that if I kept at it, maybe I could figure it out.
Mark Carpenter: There you go. That’s it was storytelling. And you probably watched other people, you listened to other podcast hosts, you got some advice, you might even read some material, and get the background about what it takes to become a good storyteller. My pitch is, read our book, go to our workshop, but learn that information. But the only way you really get better at it is by doing it. It’s like any skill — you have to practice it. It helps to practice and get feedback. Get feedback on what went well, was the point clear? Did it come across strong? So, those are the things that I encourage people to do—particularly, as they’re starting out and if they feel like they’re novice storytellers—learn the structure, try it out a couple of times, and get feedback on those two questions: What did you like about the story? What did you think the point was in the story? Because when people get those two answers, they’ll get positive reinforcement and they’ll see if their point actually struck home. And that’s the most important thing in the story is for that point to come across.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s fantastic. I’ve loved every part of this interview today. I’m always more than shocked at how fast the interviews go, and we’re towards the end of this interview already.
Mark Carpenter: We could go on and on, couldn’t we, Steve?
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, we could. We’re having fun today. What are some final tips that you would like to leave with our listeners today, Mark?
Mark Carpenter: I think the final tip is one that I even talked about earlier, and it’s about being intentional. Leadership is an intentional thing. And if you want to lead like a person, if you want to lead with humanity, storytelling is one of the great ways to do that. But it’s not storytelling just to tell stories or to entertain, it’s storytelling with a point. So, be intentional about including storytelling in your leadership, and in developing your people. And that will connect you with those people better. It’ll bring your points across more powerfully and more memorably for the people that are listening.
Steve Shallenberger: I love it. I’m just thinking while you’re sharing those great thoughts and great advice, and I’m so excited to read your book. Is it on Audible as well?
Mark Carpenter: It is. So, it’s in all forms: paperback, hardback, audible, eBook — we’ve got it all out there. In fact, if you’re open to this, I would offer your listeners a free copy of the eBook. You can go to my website: Master-Storytelling.com/podcastgift. If you go to that, it’ll have a little form for you and say, “Hey, I heard on Steve’s podcast. Here’s my email, would you give me a copy of your book?” And I’ll send you a free copy of the eBook.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that’s wonderful. And that’s a great way to read books. Today, I’ll let you know, Mark, your book sales are going to go up by one from me for sure, and your Audible is going to go up by one from me for sure.
Mark Carpenter: Well, here’s the warning, I’ll give you on the Audible: you have to listen to the sound of my voice for about 2 hours and 50 minutes because I read the Audible book.
Steve Shallenberger: That’ll make it extra fun then. So, Mark, tell our listeners how they can find out more about you. You’ve already shared a little bit. How can they find out about your book and your information?
Mark Carpenter: The website is the best place to start: master-storytelling.com. We’ve got a couple of free resources on there. I’ll put our podcast episode on there when it’s out. There are several other things that people can tap into there. I’d also encourage you to connect with me on LinkedIn. So, if you search for “Mark Carpenter and Master Storytelling,” you’ll find me. It’ll will come up that way. LinkedIn is another place where you can connect with me. I put out a story every week that illustrates the point that there are everyday things in your life that you can find that you can turn into a story.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, it has been a delight to have you with us today. Mark Carpenter! What a blast to be together.
Mark Carpenter: Thank you, Steve. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Steve Shallenberger: Me too. We wish you the best in all that you’re doing. You’re creating a wave. It’s an inspirational topic and skill set. It certainly helps us in our individual focus and quest to become our best and to make a difference. And it makes it fun. I love storytelling, so much better than just sharing information, right?
Mark Carpenter: Absolutely.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, to all of our listeners, we wish you all the best. We know you’re making a difference in the world, as you work on improving your own life and being the best that you can be. I guarantee and I assure you, you’re touching other people around you and leaving the world a better place. So, thank you for being with us today. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, signing off and wishing you the best.
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