Like many people, I became a fan of Malcolm Gladwell after reading The Tipping Point. Not only did I find his ideas fascinating (and applicable to the Joyfully Jobless life), but his storytelling made the book fun to read. So when I saw an article in Time magazine about his new book, Outliers, I eagerly read it to learn about his latest exploration.

This new book looks at extraordinary success. Gladwell contends that talent and, even, genius aren’t enough. Instead, he cites what he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule which says that great achievement is most often the result of constant practice––about 20 hours/week for 10 years, to be exact.

Can you imagine devoting yourself to something that passionately? Would you do it for free? Many people won’t, of course, and consequently will never actualize their full potential. 

The ones who are willing to put in the practice often dazzle us once we learn about them. I was reminded of that when I read a recent edition of Valerie Young’s Changing Course e-zine. She had this little quote from Rachel Ray tucked away at the end of the mailing:  I did 30 Minute Meals for five years on local television, and I earned nothing the first two years. Then I earned $50 a segment. I spent more than that on gas and groceries, but I really enjoyed making the show and I loved going to a viewer’s house each week. I knew I enjoyed it, so I stuck with it even though it cost me.

When I first decided that I wanted public speaking to be part of my business, I made it my policy to accept every invitation that came my way–whether money was attached to it or not. I knew that the only way to polish my speaking skills was in front of other people. And if someone was giving me the opportunity to practice with a live audience, I was going to take it. I even found a volunteer gig as a backstage tour guide at the Guthrie Theater, which gave me additional speaking practice.

Eventually, I began to get calls where I was asked, “What is your speaking fee?” That’s when I turned pro. (That’s not quite accurate; in my own mind, I had turned pro right from the start. It just took a lot of free talks for it turn it into a reality.)

In Phil Laut’s nifty little book, Money is My Friend, he says, “An easy way to create an abundance of clients is to give away your service at the beginning until you have more clients than you can handle or until people force you to accept money. If you don’t like your business well enough to give away your services, this may be an indication that you are in the wrong business. When you have an abundance of clients, it is a good idea to continue to give away a portion of your services, even if you have to refuse the money.”

Think of it as an investment. Think of it as sweat equity. Think of it as the unsung road to success. By all means, think seriously about what you would do for free.

I think the best investment that you can make it to start a business that is so much fun that you don’t care if you go broke. With this approach, you can be certain of success. ~ Phil Laut

When my friend Peter Vogt called this morning, I happily settled in for one of our always inspiring chats. The catalyst for his call was a seminar he’d attended yesterday. “I think I was channeling you,” he joked and went on to tell me a story about what he called a “smarmy SCORE volunteer” who was sprung on the group. Peter–and others–were extremely annoyed.  Peter knew I would share his upset, but that wasn’t what he called about. “The rest of the seminar was full of good stuff,” he said, “and it triggered pages of new thoughts and ideas. Once I get it all written down, may I send it to you for your reaction?” Of course I said yes.

Then our conversation moved on to the power of seminars. Peter and I know that something happens when we put ourselves in a room with others who share our interests and curiosity  that simply can’t happen any other way. We can get information from reading or the Internet, but seminars are about so much more than information. They’re about connection.

A couple of hours later, I talked to Della Kurtz who is planning to attend my upcoming  Compelling Storytelling event in Las Vegas. She had some travel questions, but mostly we talked about another seminar she had attended over the weekend. She said a day after that lively event, she was talking to a friend on the phone who commented that Della’s energy seemed stronger and clearer. Della eagerly shared some of the things she had learned and ideas that were sprouting as a result of her participation. Even though she’s been a lifelong learner, Della has that enthusiasm that seems natural to those who are determined to support their dreams with action.

Of course, we don’t simply wake up one morning and find ourselves in seminars like Peter and Della attended. We have to make a commitment of time and money in order to have the experience. Unless we make our dreams a top priority and back that up with action, nothing much changes. 

A mentor of mine had a mantra that went, “If you want to be successful, you have to do what successful people do.” Seminar participation is one of those things. Like Peter and Della, put this into practice : learn, take action, learn some more, take more action. Repeat indefinitely. 

