The Art of Storytelling

Mike Wittenstein
Founder & Managing Partner


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Episode Summary

I’ve gone over a myriad of topics and the art of storytelling is actually one of those I find the most fascinating.
Watch the full video to find out “The secret to any good story and its importance for your business.


Beau 00:13
Hey everybody, Beau Billington here with the Free Agent.

I’ve got Mike Wittenstein here, Founder of Storyminers. Thanks so much for joining Mike.

Mike 00:20
Hey, it’s a pleasure to be here with you Beau for the first time on the show. Thanks for having me.

Beau 00:24

So I’ve known over a myriad of topics and storytelling is actually one I find the most fascinating. In fact, I’ve really tried to apply what I want to say “the arts”, but storytelling and my day to day and surrounding my business, I’ve been in business for four and a half years. And I really think that I could have fast tracked my success had I understood storytelling at the onset of starting a business, right?

Mike 00:50
The secret to storytelling is “Understanding how your listener’s brain works.” Because when you’re telling a story no matter what the purpose, you’re actually getting their neurons and their brain chemistry to fire.

Some people do that with nefarious means in mind, or others do it to be very helpful, some relate history, some talking about the future. But that comfort that you’re talking about from storytelling and fast tracking, means you are locked in and wired into the needs of the people that you’re talking to. So it starts way before you start talking.

Beau 01:21
I totally agree. That’s a great point.

And you brought up something interesting as well. I think when most folks talk about storytelling, it’s always in the past, but you’ve got a little bit of a different take on storytelling. And sometimes,you also have the future in mind more so than anything.

Can you tell us a little bit about that? And how do you view storytelling a little bit different than maybe most?

Mike 01:39

We’re all brought up as small children sitting on somebody’s knee and hearing a story, whether it’s Santa Claus, or an uncle, you’re just kind of reading a book on your own under a blanket with a flashlight. By the way, do you notice what I just did? I made you feel your own memories from the past as I was talking, that’s a STORY.

Because it’s not me telling you words, it’s me creating an experience for you to have so that you can think and you can make your own decisions going forward. So we named the company Storyminers 20 years ago, the idea being that inside every brand, and every leader, there’s already a story that is just like dying to get out. And we’re pretty good at isolating what that is, and sharing it in a way that other people can relate to it. But you’re right.

A lot of people tell stories about the past. And it’s kind of true, because most stories have already happened. When you watch the news, it’s got the word new in it, but it’s really about the past, even if it was four or five hours ago.

Beau 02:42

Mike 02:43
One of the things that we found that’s so fascinating and I didn’t know this until a few years ago. Is it the most powerful stories you can tell in business about where things are headed? Because everybody wants to know how to live better, how to decide better, how to run their business, what decision should I make today?

So we’re all constantly evaluating all these different options for the way the future can work. So if you’re a good storyteller, not only can you get people woken up if you will. And in the moment, thinking and actively participating in the dialogue that you’re co creating with them, you can give them a clear picture of what their future in your future plans looks like. And that’s what people want to know.

Everything else is just noise.

Beau 03:33
So essentially, the goal then is to articulate some successful outcome for your prospect or customers essentially when speaking about the future and creating a story.

Mike 03:43
That’s the kind of stuff that goes into a business plan though. We will achieve this outcome, we will do these numbers, this is our percentage improvement, and we’re going to have these new products and services. Those are easy.

I think some of the leaders of businesses these days have rested too long on this notion of all they have to do is declare the targets.

Beau 4:05

Mike 4:05
And then give the work to other people to do. I don’t think that’s the way it works anymore.

I think the way it works is, we’re all in a new boat together. And that new boat is, we have to invent the future. Nobody is working the way they did two years ago, maybe a cobbler, maybe the guy that spreads …

Beau 04:27
Not even going to work anymore.

Mike 04:30
Yeah. It’s all different for everybody.

So we all have to be creating new capabilities in our businesses so that we can meet clients’ new needs. Because they don’t need us to do what we used to do, they need us to do things that they need. And a lot of times we haven’t done them yet.

