On this episode, Josh sits down with his long time friend Michael Port. They have an amazing conversation on public speaking and the importance of storytelling.
Michael Port is the author of eight bestselling books, which have been translated into 29 languages, including Book Yourself Solid and Steal the Show. A few of his books have become perennial bestsellers and made it onto lists such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. (Not too bad for someone who was told by his fourth-grade teacher that he had the worst spelling she’d seen in 25 years of teaching.)
Michael combined his acting, training, and business background to build Heroic Public Speaking Worldwide. Together with his wife and co-founder, Amy Port, at their 10,000 square-foot headquarters in New Jersey, they offer the most complete and effective speaker training in the world.
In today’s episode you will learn about:
- Concept of safety in communication
- Effects of feelings on communication
- Importance of stories in communication
- Tips for great storytelling
Narrator: Welcome to Cracking the Cash Flow Code where you’ll learn what it takes to create enough cash to fill the four buckets of profit. You’ll learn what it takes to have enough cash for a great lifestyle, have enough cash for when emergency strikes, fully fund the growth program, and fund your retirement program. When you do this, you will have a sale‑ready company that will allow you to keep or sell your business. This allows you to do what you want with your business, when you want, in the way you want.
In Cracking the Cash Flow Code, we focus on the four areas of business that let you take your successful business and make it economically and personally sustainable. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning, and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable and allow you to be free of cash flow worries.
Josh Patrick: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and you’re at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. And, today, boy, are we lucky, lucky, lucky. We have Michael Port from Heroic Public Speaking with us today. Gosh, I think I’ve known Michael for, I don’t know, 12, 13, maybe 14 years.
I met him when I first went to a Book Yourself Solid thing. And I walked in and I said to Michael, after I went to the first thing, “We need to be more advanced.” Then, he let me try that and it fell flat on its face but we both learned a little bit. It was really a lot of fun.
And over the years, I consider Michael a good friend. And I’ve had the honor of helping him with a few things along the way with his own business. And it’s a real pleasure.
And, today, we’re going to talk about what you need to know about being a great public speaker. And, by the way, I have to tell you this first time I saw Michael ever direct somebody on stage my mouth dropped to my feet. I have never, ever, ever seen anybody as skilled as he was.
So, instead of me wandering on about Michael, let’s bring him on and listen to some of his wisdom.
Hey, Michael, how are you today?
Michael: I’m wonderful. Thank you so much. Very kind words. I appreciate that.
Josh: Well, they’re true. And I have really never seen anybody direct a speaker like you. And I’ve done a fair amount of training that over my lifetime. And you’ve been a big help with me and made me a lot better, so I appreciate that.
Michael: Oh, good. Let me make sure right away because something that you mentioned in the introduction, I think, is important to clarify. I don’t necessarily think that everybody needs to do public speaking from the stage or virtually to large audiences. I don’t think that’s necessary for any one individual to do. And I certainly don’t think it’s necessary to build a business but there’s communication skills that certainly help us when we’re trying to present to a large group, but they also help us when we’re trying to present to one person, or to try to get someone to feel different, or think different, or act different.
And every single business owner has lots of different challenges that they need to overcome, often on a daily basis, and those challenges are more easily overcome when we have better communication skills. So, sometimes when people hear public speaking, they get nervous, and they say, ”No, no, no. That’s not for me. I don’t do public speaking. I’m not interested in public speaking. That’s for somebody else.” But every single one of us is well served by improving our ability to communicate so that other people understand what we’re trying to say and, more importantly, are positively affected by what we’re trying to say so that we can get people to feel differently, or think differently, or act differently.
Josh: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. I remember back in my vending days, when we would promote somebody to a supervisor status, one of the things they had to do, among many, was they had to join Toastmasters. And it wasn’t that I was having them join Toastmasters on how to give speeches. I needed to have them be able to speak to our customers in a way that didn’t sound like they were idiots because, the truth is, all our supervisors came from the blue‑collar world which is where our listeners come from here and they would go into a meeting with our customers, or with the people who were responsible for signing the contracts with us, and they needed to be able to speak to them in a way that was impactful. And that was one‑on‑one speaking. They never, never never– in fact, they used to fight me like crazy and it goes, “I don’t want to get in front and speak to people” and I say, “well, it’s part of the deal. If you don’t do it, you don’t get the job.”
Michael: So, one of the things that’s critically important to consider even before we start to work on our skill development, as public speakers or communicators, is the concept of safety because very often, in the workplace, when you’re trying to bring a new idea to the team or you’ve got to share some news that may be provocative for a variety of reasons, it can be anxiety provoking for the people with whom you’re communicating. And very often, when we think about communicating, we think about information communication. And if we’re focused first and primarily on information communication, we often neglect to consider how people feel in the moment about the dynamic or the relationship that exists between the people communicating and also the information, how they feel about that information. And so, what I recommend is to consider safety first.
