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Your Story Could be Worth Billions: Here’s How to Tell It


There is a reason Disney has made billions. It is the same reason Star Wars has made billions. And it is the same reason Disney bought the Star Wars franchise last year for $4 billion.


Humans live on stories. And we pay handsomely for them.
People have stories too.  Barack Obama rose to power – out of nowhere – on the back of his story. Oprah became a billionaire on the back of her story and because she had a platform to tell other people’s stories. Earlier this year at a Westpac Bank conference I facilitated, the bank’s CEO Gail Kelly  shared her personal story with the audience and they were absolutely mesmerised.
Most importantly, YOU have a story (a compelling one!) and uncovering it could give you tremendous influence in life and in business; as a leader, salesperson, professional or presenter.


Why stories? Humans love stories. Stories are visual. Stories connect with emotions. Stories demonstrate credibility without you ever having to say: ‘I’m awesome for the following reasons…’ Basically, stories told well are incredibly persuasive without sounding ‘sales-y’. Through a story you tell people what you do as well as how and why you do it (I’ve heard that’s pretty important).
People! What I am saying is this: to be super-successful at work YOU NEED TO BE CLEAR ON WHAT YOUR STORY IS.

The secret ingredient 

I remember the moment back at acting school (yes, a behavioural economist and actor; I’m a weirdo, I’ll admit!) when it was revealed that the protagonist, the hero, in all stories whether they be tragedies, dramas, comedies or farces must struggle. He/she must face obstacles. Challenges. It could be Hamlet or Luke Skywalker. The essence of story is struggle.


It follows then, that YOUR story is not a narrative of all your successes. It is a narrative of your struggles. This is the missing ingredient and this is where almost all individuals (and companies) baulk. We don’t like talking about struggle because struggle sounds like weakness. Or failure. It certainly doesn’t sound like how you sell yourself! Shouldn’t I be listing my achievements Shaun?! Like on my resume?!

Why is struggle so important to a compelling story?

Four reasons:

– Struggle creates tension. Heart pounding suspense. Will the hero overcome? Or will they fail?!
– Struggle creates empathy. Connection. Authenticity. Humility. Struggle makes you human. It even makes a company human.
– Struggle engages the emotions. People make decisions based on emotions and justify those decisions rationally after the fact. Features, benefits, proof I hear you say? Talk to the hand.
– Struggle differentiates you. Your struggles are unique.

How can you write your story?

The good news is that this is simple. It isn’t easy, but it is simple. There is a formula. Just answer these four questions:

1) What do you do?

2) What were your struggles?

3) How did you overcome these struggles and what did you learn?

4) How are you using these lessons to help others and what are your results?

These questions are adapted from the formula in Kevin Rogers’ book the 60 Second Sales Hook. Check out the book if you want to read more on this subject.

Here is my attempt

Look for the formula at work:

1) Hi, I’m Shaun Kenny, co-founder of People of Influence and one of our our lead speakers and trainers.

2) For years I was so shy and lacking in social confidence that I would be in tears any time I had to stand in front of an audience. I struggled with this fear for years.

3) Until eventually, after years of debating, public speaking, and later professional acting training I slowly (and I mean slowly!) started to master the art of influence. Now, as a behavioural economist, I have spent the better part of the last decade also studying the science of influence.

4) I now use this expertise to help others. Through speaking and training I have worked with tens of thousands of people in Australia and overseas – at some of the world’s great companies – helping them be more successful in their work lives. We have now launched People of Influence with one mission: to help leaders and professionals master the art and science of influence.

Now it is your turn!

Whether you want to change the world or make billions of dollars, it is now time for you to write your STRUGGLE STORY
I’d love to hear how you go! Please leave a comment or send me an email. Your story should be heard. It is your unique way to influence others and sell your special value to the world.
Finally, please share this with anyone you think would appreciate it.

Want more? Learn more about storytelling, presence and persuasion, and presentation skills in our leadership development virtual programs and team offsites sections.

Photo credits: Dancing Star Wars characters (by Morning Brew) and Disney fireworks (by Kenrick Mills) both on Unsplash

Posted to Developing Leadership Capability on 1st October 2014

16 thoughts on “Your Story Could be Worth Billions: Here’s How to Tell It

  1. Laurice says:

    Great story…you are one of the most amazing presenters so I can’t imagine that journey Shaun. Thanks for the courage of sharing.

    • Shaun Kenny says:

      Laurice, you’re making me blush! If anything I play down how difficult I found it. But this is just one story of many.
      We all have our stories don’t we Laurice? Some of yours are amazing. I hope you share them.

  2. Graham Kenny says:

    Brilliant! You’re right. We, and companies, forget that the essence of story is struggle – and conflict. Glossy case studies and you-beaut narratives leave audiences cold. Where’s the authenticity? So many company histories seem unreal. Worse, they project an unattainable landscape for other CEOs and managers. This only makes their own company struggles seem out of the ordinary – leaving them with a feeling of inadequacy.
    Thanks for a great heads-up. Graham

  3. Khoa Pham says:

    You are a master of story telling! Thanks for sharing.

