Advisorist Podcast – Episode 4: The 8 Basic Rules Of Story-telling


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Here’s how to revive dying seminar conversions and boost them to even higher heights – with one simple strategy switch.

Love giving seminars but not seeing the ROI you need, let alone the ROI you want? Industry expert and top financial advisor trainer Frank Maselli shares how financial professionals can give powerful, sales-generating seminars, including:

  • The ONE advanced presentation technique you need to adopt to captivate your audience’s attention
  • Why a simple switch creates immediate connection and PRE-SELLS your services
  • When and where to add this twist for maximum effectiveness
  • The critical elements of a seminar that sells
  • Why it’s not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it that creates results
  • How to use this technique to create MORE audience interaction, discussion, and action
  • The technique you can steal from your favorite fiction novel to fuel audience engagement
  • A common PITFALL many advisors fall into with this strategy, and how to avoid it
  • How to use humor the RIGHT way when making sales presentations
  • Why it pays to BE GENUINE and how to ensure your authenticity is communicated


Note:  This Advisorist Podcast transcript was created in part by computers – Please forgive any grammatical or spelling errors…or sentences that just downright don’t seem to make sense!  Please compare to corresponding audio if clarity is needed.


Jeremiah: Hi, it’s Jeremiah Desmarais, Founder of Advisorist. Today’s podcast is being hosted by my good friend Frank Maselli. Frank is arguably one of the top trainers in the entire insurance and financial services industry, a sought after keynote speaker who specializes in teaching insurance and financial advisors the advanced strategies to more powerful sales presentations, and more dynamic in person seminars. Frank is the author of several best selling books and is a highly sought after consultant and keynote speaker. Here he is, Frank Maselli.

Frank: Hi, it’s Frank Maselli. Welcome to the advanced presentation skills podcast. This is the show for financial professionals who want to maximize the audience impact and the business results from educational workshops and seminars. So if you’re speaking to the public in any capacity, we want to help you and we can help you. So stay in touch with us. We’re on the Advisorist Network and you can learn more about the podcast and all the incredible resources we offer by going to Let’s get into today’s topic. This is an interesting one. This is the first in a series that we’re going to do about storytelling. Today’s discussion is about telling stories in your workshops. Why are stories so important to use in your presentation? What kinds of stories resonate with audiences? And how can you use different types of stories to illustrate different points? When should you tell a story? At what points in the workshop are stories most or least effective? Very critically, how can you tell a story in a way that really hits home with an audience? Now, you might think that storytelling is a natural skill that we all possess and that’s partly true. We start hearing stories and learning stories very early in childhood. That experience stays with us our entire lives. We’re also touched by stories in literature, in the media and in almost every form of entertainment. When you stop to think about it, stories are the foundational human communication modality and they’ve been with us as a species for a few hundred thousand years. Stories convey critical information. They connect us to each other and inspire us to action. Particularly meaningful and compelling stories are passed down through time, and have become part of our culture. So stories are important. In a workshop or a seminar of any kind, they can really help you bond with and move that audience. Now look, we don’t have the time to go into the complete art and science of storytelling. This is an incredibly complex subject with about a million variables. So let me focus on what I think will help you most in your workshop efforts. Before I jump in, one of the most valuable services I provide as a coach is as a story consultant. If you have a story that you’re thinking of using in your workshop, run it by me, let me help you, I’ll give you an honest review of the impact and power of your stories. Of course, it’s your story, and you certainly don’t have to take my advice, but I may be able to help you structure and deliver your stories with far greater impact. You see, that’s one of the tricky parts of storytelling. It’s not only the quality and the power of your story itself, but it’s how you tell it that determines the impact on the audience. It’s possible to have a fantastic story, but to tell it really badly, and it actually hurts more than it helps. So let me help you. Email me at [email protected], or reach out to me on the Advisorist platform and we can set up a story review. I think you’d find that an incredibly valuable coaching tool, and it’s totally free so take advantage of it. It’s easy to do.

So in today’s podcast, I want to focus on the 8 basic rules of storytelling in a workshop. Now look, these are my rules. There are plenty of other coaches and speaker trainers out there who may have their own, but I think these are pretty straightforward and pretty simple. I don’t think you’ll find yourself in disagreement with any of them. There are many ways to tell stories and everybody’s got their own personal style but I think this makes sense. So let me explain it and we’ll have some fun doing this. Okay, so these are the basic rules of storytelling that I can think of. Alright, so here we go.