So coming back to what a business does and talking about just declaring the outcomes. It’s more than that. It’s using a story to more comfortably describe the way the business is going to work going forward. And that’s where people are nervous. A lot of employees, a lot of top managers, even owners know what’s going to happen and how to go but they’ve got all these concerns about you. I’ve got to look good, and I’ve got to do the right thing, and I still have to make a lot of money. And it’s tough, it’s really hard to do.

It just puts so much pressure on everybody that it feels almost impossible. A lot of folks resort to telling stories, as in lies, or half truths, or they make promises with their brand that their business can’t deliver. I’m not a big fan of that. So what we discovered a few years ago was that if you think through the way your business has to work to deliver more value for your clients, and your employees and still deliver on the bottom line, you craft that as an experience, you can do it right here.

Sometimes you can write it down on some paper or use some cool journey mapping software. But you have to get the experience of the future right. And then you tell the story about your customer, or your employee, or your partner, or whomever you’re talking to in that new experience. And all of a sudden, using those same tools as you know under the sheets with a flashlight. You make them realize that these things are real. They’ll bring their imagination and their creativity and their willingness to work with you to make that real, because it’s appealing to them. And they see that they’ve got a place, they’ve got purpose and so on. That’s what future story does.

That traditional storytelling and old fashioned ways of managing from the past extrapolating into the future. That’s what they do.

And we’re done. That was all I wanted to say today.

Beau 06:38
That’s the easiest interview I’ve had. But I think that’s a good segue to to kind of dig a little bit deeper.

How does one go about actually formulating a good story? What are the components? Where do you even start? Because a lot of people aren’t maybe have the funds to hire somebody like yourself, or they’re going to give an initial crack themselves.

Mike 07:01
Let me ask you a couple of questions. Let’s make the scenario nice and tight.

Who is the story by and Who is it for? And what’s the situation? Just make something up and we’ll work with it.

Beau 07:10
Sure. Let’s just think of.

Mike 07:12
It’s like improve without the humor, Okay?

Beau 07:16
So let’s think about maybe an independent consultant that lives in America. They’re at an executive level, and they’ve got a lot of skill sets that they know they can utilize in the marketplace but they’re not exactly sure of how to formulate the strategy and the brand and ultimately get their story into the market on how they could provide. How they could delight.

Mike 07:37
Okay, all right, gotcha.

So bear with me for a second because this might take about three minutes to do and feel free to interject questions as I go along.

Traditionally, what people have been taught to do by the outplacement firms and your general run of the mill consultants is get really clear on who you are, know your why. And then tell your narrative in a way that’s as appealing as possible for others.

I don’t disagree with the know your why part. That’s just good karma. That’s good to know. You have to know how you’re wired, where your principles lie, what your mission in life is, where do you want to go? What do you want to learn, all those things are really, really important. Can’t over stress that enough.

If you don’t know who you are, people won’t want to work with you as much. It doesn’t mean that you’re imperfect. It just means you’re a work in progress. And even the people that know who they are and where they’re going and why that always changes.

Beau 08:39
Digital path though it’s extremely difficult to to figure out what your why is. I’ve been in business for four and a half years, I feel like I’ve had so much clarity just in the last year that I had the preceding three years. Very tough to accomplish.

Mike 08:55
Well, let’s go down that for a minute. And don’t let me forget to come back to the notion of how you create your own story.

So when it comes to your why each of us is a work in progress. And we start here and hopefully we take a hero’s journey path and we get better and better and better over time.

Mike 09:17
So the challenge about finding out your why is that we all start here whatever our Age of Enlightenment is. And over time, we hope we get better. Just like in a hero’s journey, Harry Potter got better ,Ulysses got better, Nancy Drew got better. Whatever your storyline is that you like.

What’s so weird about the world is changing so fast. The people around us are changing. The businesses, the environment, the economic conditions. Whatever is in vogue is changing and we’re constantly responding to it. Each of us in business, especially in professional services, wants to be relevant and paid for being relevant. And it’s a continuous effort to stay aligned with what the market needs, and what they think of you, and who you are and what you think of yourself. So you want to try to keep that alignment going all the time.