Josh: So, what does that mean, Michael? I’m not quite clear on that.
Michael: I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you have a teenage daughter and she’s always been a good student, and she has a core group of friends that you feel are a positive influence on her. She’s played a musical instrument and has been involved in other extracurricular activities. But then, she starts dating this guy and you’re not crazy about this guy. You know, you don’t like his haircut. You don’t like the way he dresses. You don’t like that he doesn’t stand up when you walk in the room. He doesn’t look you in the eye. And you think he drives a little too fast. And so, you’re worrying about his influence on her because she’s not playing her instrument as much as she was. She doesn’t seem to be as focused on her schoolwork as she was. And she’s not spending as much time with her core group of friends as she was. And so, if you say to her, “Listen, the guys a bum. He’s a jerk. Forget about him. I don’t want you seeing him. You’ve got to go do the things that you did before. End of discussion.” How well do you think that’s going to go?
Josh: I could tell you, from personal experience, not well.
Michael: Exactly. It’s not going to go very well because she feels unsafe. She feels that you’re taking something away from her that she really wants. So maybe she feels like she’s got more excitement in her life now because of this guy. Maybe, you know, he’s popular in a way that she wasn’t before and she likes the access to a different social group. And so, if you approach it without thinking about her safety first, you’re likely going to exacerbate the situation and drive a bigger wedge in between you. Anytime a wedge is driven in between two communicators, communication usually degrades.
And so, instead of going in with that approach, if you think about, ”Well, how can I make her feel safe in this conversation?” Well, I probably need to think about what my objectives actually are. Yeah, sure. I’d love it if she just stopped seeing this guy but maybe that’s an unrealistic expectation right now and maybe that’ll actually make it worse.
So, what if she’s still dates this guy, but she still stays engaged with her music, with her core group of friends, with her schoolwork, so she doesn’t lose sight of the things that have brought value to her over many years? So, you go, my objective is to try to get her to stay engaged with those things, make her feel safe that I’m not taking him away so she stays engaged with me around that relationship and doesn’t shut me out.
So, if you went into the conversation with a really clear focus on telling her what your intentions are and what your intentions are not, you might create a sense of safety. You might say, “Listen, my intentions are not to break you up with this guy or take anything away. You know, I want you to have lots of excitement in your life, and fun, and access to, you know, these new social experiences. I think, you know, that could be really meaningful for you. My intention is just to make sure that you are still engaged with the things that have brought you so much joy and meaning over the years because I know it’s really good for your development and you’ve loved them.” She might say, “Oh, okay. I’ll have this conversation. I feel safe now to have the conversation.” And, as a result, you may have a much more communicative connected conversation where you can positively influence how she thinks and then what she does because you focused first on how she feels.
You know, generally, we go right to the, “Okay. I want to change what people do or I want to change what they think,” but if we don’t first focus on changing how they feel, it’s very hard to change what they think or what they do. And that’s why we look at safety first, from a communications perspective, whether it’s just one‑on‑one with a family member, or an employee, or a partner in the business and when we’re doing work from the stage or, you know, in front of a video camera to large groups of people.
Josh: So, that’s a great point. In any sales training you ever go through, you know, people say, you know, they buy an emotion and justify it with facts. I mean, that’s like the basis of all sales training. And it’s probably the basis of all communication. If we don’t work on feelings first and get people to feel something, there’s no way in the world they’re ever going to listen to what we want them to listen to. That’s a really good point.
Michael: You know, and if you’re asking someone to change the way they see the world–
By the way, I don’t know if you can hear that there’s some pounding on the roof of our headquarters here. We have vultures who live up above our roof. Like, we have about 30 of them, no exaggeration. And I mentioned this, just in case you can hear, that’s what the pounding is up there.
Josh: I can’t hear it so that’s fine.
Michael: But I mentioned it also because, at first, I was a little concerned with all these vultures around. I thought, “Was that a bad omen?” But then, I discovered that there’s some mythology around the vulture that’s actually really relevant for the work that we do. So, the vulture represents death of the ego in certain cultural mythology. And I think that’s a really interesting thing to consider because a lot of us are very influenced by our ego – our need for approval, our need for status. And our need for approval and our need for status generally interferes with our ability to communicate because, if we have a need for approval, then we’re often pandering to other people or taking approaches that are just going to make people happy but are not actually going to produce results or if we have a need for status, we may come into a conversation like a bully or like a bulldozer and not be as empathetic and considerate of other people’s feelings in the process.
So, when we have clients here at HPS HQ, when they either hear or see the vultures, we’re able to share this mythology with them and give them an opportunity, as students, to recognize that their ego may often be the thing that stands in the way of them becoming better communicators or producing more results over approval.