Rule number 1, start with the moral in mind. All great stories have a moral. It’s a message that tells the listeners something important you want them to know. If your story doesn’t have a moral or if it’s a vague and undefined moral, either sharpen the focus or don’t tell it. It’s not going to help you in any way. Also, if the moral is hard to understand, or the plot of the story is just too complex, narrow it down and simplify the tale. James Joyce will exhaust and frustrate and ultimately anger a Tom Clancy audience. So keep things simple. You don’t want to get to the end of your story and have the audience wonder why you told it or what lesson they were supposed to take away from it. In fact, it might even be good to finish the story and ask the audience. So folks, what’s the lesson we learned from that? You might get some fascinating interaction going and even better, when they come up with the message or the moral themselves it can be 10 times more powerful than you telling them. Of course, a story might have multiple morals but let’s save that discussion for the Master Class. For our purpose right now, you want things to be clear, and easy to understand. You want people to walk away from your story going, “Damn, that makes sense.” So what is the moral of the story? Well, this is an interesting question and this is where you have to ask yourself, what do I want them to feel? What do I want them to take away from the story that I’m about to tell? Every story you tell has to have a basic message of some kind. That can be multiple messages, but not too many. You don’t want them walking around going, “Okay, wait a minute. What’s the most important lesson that I need to learn?” Stick with one or maybe two lessons in every given story, but these are your stories and you have to decide what that moral is, what that message is, what that lesson is before you craft and deliver the story. So I’m not going to give you the moral. I will talk more about different morals for different stories in the next podcast, but it’s your story so you know it, you understand it and you have ostensibly you have a reason for telling this story in the workshop. You’re trying to illustrate something with the story. Start with that moral, be clear, and hammer it home. Don’t be ambiguous. Don’t be vague. Don’t be uncertain about the moral. Great. Okay, So rule number one, start with the moral in mind.

Rule number 2, very simple, keep it short. One of the most common mistakes advisors are making out there is stories that go on for what seemed like days with no end in sight. Audiences will tend to get excited when you start a story. That’s a natural reaction that they have but that excitement fades very quickly. So I would shoot for stories that go no longer than one or two minutes tops. A lot longer than that, and you start to run into resistance, you you run into confusion and frankly, you run into boredom unless you’re really telling your great powerful story which we’ll discuss in just a second because they’re very uncommon. If you have some kind of really epic tale that you want to tell, and it’s longer than two minutes, talk to me. Maybe we can find a way to trim it down or maybe we might be able to break the story up into chapters. Now, this can be a lot of fun. You have one really powerful story that weaves throughout the presentation and takes the audience on sort of a journey. I would use these chapter stories a lot and sometimes I would purposely leave out the final chapter of the story. That would drive people crazy and someone would always raise their hand and ask, “So Frank, what happened to that couple you were telling us about? We’re not leaving until you finish that story.” That’s a fantastic moment and it’s a great indicator that the audience has really connected to you. So long stories can work, but you have to be careful, and you might want to break them apart, and breaking them apart can be very effective. We’ll talk about how to do that if you have a really long one that you want me to discuss. So rule number two, keep the story short, keep it focused.