So knowing your WHY is important. And here’s the big thing that people forget. A lot of people think that the WHY is about me in professional services in particular that never, ever, ever works. In boxing, it can work because there are a lot of powerful personalities in both senses of the word. And they are the center of their own universes. That works in boxing, because that’s what the fans want. That’s what keeps them motivated as what upsets their opponents and freaks them out. In professional services, When you’re serving others, it does not work.

What it’s about is the outcome of the value that you deliver for your customer. Your WHY has to be what you do for other people. And it has to include three things: it’s got to include (1) the value that you create for others. And that value has to be something that they measure as valuable. It can’t be, “Oh, I’m going to give 50 hours for the price of one.” That’s your definition of value.

What’s the client’s definition of value? Sometimes they won’t might want frictionless service, they might want trustworthy advice, they might want emotional support going through a tough decision. You have to know what that is.

The second thing is, (2) you have to know who your audience is. And that doesn’t mean Mr. Smith or Miss Green. It doesn’t mean a President of a fortune 500 company. It means a little bit more like what situation are they in? What are you going to sell?

Beau 11:46
A Persona or Buyers.

Mike 11:50
Exactly. You got to know the full persona.

And then the third thing (3) you have to know with your WHY is how your client will be better off once you’re done. A lot of people don’t ask that question. And it’s so important to know the end state that you can promise day in and day out with your brand and know that you deliver. That’s where your confidence comes from. So if you’re a great professional speaker but you can’t train anybody, you can’t become a speaking coach because you can’t get people over that hump of you imparting your wisdom to them.

Beau 12:24
I think that’s an excellent point.

I feel like a self serving mentality has been exacerbated by COVID. And we just don’t have time. If I receive an email, if I see a video or a post or anything like that and it doesn’t resonate with me personally, I do not have enough time to investigate further. That individual that created that piece will not get my business. And that’s just kind of where we are. And I went through this exercise myself. And it’s all about creating the current state, future state, and then the end result.

And I totally agree and what I’ve tried to fix over the last four years is, it’s less about Me and my firm and more so about, “Hey, this is somebody else’s current situation. And if they work with us, how we could create a better situation collectively.” And so I agree it totally resonates with me. And I feel it’s not simplistic, but it’s just overlooked so much and everybody thinks it’s all about me, me, me, and it’s really not giving a crap anymore.

Mike 13:22
When I asked you to think about the most confident people you know, aren’t those the ones that know where they stand and why and they can be just so wired in and focused on what’s going on with you that they appear confident. Because they are. They’re not worried about how they’re coming across and how they look and what people think of them. They already know because they’ve set their own ground rules. They’ve created their own worldview.

Beau 13:48
Have it with their WHY and what they’re trying to accomplish.

Mike 13:53
And again for the audience, for everybody listening, this is a progression thing. You don’t just start great at it. If you’re a high school football hero, it doesn’t mean you know your WHY. If you’re a Nobel Prize winning chemist, it doesn’t mean you know your WHY. Performance and your wyness are often totally disconnected. The more you connect your financial success to your self esteem, the weirder your life is going to be. So they’re very different. So let’s talk about story structure for a second.

Beau 14:24
Formulating good story structure components and how does one start?

Mike 14:31
So if you’re in the business, let’s go back to the scenario that you set up in a moderately experienced or young in the career but not novice consultant wants to hang out her own shingle or his own shingle, they get their WHY down. The next thing they need to do is figure out the occasions of use. That’s a marketing term that means, “when are people going to need you?”

And in consulting and professional services, some things are required. For example, right now with California privacy law and GDPR and all this stuff, you kind of need a privacy consultant. You just need that so it’s required governmentally.

Some things happen on an occasional basis, like your taxes. You need an accountant to go through your taxes. Unless you’re an accounting nerd, and you like to read faz B standards.

Beau 15:30
Formulated a good story component. And how does one start?