Josh: So, Michael, in the first 13 minutes of his podcast, you’ve done something really interesting and I want to pivot over this for a second because I think it’s a big deal. And the reason I think it’s a big deal is I’m getting inundated with my inbox with this issue which is storytelling. You just told two stories. How important are stories in communication, in your opinion?
Michael: I think they’re very important if they’re used well. I think the risk is that we think storytelling is so incredibly important that we focus on the story more than the lesson of the story because the stories are tools that we use to help teach a lesson. Because, if you can use a story that someone can relate to, they can often see themselves in that story and, as a result, they can connect with what you’re sharing.
But sometimes we see people going overboard with stories such that when, you know, either halfway through people are kind of looking at their watches going, “Can we get– can we get some– where you going with this?”, right. It feels a little bit like a dad story which my kids have told me that I do. Even though I’m a professional storyteller, for the most part, I still sometimes, as a dad, will go on just a little too long with the kids. So, we’ve always got to make sure that we’re editing, sculpting, molding our stories to an end goal. You know, why are we telling the story? What is the point of the story?
And when you think about storytelling, it’s important to recognize that just because something happened to you, or you’re familiar with a particular story, it doesn’t mean that you’re actually ready to tell it in service of a communication objective. So, a lot of times people will think, “Well, I’ve got a great story so I’m just going to use this story the next time I’m trying to communicate a point.” But they haven’t actually worked on the story. They haven’t sculpted it, molded it to the objective’s end and, as a result, it’s usually filled with way too much exposition so that it goes on too long and nothing really happens. It sort of feels like a French film. You’re thinking something’s going to happen and sure, at some point. I’m just going to wait 10 more minutes. Okay, 10 minutes had past, nothing’s happened. No, I’ll wait 10 more minutes.
So, Aristotle gave us a really great structure that we can use. Anybody can use this anytime they are thinking about using a story to help illustrate an important point. And the structure is called the three‑act structure. And the three‑act structure is present in most of the TV shows that you watch, most of the films that you see, most of the plays that you go to or used to go to before the pandemic. And it is inherent in most stories that you tell.
And the three‑act structure is really straightforward. When you’re thinking about telling a story, all you have to do is try to identify which parts of the story fall into which act So, Act one is the exposition. It’s the given circumstances. It’s the time, the setting, the place. It’s what the audience needs to know, or the listener needs to know in order to understand the following action.
Act two is the conflict. And act two starts with an inciting incident. Something happens that creates conflict. Now that conflict creates action. That action creates more conflict. That conflict creates more action. That action creates more conflict. And so, the story can build through act two leading to act three, which is the resolution. And the resolution can be very short, when you’re telling a story. And the exposition can be very short. You want to spend most of your time in act two when you’re telling a story because if you don’t have an act two that is robust, filled with lots of conflict and action, it often feels pedestrian. And a story that feels pedestrian often feels boring.
And in act one, if you have too much exposition, it can be either confusing to people or, again, boring. And, as communicators and public speakers, the thing that we have to be most careful of is being boring. It’s the death of any speech, boring. Great information but boring as hell. That’s a little bit like what it feels like to go to a typical college lecture.
On the other hand, if you’re an incredible entertainer but there’s not much meat in the material, they go, “Oh, that was really fun. I mean, I didn’t really get anything from it. I don’t really remember what was happening, but I had a good time.” So, we don’t want to be on either ends of those spectrums. We want to be somewhere in the middle where we’re using entertaining performance elements. We’re really bringing theatricality to our stories but they’re filled with robust, rich content that is immediately relevant, applicable, timely, and helpful for the people that we serve.
Josh: You know, that’s really great information.
We have time for one more thing, I just want to get your opinion on this because I think there’s something else along with that, which I see people make mistakes all the time. One of the things I’ve been doing recently on LinkedIn, when I connect with someone, I ask them to send me their best website. And I do this out of curiosity to see who they’re talking to.
And I just finished my second book which you were kind enough to write a blurb for. And what I’ve learned in that process of writing these two books, which are both parables, is that you have a guide and you have a hero. And you never want to make yourself the hero, you really want to make yourself the guide because you want to make your customer, or your visitor, or your friend, or the person you’re telling the story to – the hero. And I see people get this backwards all the time, where they continually make themselves the hero and the person you’re talking with gets left out. Does that make sense to you?
Michael: Of course, it does. One of the reasons that you see this very often in self‑help business help books, self‑help business help speeches is in part because monkey see, monkey do. When most people start to consider giving speeches or writing books, they start from a place that is influenced by what they see other people do. And in the self and the business help industry, there’s a lot of ego‑driven projects.
Michael: So, very often, people are creating speeches, writing books, putting out content that is, in large part, designed to lift themselves up. They’re designed to get approval for the creator. And so, when we want to go down the path of becoming a content creator of some kind, we’re very influenced by what we’ve seen. So, we think, “Oh, that must be the way that it’s done.” And so, that’s nobody’s fault. That’s just a consequence of the aggregate of a lot of work that is produced, that is produced from that perspective.