Rule number 3, this is interesting and this is a big problem that I’m seeing out there right now. Rule number 3, make your story relevant to the audience. Your stories need to connect to the people in the room or the story becomes a total waste of time and even worse, they become very annoying. I’m starting to see a lot of these stories pop up in coaching videos and it leads me to wonder if there’s some speaking training company that must be telling advisors to do that. But it’s a huge mistake, in my opinion. So let me explain what I’m talking about. The particular stories that I’m thinking of that are problematic, all right, these are the things that I’m seeing right now, these are problems. These are the ones about experiences the advisor had as a child, or when they were in high school. Some supposedly formative decision or profound life lessons that you learned at age 13 that made you the person you are today. Look, I’m sorry, maybe I’m just too jaded or to cranky or too old. I don’t know. But folks, let me tell you something. It’s extremely unlikely that anything you did, anything you saw, anything you learned at age 13 could have any value for me or my family’s future. These stories are what I jokingly called Gen X trophy fluff and I couldn’t care less. I came here tonight to learn things that will help me survive and succeed. So let’s get to the meat. I don’t need to hear some story about your childhood. Now look, this is harsh, okay, and I apologize if you like telling these kinds of stories. So again, let me help you. There are ways to make almost any story connect to that audience. But seriously, if it doesn’t connect, throw it away. It could be hurting you more than you know. All right, and these childhood stories, these revelations, okay, you wanted to be a baseball player, great, great. Now interestingly, there’s a way to tell those stories that does connect to the financial profession that does make you look good, or that connects with that audience. A tale of aspiration, a tale of growth, a tale of something formative that did happen to you. Maybe there’s a commonality in that formative experience but those are the things that we need to explore and those are the parts of the story that you need to tell. Just telling something because you think it’s cute, or it’s fun, and it doesn’t connect to the audience is hurting, it hurts you dramatically. Also, a very quick sidebar about stories from your youth. If you are significantly younger than the average age of your audience, stories about your childhood are not helping you. I can almost guarantee that for some of you, your youth is the unspoken objection that prevents people from doing business with you. Personally, I would advise you to stay away from those kinds of stories completely or try a different one that will discuss in the next podcast. It’s called the docudrama, or the historical story that takes your youth and turns it into an advantage rather than a disadvantage. But if you’re a 30 something advisor, your audience is 60 something, you’ve got a gigantic gap right there off the bat and then you start telling me a story from when you were 15, that’s a 45 year disconnect from my reality. So just be careful with those stories from your youth, they may not be helping you as much as you think, they may not be as endearing to the audience’s you’re hoping they will be.

Rule number 4, give your characters some depth, but keep them universal. Now, this assumes that you’re talking about someone other than yourself, okay? All stories are ultimately about people in some form. So give the characters of your story a little depth and color, describe the characters in a little detail, help the audience form a picture in their mind of the main characters in your story. You could even put up a generic picture on the screen if you want, but sometimes it’s better to just let them use their imagination. Again, keep it short, maybe one or two descriptive sentences is all you need but this makes the story come alive for the audience. Ideally, they’ll begin to see themselves in that role. So keep your characters somewhat universal. I heard an advisor in a seminar tell a story once about an extremely wealthy client who was worried about some construction details on his new 200 foot yacht. As soon as the audience heard 200 foot yacht, they tuned out. I mean, this clients problems had absolutely nothing to do with that audience. Slowly, they began to sense that the advisor was only telling the story as a way to brag about the wealthy people he worked with that was absolutely not a good moment. You could see the audience turning off to the story and then they began to turn off to the advisor, which is not what he wanted. Also, for depth in a story, set the scene in a little detail. For example, you didn’t just go to dinner, you went to a really nice steak place with the dark wood paneling and the deep mahogany chairs and you could smell the steak sizzling in the kitchen. Put the audience in that setting using words. This is where descriptive language can really help you. Again, you don’t have to go into excruciating detail on the setting or the environment but a couple of sentences can really help you. You get the idea. A little background, a little depth will help the audience put themselves in the story. What it does ultimately is it intensifies the emotional experience they feel from your tail. Very powerful.