Mike 17:40
So you need to know your use cases if you will. So you’ve got to talk to a few clients. Whether they’ve bought from you or not, or whether you don’t even know who they are. Nobody else is acceptable. You can’t talk to people outside of your client group to get good advice. Do not go to your gastroenterologist to get good dental advice and just dive in.

Beau 15:59
I feel like I’m keeping you sidetracked. But this really excites me about this whole topic.

I made this mistake when I started my company. I was gonna be an entrepreneur, I was dead set, it was gonna happen. And so who did I talk to? Everybody who had not started a company themselves. Only people that are in Corporate America that had not walked a mile in the shoes that I was about to put on. It was just the advice was a mismatch. And so since then, I literally never accepted bias for people who have not walked a mile in my shoes.

Mike 18:33
There you go.

I disagree with that. And I agree with that. We’ll talk about that later if you’re in mind, okay?

So once you’ve got your occasions of use, you can start to figure out what your services are. Because you can’t tell your story without saying what your role in it is, or how you’re going to help create value.

So if I were an attorney, and I offered to do a risk analysis, interesting, an intellectual property review, a licensing opportunity review, like, “Hey, you’ve got all this IP laying around, you could make money on this, you could license that we could do a deal with this other company for this piece of code you’re no longer using.” It has nothing to do with litigation or keeping people safe inside the letter of the law. It has to do with creating value. So those are different services.

So once you know the occasion, your WHY, your occasions of use from talking to people, you start to engineer your services, then you want to check in and get real nice tight descriptions from them. And this is where it gets really hard.

I’ve gotten bogged down in what I’m about to say, and so have a lot of other people. It’s really hard once you know the answer to remember what it was like to not know the answer. It’s like riding a bicycle. You can’t get on a bike and go through the experience of learning how to ride again. But every one of your prospects is in that boat. They’re asking questions that are very beginner, they’re immature, they’re not well founded, they know they have a need, they don’t know quite what to ask for. So you’ve got to go back and find out what it is they’re asking for and how they look for it.

The first example I heard of this was when the internet was really young. And I was running a digital agency called Galileo here in Atlanta back in the 90s. That’s a really long time ago. So we were doing this project for Bell south and it had to do with creating a directory. It wasn’t for all the people in the world. It was more for the vendor side of things.

Somebody gave me this example. And I just never forgot that. They said, “All right. When you look up at the ceiling, and you see little drops of water forming and pinging down to the floor, what do you search for?”

Beau 18:52
A bucket.

Mike 18:54
A bucket, a leaky roof. What you need is a plumber, or roofer. But nobody knows that because they don’t know the discipline yet. So you’ve got to kind of go back in time and figure out, how do you engage in an intelligent, meaningful, connected without sounding silly or smarmy or full of yourself. That isn’t, in my opinion, the hardest thing to do. Because if you’re trying to catch new customers, we’re not talking about selling by referral or doing speaking and stuff like that. But if you’re putting the word out for other people to share, you’ve got to get that beginner message out and make sure they understand the value.
The whole secret sauce is, once you know your WHY, the occasions of use, and your services, and you go back and find out what questions are people willing to engage in, you craft your narrative based on an experience this prospect will have in going from “I need a bucket to my roof is fixed because I hired a plumber.”

What are the steps? How do you get involved? Where do you add value? How much time does it take? All the questions that go on in their mind, or what you’re answering, you’re not talking about yourself, you’re not talking about how many legal degrees you have, or what planning school you went to, you’re not talking about copper versus pvc piping in the house are the latest regulations from the city planning department, you’re talking about the experience that they’re going to have with you. And if you can paint a clear picture of that, everybody will know who you are, why you are, what you do, and when to call you, and who to refer you.

Beau 20:41
IE storytelling. I mean, that’s the essence of a story, from inception from beginning to end.

Mike 20:47
It is. And it’s a story that it’s not about the past. It’s a story about what to expect in the future. And that’s the big difference that we found that Storyminers in the last few years, there’s magic and power in telling that story of the future. But for business leaders, even if you’re an army of one, you’ve got to make your business be that story. You can’t just make up the story and then not deliver. You’ve got to wire your business and all the back end parts to deliver the story that you’re telling. Otherwise, your credibility just tanks, you got nothing.