And, you know, when I look at my early work – I started writing books in 2005, there was more of that in my early work than in my later work because, over time, two things happen. One, you start to realize what people actually respond to. And number two, you become often more secure in your work and, as a result, you have less need for approval so you’re not writing, or creating, or speaking from a place of trying to get that approval.
And so, generally, there are two different types of business and personal self‑help books and speeches. There are how‑to type books and speeches. And then, there are how‑to‑think type books and speeches. And they’re both very valuable. They serve different purposes.
But when you’re working on developing content, you want to think about which you’re focusing on. Are you doing really like how to advice nitty‑gritty, nuts and bolts type stuff which is expert‑driven material, “Here, I’m an expert, let me show you the best practices on how to do something” versus how‑to‑think type books and speeches and other content which is visionary in nature that often challenges the status quo, provides an alternative approach and a new way of thinking, leading to a new way of being so that you can create new worlds. And it’s a different approach. But in both of those approaches, we want to make sure that the person who is consuming that content is actually the hero. And we are the guide, whether we’re doing expert‑driven how‑to advice work or visionary, change‑the‑world or change‑the‑worldview, change‑the‑perspective, challenge‑the‑status quo, deliver new approaches to current best practices. Either way, the person who is consuming it should be the hero.
You know, Michael, we could go on probably for another hour or two but, unfortunately, we are out of time.
Michael: Hour or two? We can do 12 to 15 hours. Let’s go.
Michael: We’ll end or we’ll just keep going.
Josh: Well, since this is a commute‑drive podcast, we kind of need to end it here.
I would like to have you back again. And I’m sure we will because you are such a great guest and you’re so generous with your time. I really appreciate it.
So, you have a great program. I’ve been through it. I’ve not been through your master program, but I’ve been through all your other programs including how to write a book. You were enormously helpful with that. How do people find you?
Michael: Sure. Heroicpublicspeaking.com. Heroicpublicspeaking.com is the best place to go. We have some free resources there. For example, there’s a new primer on how to do virtual presentations because, of course, there are not a lot of in‑person presentations these days, and a whole other host of free resources you can pick up there. I also do a podcast called Steal the Show with Michael Port. And you can get that anywhere you get your podcasts. And you can pick up a copy of the book Steal the Show which is not a bad book, actually.
Josh: No, it’s a great book. It’s a great book. I like it. And I read a lot of books.
Michael: When you’ve read books, some books are better than others–
Michael: –just to be clear. Yeah,
Josh: That’s true. I’m going to assume your later books are better than in your earlier books.
Michael: I don’t know. I think my earlier or my later are better. A couple in the middle weren’t as popular. But the two most popular books that I’ve written are Book Yourself Solid, which was my first book, and Steal the Show which was my most recent book.
Josh: Yes. And, by the way, if you get the Book Yourself Solid, which I highly recommend. I think it’s the best marketing book ever written, by the way–
Michael: Oh, thank you so much.
Josh: –and the version you want is the illustrated version so you can do all the exercises.
Josh: The written one is great but the illustrated one really take you through. And, at the end of that, you’re going to have a really good marketing plan.
Michael: Yeah. I did an illustrated version of that book, especially for people who don’t love to slog through lots of text.
Michael: I was able to cut about 50% of the text and replaced it with illustrations so you can see the concept quite quickly. Of course, I had a professional illustrator do the illustrations or else it wouldn’t have gone very well if I tried to do it. But I think that book is really effective for people who want to use it as a process for improving their marketing and don’t want to have to read through the whole thing. They can see it and get it.
Josh: Yeah, it’s a great book. Either version is great, but I happen to like the illustrated one. I use it as a teaching tool with our clients.
So, I also have an offer for you. I have a free ebook. I have a strong belief that all companies that are blue‑collar, that have over 25 employees, need to be sale ready at all times. Now, sale ready does not mean you’re going to sell your company. It just means you’ve built an organization that somebody else would want to own. And when you do this, you’re going to have more fun and make more money. I’ve written a free ebook about this which I would highly recommend you get. You get this at www.sustainablebusiness.co/saleready – that’s .co and not .com. Then, you’ll get a free copy of the ebook. You’re going to find eight things you need to do to create a sale‑ready company.
Also, please, please, please go to wherever you listen to this podcast and give us an honest rating and review. It’s really, really important.
So, thanks a lot for stopping by today. This is Josh Patrick. We’re with Michael Port. You’re at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to Cracking the Cash Flow Code where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?”
If you’ve liked what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 extension 102, or visit us on our website at www.sustainablebusiness.co, or you can send Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening and we hope to see you at Cracking the Cash Flow Code in the near future.