Alex Glod launched StoryArc to show businesses the incredible power of storytelling. He’s 3x TedX speaker and his Udemy courses have over 32.000 students.
Alex, why is storytelling so popular?
Storytelling is a human need and a human skill. You’ll never find cats or dogs sharing stories. We are the only animal that’s curious about each other’s stories. It’s part of that need for us to belong. In the end, whether your story is positive or negative, tragic or optimistic – every person in the world is a storyteller.
Whenever you are in an audience and you see someone speaking, you want them to be relatable, to be human. We are living in this age of advertising that leaves us all feeling insecure and incomplete, because we’re all competing with you all these beautifully edited images of each other, but we rarely speak of how tough it is for us to be who we are. It’s a whole journey to be human and we’re not doing anyone any services by keeping our struggles far from us. Storytelling is a way to introduce very tough subjects, but in a way that’s relatable and optimistic.
In legends and myths the whole story revolves around the idea of the hero. Every culture encourages people to be heroes. Initially, that’s what it’s about: it’s about struggle, you overcome a conflict. A story where you just go to the café, get your coffee and come back home isn’t very interesting. But if you got out of that coffee shop, bumped into someone, spilled coffee all over the both of you, ended up asking them on a date and that’s how you got married? That’s a story!
The reason such stories are appealing is because they show you how that person finds themselves in a very embarrassing moment and yet somehow manages to come out on top. It tells us: look, it’s okay to go for these embarrassing experiences, and here’s a way to get out of them. We shouldn’t strive for a life where we keep difficulty at a distance. In fact, we should be happy about it. We should encourage difficulty coming our way, because if we do our due diligence it could help us grow.
So how did you get involved in professional storytelling?
One of the pivotal moments was in 2012. I was at a leadership conference in Germany which was all about my personal vision. It was the first time I talked about my personal experience with sexual abuse in childhood. It’s not that I had difficulty talking about it, it’s more that I had no interest talking about it. I thought it wouldn’t serve anyone. But that environment was very open, very encouraging… I talked openly about it, and what was most beautiful and really got me was that afterwards I was approached by around 10 people who told me: “Thank you, I have a similar story to yours.”
In Europe around 20% of adults have experienced either physical or sexual abuse at least once. I realized: “We are not talking about this enough, we’re hiding from it.” So I felt a calling to share my story and lets others know: it’s okay. And every single time I told my story, others appreciated it. The story would come as a shock, but a useful shock, because it reconnected us.
After my TedX-talk in Greece one lady told me: “It’s funny, you’re the only one who’s not from here, but your speech was one of the most poignant to what’s going on.” Just that week, there was a whole scandal about systemic abuse in certain schools.
That’s one reason I became a storyteller – I realized we need this as medicine. We need to be reminded that it’s okay to be imperfect, it’s okay to be human, to be flawed, to have shameful experiences.
Storytelling matters, in our businesses, our lives, our education. That’s how I started and I’ve been a servant of storytelling ever since.
We’re going a bit off-topic now, but this is too important. What’s the role of storytelling in the #metoo movement?
The #metoo movement is very much about storytelling: victims of sexual abuse had a hard time speaking up, abuse is an uncomfortable topic. Up to that point the narrative was very much dominated by those who wouldn’t believe the victims and blaming them for ruining the lives of those they accused. And because this is what we were used to, victims’ stories are so often questioned.
Now, we’re showing the other side of the story. Old arguments are falling apart. Each of us does their part, simply by speaking our truths. I think it’s important to remember it’s not binary: it’s not ‘us’ versus ‘them’. There is a whole circle of people, each with their own different views and experiences. It’s not a competition. It’s a request and an honest need to be heard and accepted.
Victims speaking up is not about them taking over the world. The movement is a call for being seen: accept my humanity, accept the fact that I am here.
The more we tell our stories in an honest way and the more we open up about what is happening for most of us, the more we lay a groundwork for better connection and understanding on each side.
Another thing is that this will take time. A revolution doesn’t happen through one big moment. The real, hard work is day-to-day practice.
Socially, it’s more acceptable for women to speak up about abuse than it is for men. How can we create a space for male victims?
It’s true, there is the pressure of ‘strong’ masculinity: “I will how no mistake, no crack in my shield, look at me – I’m the perfect individual.” A big part of growing up for guys is expressing love in a demeaning way: “Hey, you piece of crap”. We are inept at speaking in a nice, generous way: “My lovely friend, come here and let me give you a hug.” So we find ourselves struggling. How can I open up about subjects like these? They’re not going to take me seriously. Because that’s how we react in moments of discomfort: with jokes or demeaning comments.