Beau 21:20
I totally agree.

And you also brought us in earlier that I think’s interesting. When I’m having this conversation with consultants, I always say “Hey, try to kind of productize your skill set, distill it down to the one to three areas in which you can add value versus, keeping it ambiguous.” I’m just a good consultant that doesn’t paint a picture whatsoever. And you need to be prescriptive on what it is that you can do the problem you can solve. And again, which I think you’ve hit on several times, the future state that the customer will achieve by using your services.

So I think that’s a phenomenal point. I appreciate you sharing that.

The passion through this discussion is really showing through in regards to storytelling. So let’s learn a little bit more about you, Mike, like how did you actually get into storytelling? What’s the backstory?

Mike 22:02

Well, I had a few things in my past that kind of formed the way. I think I was an exchange student to Brazil and the former Soviet Union when I was in high school and college. Learning how to look at people and things going on around you and learning a different language, but also learning the different cultures, customs rhythms. It forced me to be able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and really appreciate what was going on.

I learned that two people can be in the same place at the same time. Having the same experience and both walk away, or each walk away with a completely different understanding of what happened. And when I realized that I wasn’t right and they were wrong, but that we were both right, changed my world forever.

That worldview, that ability to change perspectives, is so important to being a sensitive, caring, and a good storyteller.

My Uncle Sam, and my first job at his travel agency in Derby, Connecticut was a masterful guy. He started off as a vaudeville producer. His wife was a singer. And I heard some amazing stories about how you’d produce shows back then.

When he got into the real estate insurance and travel business, he collected things from all of his travels. And he put them into the travel agency. So you walk in the front door, and there’s a wing of an airplane which is the front counter. And over here is a little French. I don’t know what the word for it is like a place where you get pastries and little things like that, like fancy wire chairs and a little table and over there was a Swiss chalet. And his office was the inside of a ship’s captain’s stateroom with leather tooled walls and whatever that thing is that you drive a ship with.

So, you walked into his business and the whole thing was an experience. And it gave people that feeling of “I’m already on vacation.” So when they talked to you about, “Where do you want to go?” He would just say, “where would you like to go?” You can do inside, outside, Sunny, keys, active, quiet, and it helped them to decide because they can imagine that they were on vacation.

So fast forward to 2002 when we started Storyminers, I was working with a colleague of mine named Tom McCorvick. And we were just kind of talking about how hard it was in the marketplace. We were both struggling. I had just left IBM, is there a visionary? Life was hard, the market was weird, and the bubble had just popped. And we both realized that we were really good at eking out the brand story. What is this person about? What is this leader about? What is this brand about? What can this product really do? And we kind of looked at each other, and the name Storyminers came out.

I thought it was kind of a clever name but I’ve no idea it was going to take me on this journey of actually becoming a storyteller. People started assuming that I was good at stories in like year two but I wasn’t. There were so many other people that could tell a better story than I could.

But I started leaning into it. I started reading and paid more attention. I read Robert McGee’s story, I read a bunch of other things, re-familiarize myself with some classics. I read anime, comic books, history, biographies, all kinds of things to try to sort out. How does somebody like the first few words grab your attention? But I learned a lot about neuroscience and brain chemistry. I don’t know a lot, but I know enough to know that we are all addicts to the chemistry in our brain.

Beau 25:35
Sure, absolutely.

Mike 25:37
Yeah. And then we were asked to do some story assignments. And I bumbled through the first couple of them and then I stumbled on this idea of you can tell a story that tells people what to do. Or you can tell a story where they figure out what to do where they’re the hero.

Beau 25:58
It’s a heck of a lot more effective than the former, right?

Mike 26:02
And I was not the guy to figure that out. There’s so many people ahead of time who know that Hero’s Journey Art Joseph Campbell, brought it to life.

Beau 26:11
That book is actually on my desk, The Hero’s Journey.