We evolve at the rate of the tribe we’re plugged into. ~ Carolyn Myss

So what does it take to be a great storyteller? The fundamentals are pretty simple.

° Curiosity. Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, who not only produced innovative ad copy, but also trained many successful copywriters, wrote, “I have never known anyone who bounced out of bed in the morning, delighted and astonished by the world in which he found himself, who was not a success. A vibrantly alive curiosity  will put you right up there with the best of them. This intense interest in people and things—this sense of wonder—can be acquired.” 

Without curiosity, you’ll miss all the good stories happening around you that might be put to work on your behalf.

 ° Attention. TV  journalist Steve Hartman  created a popular feature on CBS called “Everyone Has a Story.” He began looking for his subject by throwing a dart at a map. Then he’d go to wherever the dart landed, open the local phone book and pick a name at random. Some of the stories were funny, some poignant, some  buried deep, but he never came away empty-handed. 

Hartman’s premise is that stories exist everywhere, but only storytellers seem to be paying attention. Follow their lead. Listen for inspiration. Listen for evidence. Listen for material. When someone says, “Your teleclass was so exciting that I was awake until 3 AM with all these new ideas,” use it.

 ° Edit.  Editing is critical in all forms of storytelling. The difference between a boring and an enthralling storyteller is in the editing. We all know people who start telling a story and then wander off to side stories about the characters or unrelated events or random thoughts.

So what does an editor really do? According to Sarah Tieck, the job of an editor is to ruthlessly look for what’s relevant and then eliminate the rest. In many ways, editing uses the same skills as are needed to identify priorities in the goal-setting process. 

°  Bring it alive.  Don’t you just marvel at all the ways chef Jamie Oliver describes food? That’s what a great storyteller does. Passion and a good vocabulary are the fuel.

Except for Prairie Home Companion, there’s not much storytelling in radio anymore. If you listen to Garrison Keillor—a master storyteller—you’ll hear how he adds just enough detail so we can imagine the scene. 

In marketing, part of the storyteller’s job is to help the audience of potential customers imagine how products or services will be useful to them. Storytelling can do that more vividly than just listing benefits.

°  Watch your audience. Bores do not notice their listeners fidgeting in their seats or gazing around the room looking for an escape. Alas, the self-absorbed among us are oblivious to this. A good storyteller, on the other hand, understands body language and looks for clues. After all, storytelling always involves at least two people: the teller and the listener. Both are important. 

Polishing your storytelling skills can be as good for your business as it is for your social life. If  you’re ready to make your marketing creative, fun and memorable by becoming a better storyteller, join me and Alice Barry at our upcoming Compelling Storytelling event on December 2-4 in Las Vegas. Special Early Bird pricing ends on October 25th.

Marketing is the act of telling stories about the things we make—stories that sell and stories that spread. ~ Seth Godin

One of the leading characteristics of entrepreneurial thinkers shows up in their approach to goal-setting. I was reminded of that this morning when I was talking to Lisa Tarrant, who spent the weekend holding her first tag sale. She said it had been a success and she was getting ready to list a couple of unsold items on Craigslist. “We’re using the money from the sale to redecorate our living room,” she added.

“Oh, how entrepreneurial!” I replied. She agreed and told me about their decorating plans.

Did you catch what’s happening here? I’ll give you another hint. Every time I announce a 3-day seminar, I start hearing from people who say, “Someday I’d like to attend one of your Las Vegas events.” The implication is, of course, “if I ever have the money.”

That’s fixed income mentality at work. The entrepreneurial approach is quite different. Successful goal-setters decide first WHAT they want to do and then get busy figuring out HOW to make it happen. In fact, this proactive approach may not even include the word “how” since that little word can be a sabotaging dreambasher. Instead, the entrepreneurial thinker begins contemplating questions like, “What’s the best way to make this happen? Is there something hiding in plain sight that can help me get there?” 

Figuring out how is where the creative process kicks in. Alas, too many people mistake it for a red light.

Keep on starting and the finishing will take care of itself. — Neil Fiore