Rule number 5, use humor and self deprecation. Now look, this is a fundamental rule of all workshops beyond just storytelling. In my opinion, humor is the single most important element in a great workshop. Unfortunately from what I’m seeing, it’s mostly absent. The reason? I’m not sure exactly what the reason is. But it can’t be that we don’t have any funny stories to tell because this profession is hysterical and if you’ve been in the business for more than a couple of days, you probably have a whole bunch of great stories to tell. I honestly think it’s because humor is difficult. Many advisors don’t want to be perceived as funny. They want to come across as some highbrow professional and they think the duller they are, the smarter the audience will think they must be. But folks, I gotta tell you that’s dead wrong. Humor is a tremendously powerful sign of intelligence and humor presented effectively might be the highest form of human communication. Please don’t shy away from humor. Learn how to be funny in a way that fits your style. If you’re 100% sure that you’re not funny, guess what? That’s actually funny too. You can have a blast with that. Audiences will bond to you tremendously if you’re boring and if you know you’re boring, and if you warn them in advance that you’re boring. Actually it’s a fun technique to use which brings me to self deprecation, what is self deprecation? Well, who are you making fun of here? You’re making fun of yourself. I’d like to see you craft and tell one or two self deprecating stories in every program. Self deprecation in general is the safest form of humor because you’re making mild fun of yourself. Now notice the word mild. That’s very important. You don’t want to go overboard on self deprecation because you run the risk of turning people off. Many years ago, when I was a manager, I attended a seminar being done by a woman advisor in Beverly Hills, California. This is a brutally tough market but this woman was as sharp and as polished as you could ever want. Chanel suit, great stage presence, clearly knowledgeable, very professional delivery. She was a fantastic advisor. She had the audience in the palm of her hand the entire night and they were laughing, they were totally into this. But she took the self deprecation idea one step too far when she admitted losing piece of critical paperwork for a client. Out of nowhere, she blurted out, “Oh, I’m just so scatterbrained and disorganized.” She thought this was a simple throwaway laugh line and just kept going. But sitting in the back of the room, I could see people literally turning off. They seem to collectively say, “We don’t want scatterbrained and disorganized, that’s not good.” The kind of self deprecation stories I try to tell are ones that do not impugn my professional skill, or my company. Usually I’ll stick with obvious things. I make jokes about my weight, I make jokes about being obnoxious from New York, I make jokes about things that are pretty obvious to the audience. If I tell family stories, I make myself the brunt of the humor. I don’t tell funny stories about other people in my family, and especially my wife. I never never make fun of my wife, frankly, it’s hard to make fun of her. She’s a wonderful woman. It’s a dangerous thing when guys try to make fun of their wives. Ironically, if you’re a woman advisor, you can make all the fun you want of your husband and that works. That works really well. But again, a little caution in mind when you’re making fun of someone else. Self deprecation is about you. Stick with that, stay focused on that, you can’t go wrong. There is a woman by the way, who you really need to get to know when it comes to humorous stories, when it comes to using humor there is no one better than this that I can think of. Her name is Jeannie Robertson. She is one of America’s greatest humorist and if you don’t know her, you should track her down. Jeannie Robertson. You can find her on YouTube. You can find her doing podcasts. She’s out there. She’s very, very powerful. She’s pretty well known. Jenny Robertson, and I’ll put a link in the show notes to Jeannie Robertson just so you can track her down. Jeannie Robertson has made a lifelong habit of writing down in a notebook the funny thing she sees every day. She’s kept this notebook for decades, and she transcribes it now to a computer every night. Look, she’s a professional speaker, she’s at the highest levels of the speaking profession. I see her at the National Speakers Association. She’s a legend at NSA meetings. But why does she do that? She does it because it’s impossible to remember all the funny things that happened. You cannot rely on your memory. When you see something and it flashes in your head, you smile, you laugh, you go, “Oh, that was funny” and 10 minutes later, it’s gone. She takes advantage of those instant moments of humor, and picks up on them and builds a complete catalogue of these funny stories. It’s genius. Now, she’s a professional speaker. Most of you are not professional speakers, that’s not your thing but if you thought about keeping track of some of this stuff, it would be a great habit to get into. I’ve started doing and it really works very well. So remember, you can find humor in many, many places and over time, you’ll amass a collection of really great material that you can weave in your workshops. Again, if you want help with a funny story, you’ve come to the right place. I love humor. I’ve made a serious effort to learn the skills necessary to be funny and I can’t say that I use the skills all the time, but I really try to have fun in my workshops and I think those of you who’ve been to any of my sessions know that we do laugh sometimes. It’s a great thing to do. But, I would definitely want to help you with that, and I can help you. So tell me your funny stories, I’d love to hear it and maybe we can polish them up and make them more effective.

Rule number 6, put your story in the right location. By the way, we only have 8 rules so hang in there, I know you’re getting tired. Put your story in the right location. A great story told in the perfect spot in a workshop can be massively powerful and successful. Flip it around. You tell that same exact story, but you tell it at the wrong time in the workshop and it could hurt you or it can undermine the entire presentation. The most dramatic and common example of bad placement I’ve been seeing is advisors telling a long winded story about themselves and their company right in the beginning of the workshop. Look, I understand the desire to have the audience know who you are and what you do but placing this commercial right up front just kills the mood in the room. You’re going to have your chance to talk about yourself but doing it too early, sends the wrong message and puts people in a bad mood. Also, the end of the workshop can be tricky as well. If you’re going to use a story here, it needs to be short and powerful. Once people start sensing that the program is almost over, they begin to lose a little focus. Launching into a new story at this point in the workshop can be very frustrating to them. So keep it tight and upbeat and never ever end on a downer or some kind of tale of sadness, or whoa, I’m guessing you understand that. If you’re going to tell a story at the end of the workshop or towards the end, make an upbeat, powerful story. Leave people on a high. Also timing wise, I will very often use stories as transition elements from one segment of the workshop to another. It’s likely that your program has several chapters or key concepts. That’s a pretty standard model. When you move from one to another, that’s called a transition. You can use a story either to close out the chapter you’ve just discussed, or to set up the chapter you’re going into. Story placement in a workshop is very important and this is one of the things that I look at very closely in the videos that I analyze. I will do a story analysis for you, and a placement analysis as well so that can help a lot. Sometimes, just moving the story to a different location in the workshop makes it much more meaningful and powerful for the audience.