Mike 26:15
Wonderful, cool.

So over the years, I just started making Story more and more a part of what we do. So we introduced this concept called future story. Another one called human prototyping, which is about acting out the customer experience in the future. We’ve done retail and healthcare designs like two or three generations ahead of where a business is right now. And it’s all based on the idea of what’s the story that you want to tell. We even trademark the tagline “Find your story, be your story”.

Once you find where you want to go and what your calling is, you need to become that and I think we did that because that’s what happened to me. I found my story and then overtime actually became that.

Beau 27:02
I think that’s excellent. I love the tagline “Find your story, be your story”. And I feel like I’m going with that real time to be honest with you on my journey in these four and a half years. It’s fascinating. I appreciate you sharing the background.

So a couple of follow up questions. So storytelling, right? So is it only effective for people trying to sell a product, a service for companies, for independent consultants? Or are there other applications? How can people leverage life more effectively?

Mike 27:30
There are millions of applications. Probably the oldest one is passing knowledge down to preserve the clan or the tribe or the group. Red things will kill you. Green things are okay to eat. Watch out for this big animal. This one is friendly. It’s used for teaching.

Stories are used for entertainment. Stories are used to encourage people to change their behavior, to motivate coaches to tell stories lots of time. Coaches in football and basketball and sports and coaches in business and life in your personal world.

We hear a lot of stories in advertisements as well. And I’m very nervous about where advertising is going right now. Because the separation between what a brand promises and what the business delivers is really spreading apart. So often you can almost imagine that whatever a company claims is not true.

Beau 28:31
It’s like 5G, what does that even mean? Passing down for generations in the different applications for tort storytelling, it feels that I actually utilize stories a lot more than I ever envisioned I did or thought I did.

However, I think the area in which I could utilize them is, my business. And again, not trying to bring this back to business but I think that’s really the area personally. I’m deficient in using the art of the storytelling in my day to day. And I didn’t do much better job of incorporating.

Mike 29:06
Do you want to roleplay something and play it out?

Beau 29:09
Maybe offline. I appreciate the offer there.

So if you were to do an engagement with the business, so we talked about independent consultants, what would that typically look like, from beginning, middle and end?

Mike 29:23
Well, one of the things I’ve learned is to not bring my process in with such a heavy hand that people have to bend their will and their way to how I work. I personalize. I’ve been around long enough that I can work in different ways. I can speak in different languages, I can work with different personalities, why would I bring a heavy consulting methodology to the table?

Generally speaking though, people are looking to uncover some truths at the beginning of an engagement. They’re things that they don’t know. Sometimes that means speaking truth to power and saying, “boss, this idea that you have around XYZ, it sucks. Sorry, but it sucks.” And we have to work on that, because it’s a roadblock for all these other things. So let me answer your question directly.

Typically, it starts off with a conversation. It’s a “go anywhere, ask anything, discover as much as we can”, kind of a thing. If it’s a larger business, I’ll go shop the business, I’ll go shop for furniture, I’ll go to the dentist, I’ll call a shipping supplier and negotiate some rates whatever it is, and I take note of how the business is coming across, and how it makes me feel because that’s the end game for a story.

People with limited information, we as humans, we’re very good at filling in all the gaps and making assumptions about whether something is good or not for us. So I’ll get that experience. Then we go back in and talk about, where does the company want to go? How does it want to get there? What are the constraints that they see? I’ll interview customers, and also employees, and will do some workshops to try to figure out what the services are. Any big changes that we’re trying to introduce. Are there any capabilities lacking and one that goes into almost every business is something around innovation.

People need to be better at innovating. And it doesn’t just mean coming up with new ideas. It means having a way to talk about new ideas separately from the way the business is running day to day. And it also means knowing what stage an idea is at and how much resources are going to it and kind of destigmatizing a new idea or acceptance of an idea.

So if somebody has an idea and it fails, they shouldn’t be seen as a lower caste than somebody who has an idea that works. Getting rid of that is important because all ideas have the same value at the start. Only the ones that actually get implemented matter.