The other part of the problem is we see how women are judged. I’ve also seen examples of backlash from the male community. Comments like “Don’t be a wuss.” This type of language makes it very hard to speak up about it. Usually, these conversations only take place in closed groups, like AA. But not all people even make it there! Some take their lives or do other deeply sad things.
One lesson we need to learn is that this is not a celebrity movement, it’s our movement. We should set our own standards for what it means to be a man. This is not about PR, not about attention. It’s about our lives and survival. There is a wave of people increasingly opening up about tough subjects. But it will take a while. One way to help out, for businesses too, is by creating themed nights on this topic in public spaces. This way, we make the conversation more accessible for everyone.
Gravitating back to businesses… what’s the value of storytelling for entrepreneurs?
It all starts with understanding the story of your customer. Don’t just tell stories, listen, too! When we created a program for HR, we started out by calling HR-managers and talking to them about their problems. Once we got clarity on what they needed, we were able to offer them something that really met their needs.
The second important way to use storytelling is by implementing the concepts of the Hero’s Journey. In stories, a hero is first called to an adventure, but they are hesitant. The same goes for your customer, so you’ll need to invest a great deal in their education. Show them what their life can be, but be patient. Once it resonates and the person is willing to go on that adventure and buy your product, you’re not done! Heroes evolve. They face new challenges. Even if you sell someone a bike, going forward they will still have questions: where do I send my bike for maintenance, what type of helmet should I wear, what supplies should I bring for a trip?
You help your customer on their journey, giving them support along the way. Then, eventually, they become the hero. That’s when your customer becomes an ambassador of what you produce and pass your message forward. That’s how you create communities, how you create movements. It’s a ripple effect, and one day you’ll find you don’t even know where your clients are coming from – it’s all word of mouth!
This sounds great when you already have clients, but how do you get them in the first place?
Once you’ve figured out your customer’s story, acknowledge it! Apple did this very well in one of their earlier campaigns. They finally made their phones waterproof. Apple wasn’t the first brand to do this, the feature was already old. But what Apple did, was showing a biker preparing for a trip with his phone. Then, his garage door opened and there’s a huge storm outside! And Apple’s message was that now, even biking in such weather was possible. A subtle way to say: “Hey, you’re into extreme sports. We’ve got your back!”
Next, take time to educate your audience. Make them see that their lives can be better and that they deserve these better lives. Do you have a café that’s great for work? Write a blog on café furniture and its impact on posture and health. The next time your readers will be at Starbucks, they’ll realize working there will kill their backs. And when they’re looking for a good alternative – there you are, with your café that will meet all their needs!
Third, don’t be afraid to polarize. Stand for something. If you’re making a clear point, you’re giving people a chance to make an informed decision on whether your message resonates, rather than creating this tunnel you pull them in. Your products are not for everyone, and that’s okay! Once your customer decides that your message resonates with who they are, they’ll find ways to rationalize this decision.
Standing for something is definitely important, but how do you make sure you stay authentic?
Like I mentioned, you’re not meant for everyone. Nobody is asking you to be all the things. If you’re Coca Cola or Beer, you don’t have to be healthy. Not every brand has to be green or progressive. We know not every brand is. When a clothing brand is producing the clothes in countries with low wages, we’re not really surprised. The outrage comes when this brand tries to convince us they’re all about equality. Likewise, we know oil companies aren’t green, and they only appear fake by pretending to be.
Don’t service everyone. Service the ones that are right for you. That’s where loyalty and sustainability come from and that’s how you create business magic!
When it comes to stories, would you rather have a script or improvise?
Both are incredibly relevant. Personally, when I don’t let myself explore, I simply get bored. I’m a big fan of storytelling, but I also love learning different things. I’m launching a course on bartending and I’ve learned 3D-printing and video editing. It’s important to understand that we are not monoliths. We need to play around with who we are, not getting stuck in just one thing. Even this weekend I was reflecting on Madonna’s music: she’s been reinventing herself throughout most of her career. One moment it’s more dancehall, the next it’s house or R&B.
It’s great to have a clear purpose, but at the same time expand your perspective and reach. Go to new communities, try out new things, regardless of your business. This will late influence you. Play with your different skills, there are so many ways to do that!
Maybe for some, bartending, video-editing and storytelling seem contradictory, but for me, combining them is normal. Otherwise, I’m just a broken record repeating the same old ideas.
Which circles us back to the topic of humanity…
Entrepreneurship is part of our humanity. We have this urge of serving and helping others, and entrepreneurship allows us to do it in a profitable way. But even though we want to make money, we are human. A business is a human thing, taking part in human interactions. If we don’t understand human interactions and human values… Well, that makes us shitty business people.
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Alex’ Storytelling courses on Udemy