    • Shaun Kenny says:

      Khoa, you told your story at your company’s Leadership conference earlier this year. Everyone was in tears. There was even a lady next to me who wiped her face and with a perplexed look said “I never cry!?”
      I hope I can retell your story on this blog some day. It is a beautiful life story.

  4. Jun says:

    Shaun: you were shy? I never could have imagined it! Great article – it’s given me food for thought ahead of my team meeting next week! I will post back and let you know how that goes! Thanks…

    • Shaun Kenny says:

      Blow them away with a story Jun! Tell me how it goes. If you don’t want to tell a story about yourself, you can use the same formula to tell a story about someone else; a person, a company, even a product.

  5. Ayisha Naeem says:

    Excellent story Shaun ! Thanks for sharing- You really know how to boost up the confidence!

    • Shaun Kenny says:

      Godspeed in your presentation next week Ayisha. I’d say ‘good luck’ but you won’t need luck. Your colleagues will be inspired to hear your story.

  6. Bruce Love says:

    Hi Shaun, great blog mate! I think people and organisations forget, or don’t give enough credit to, the power of a truly great story. Stories are how we learn. They are written into our DNA.
    I am sure you know of Joseph Campbell and his book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. Campbell talks about the momomyth, a basic framework that is found in many narratives from around the world. Campbell held that numerous myths and stories from disparate times and regions share fundamental structures and stages within the story. The summarised stages are:
    1. The ordinary world – here we find the Hero living his/her day-to-day life.
    2. The call to adventure – the hero receives a “call” that will turn their world upside down.
    3. Refusal of the call – the hero’s insecurities surface and he/she believe they are not worthy of the adventure/journey.
    4. Meeting the mentor – here our Hero meets someone who does believe in them and convinces the Hero that they are in fact capable.
    5. Entre the Extraordinary World (Crossing the first threshold) – the Hero begins their journey into this “new” world.
    6. Road of trials (Tests, Allies and Enemies) – on the Road of Trials the Hero meeting others, some that help the journey along and others than hinder it. The Hero must pass test to prove to themselves and others that they are worthy of this “adventure”. This is the struggle you speak about Shaun!!
    7. Approaching the innermost Cave – the Hero approaches their greatest fear in the most inhospitable environment.
    8. The Ordeal – this is the heart of the story! The ultimate fear must be confronted and overcome!!
    9. The Reward! (Seizing the sword) – our Hero overcomes their deepest fear and wins! The prize is theirs.
    10. The road back – the Hero, exhausted and almost spent, must now take the prize back home, back to the ordinary world.
    11. The Resurrection (the final climactic confrontation) – just as we think our Hero has done it they must confront their greatest fear, the one we thought defeated back it the innermost cave, one more time! It is the fear’s final chance to defeat the Hero. The confrontation is bad and the Hero barely survives, In fact he/she metaphorically does die and a resurrection must takes place. The Hero is changed forever and for the better.
    12. Return with the Elixir – the Hero makes it back home, back to his/her ordinary world and the prize they return with helps and/or heals not only the Hero, but his/her home and people.
    If only we could convince leaders and organisation the true power of a great story! I am reminded of the last organisation I work for, BridgeClimb. BridgeClimb’s founder and Chair Paul Cave never shied away from embracing the struggles he faced in getting BridgeClimb from dream to reality and the 10 years it took to do it! Boy, it made for a great story!
    Thanks Shaun,

    • Shaun Kenny says:

      Bruce, the only bone I have to pick with you is that your comment is better than the blog post itself! Thanks for the thoughts. Absolutely wonderful.
      There is great documentary called ‘Finding Joe’ all about Joseph Campbell, his discovery of ‘the hero’s journey’ and how it can help guide us in our own lives to be more heroic and alive. You’d love it Bruce!

  7. Dear People of Influence Subscribers,
    When I was young I had a speech impediment. During English class at school I would excuse myself from class and pretend I needed to go to the toilet. I would sit on the toilet until my turn to read had passed, then I would return to class. I was a self conscious redhead student with braces. Even though I had these personal obstacles, I had a dream to become a movie star, so at the age of 22, I enrolled in a Performing Arts school.
    After graduating with a diploma of Performing Arts, I created GK Speaking, a soft skills training company ( Here I became a public speaker on human behavioural strategies, and presented to over 50 Rotary and Lions club.
    In 2010 I decided to complete the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. During my travels I met the woman of my dreams, and now I reside in Germany and share a wonderful life with Magdalena.
    GK Speaking is still growing exponentially, and I am currently working with several multi-national companies within Germany teaching soft skills strategies and paradoxically the ‘English Language’. 🙂
    Hasn’t life got a sense of humour?
    Yours sincerely,
    Grant Kitchen
    Managing Director
    GK Speaking
    Ph: +49 (0)8071-5254005
    M: +49 (0)151-14344198
    Wasserburg am Inn, Germany

  8. hala batainah says:

    Shaun, thank you! Great article and an interesting pivot point re the art of story telling. thank you so much for sharing. Word association with Shaun – shy is not one of them 🙂 Keep up the great work.

    • Shaun Kenny says:

      Thanks Hala! I hope we get to work together again some time. In the meantime I’d love to hear your story.

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