Beau 31:52
Do you want to work your business in a position where you’re empowering people to bring ideas to the table?

Mike 31:58
Bingo, you get it! Absolutely, yeah.

Beau 32:00
There is such a thing as a bad idea. And from where I come from, there’s not.

Any idea is a good idea. We just won’t be able to put all of them into play.

Mike 32:10
I’m going to take a side note on that.

Over time, companies will also develop some principles. And rather than processes which can kind of get very dated principles actually get stronger over time.

So in medicine, one of the most important principles is the Hippocratic Oath. First, “Do no harm”, but you never want your patient to be worse off after they’ve seen you.

So for a business, every idea will be treated equally or every idea is good. It’s that every idea that meets our criteria for honoring customers, protecting the environment, making a profit, where possible, those kinds. If you put it in that order, any idea is going to have to go through that filter. And you’re going to end up with a whole bunch of things like Patagonia has. They’ve had some amazing ideas that they’ve never done. And they have some revolving, involving, recycling and circular economy that much larger brands like Nike and Adidas have picked up on so they’ve had a huger impact on the planet than a company of their size possibly could. And they’ve rooted it all in principles.

So I just wanted to bring that up because it’s not as black and white. Ideas are good or bad. It’s ideas that kind of fit where that company is going and where it’s trying to create value. I just wanted to bring back that core notion.

Beau 33:38
I think that’s an excellent point. I mean, sincerely. So I appreciate you sharing that.

But we talked about advice earlier. And I mentioned how, when I first started my company, I took advice from all the wrong people. And now I’m kind of down this path. And I generally only take advice from people who have walked a mile in my shoes, and he said, you have a strong opinion on that. So I just wanted to circle back and kind of get your perspective on advice.

Who are the right people to get advice from and who are not?

Mike 34:06
All right, perfect. So I’m glad you brought that back up, thank you very much.

If you restrict who you get opinions and ideas from in any way, you’re going to create bias in your own thinking. If you only listen to green people, or short people or people with blonde hair, you’re not going to get a full circle understanding of what’s going on.

So, I love the idea when you’re looking at prospects and you’re building your business for your client. Talking to more clients doesn’t mean that your girlfriend’s manicurist’s dog groomer might not have a good idea. But you have to decide where you’re going to spend your time.

So when it comes to your storytelling, there’s something that I’d like to suggest to everybody to at least try one time. And that’s to ask other people who’ve worked with you regardless of whether they were a client, a teacher, a student, a colleague, a tennis player, whatever the deal is, ask them how they would describe you to somebody else. Ask them why you’re fun to work with or why you’re competent.

Beau 35:20
I think a lot of people wouldn’t want to know the answers to those questions, Mike.

Mike 35:23
Say that again?

Beau 35:24
I think a lot of people wouldn’t want to hear the answer to this question.

Mike 35:27
Well, it is a moment of truth. But that’s where the real words come from. Because it’s so hard. It was hard for me to describe myself using how I thought about myself. Remember we talked before about the plumber, and the leaky roof, it’s the same mental challenge. You can’t see yourself from the outside because you’re inside of yourself.

So asking people, how to pitch you, how to describe you, those words often relate so much better to the brand new prospect than anything else. And what you do when you start there with other people’s words is you create an experience for them to learn who you are, and what it might be like to work with you. And that’s the journey that every story should tell.

Beau 36:13
So excellent point.

I went through this recently with my business and did some customer discovery. Probably the wrong word. But basically, I sat down, it wasn’t me, it’s a third party who sat down with customers and really got an understanding of what it was like to work with me and my firm. And it really was encouraging, which is always good. But, it really helped us kind of figure out the WHY, the WHAT, in the future state, which then kind of ties back into the messaging that we have on the website on what we will experience if you work with us.

And it’s so powerful, I’ve never done it. It has been four and a half years that I’ve been in business. And I’m just now kind of getting to the point where I’m soliciting feedback in order to capture that and put it in my website. And it’s super powerful because it really cuts through all the crap and gets to “Hey, this is what you’re going to get if you work with these guys.” And I think it takes a key point from this discussion.

Mike 37:10
Perfect, what a nice Beau to put on the package today.

Beau 37:13
I appreciate you sharing. Any other tidbits, thoughts or otherwise that somebody should consider when trying to kind of feather out or uncover their personal story or their personal brand?

Mike 37:23
Don’t let it get too much in here again. It can drive you nutty, trying to figure something out like that. When you’re in the process of becoming. It’s hard. I feel it too. So just be nice to yourself, be easy. Take it in steps realize it’s a marathon that never ends.

Marketing is like a sprint without a goal. I’ve heard it said and this kind of work will always be evolutionary. So the most important thing you can do in the beginning is to open your mind and practice. Keeping it open, but you also have to be kind of calm and centered as you go about it. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself nuts and you’ll spend too much on psychiatry.

Beau 38:07
I’ve been there where it’s like, I’m ready to get to this future state now. And to your point, it’s continuously iterating. Always. I finally embrace that I will never be 100% perfect. You will just get incrementally better, the more you focus on it.

You hear about authenticity, all the time. What is your opinion on authenticity, and a personal story and branding and putting that authenticity out into the marketplace?

Mike 38:33
That’s a huge question. It’s another podcast. But let me give an example here, in the way of a story.

So one of the most authentic ways for people to know who you are and what you can do is to set somebody else up to tell the story. Let me give you an example. Okay, three part example. Asked me how great I am.

Beau 38:55
Mike, how great are you?

Mike 38:59
Damn! I am awesome!

How do you read that?

Beau 39:02
Totally self serving and BS. I think that’s enough.

Mike 39:07
Okay, so ask me again.

Beau 39:09
Hey, Mike. How awesome are you?

Mike 39:12
I’m pretty awesome. When you get to work with me, you’ll find that out?

How do you read that?

Beau 39:19
A little bit more genuine, a little bit more authentic, but still missing the mark?

Mike 39:26
So last time,

Beau 39:28
Mike, how awesome are you?

Mike 39:30
Well, I don’t know. But the last few clients that I’ve worked with, they all resonated on the notion that when they started working with me, they thought it was gonna be hard. And they found out that it was really a lot easier than they expected. And the results they achieved were better than they thought. I can give you some referrals if you like.

Beau 39:48
So we’re gonna close with the referral piece. Now, excellent.

Mike 39:53
How do you read that one?

Beau 39:54
That’s more authentic, and it’s not about you. It’s about again, the story and the outcome and ultimately that the picture you’re trying to paint.

Mike 40:03
Here’s the takeaway.

Beau 40:05
With the referrals great.

Mike 40:06
What I did is I introduced new characters in the story and they spoke for me. And I said, a few of my clients resonated on the same point. That means it’s probably true.

Beau 40:21
Yeah. Love that.

Mike 40:24
So there we go.

Authenticity and practice.

Beau 40:25
Yeah, that’s right. So lastly, how can someone get in touch with you? We’ll put it on the video but where’s the best place to reach Mike?

Mike 40:31
Just send me an email You can also just Google Mike Wittenstein and put the spelling up there. There’s a guy who sells shoes in Texas. That’s not him. I’m not him. I’m the customer experience strategy story brand guy.

Beau 40:56
Awesome. Mike, I greatly appreciate you joining sincerely. This was fantastic. I love the topic, love what you’re doing. I greatly appreciate you coming on the podcast.

Mike 41:04
Wonderful. And this is a pleasure for me two great questions. And I’m glad you’re going through some of the same things or audiences. It’s awesome that you’re doing this.

Beau 41:10
Thank you, sir. I’ll be seeking your counsel very soon, I assure you, Thank you.

Mike 41:15

Beau 41:16

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Mike Wittenstein

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About Beau


Beau spent over 14 years in enterprise-level software sales and was exposed to high-level talent by working alongside companies such as Apple, AT&T, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and more. 

In this podcast, Beau aims to interview high performing business leaders in the hope that their insights will bring about real change positive change the businesses of his listeners.

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