Rule number 7, understand story structure but don’t be afraid to change it. Every speaker training program will tell you that stories are powerful, and many will teach you that stories have a certain structure. Often, that’s explained simply as a beginning, a middle and an end. Others may go into more detail about introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. You can get very complicated with story structure but there’s really a very simple model that’s used by one of the greatest storytelling organizations out there called Pixar. I’m assuming you’ve heard the name Pixar. Pixar has something they call the story spine and here’s how it goes. I’m going to link this to you in the show notes because there’s a great article that discusses the Pixar rules of storytelling, which is a lot of fun, a lot of them overlap with what we’re talking about here. I’m honored that Pixar took some of my rules. They’ve got more of them and I would listen to Pixar if I were you. So they call it the Pixar story spine and it goes like this, once upon a time there was ‘something’. The something is where you fill in the blank, but the once upon a time is there. Once upon a time there was ‘something’. Every day, ‘something’. One day, ‘something else’. Because of that ‘something’. And because of that, ‘something’. Until finally, ‘something’. So let me recap. Once upon a time there was every day **blank**. One day **blank**. Something different, obviously. Because of that ‘something’. Because of that ‘something else’. Until finally **blank**. Now, I know there’s very little context around that but when you think about it, it’s a very interesting and simple way to tell a story. And the once upon a time thing is universal. That’s a time honored tradition. I mean, even Star Wars did that, “Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” but what a great way to start a story and epic tale. But that simple Pixar structure has won them 13 Academy Awards, and there’s a great article, I’m going to link it to in the show notes. Take a look at it. It’s simple. Story structure. Why do stories have a structure? Well, they need a structure to keep the storyteller from rambling or jumping around, or doing what I call the deep Parenthetical Story. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard anyone tell us story that has multiple parentheses in there. And if you don’t know what I mean by parentheses, it’s basically where they start something, they go off on a quick tangent that has something to do with a subset of the story then that tangent takes them into another tangent, and then two tangents later, they’re completely losing the audience and actually boring the heck out of people. I’m a simple guy, you start throwing parentheses, and sub clauses and sub chapters and multiple characters in the story that have nothing to do with the main theme. I’m lost, I’m lost within seconds, and I think audiences are too. So be careful with that. Stick to a good structure, keep it simple, and have some fun. Don’t lose people. I think that’s why you need a structure in a story.

Final rule, rule number 8 and this is an easy one. Keep your stories real. I think this goes without saying but just in case you were planning to make up a story of some kind, I’d suggest you not do that. Audiences have a way of telling when you’re using some sort of fake story. I’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work. Once they perceive that there’s a lack of genuineness on your part, you can kiss those relationships goodbye. Stick with the truth. If you’re going to tell a story, but that story didn’t happen to you personally, that’s fine. Tell it as a third party, you don’t have to take ownership of every story you tell. It’s totally legitimate to relate a third party story if it is someone else’s tale. If it’s your story, you know the details, you know the nuances, you know the subtleties, you know the emotions to convey because you felt those emotions when that story happened to you. That’s what the audience bonds to. A deeply detached story is not something that the audience will connect to as well. If you ever feel tempted to make up a story just because it fits, or you have something that you really want them to know but maybe you can’t think of a great story from your own experience, I would say just avoid that. It’s not necessarily a good thing and it can hurt you, it actually can hurt you. Those are the 8 basic rules of storytelling that I like to remember when telling stories in my workshops. In the next podcast, I will get into some of the categories of stories that you might want to tell in your workshops. You probably have a dozen or more great stories you like telling and as I said before, if you’d like some help with your stories, just call me and we can talk them over or even better, here’s a better thing, record yourself telling the story in an actual workshop, send it to me, and I’ll do a complete analysis and evaluation for you. This is by far the best way to improve your storytelling and your overall workshop skills and it’s totally free when you work with White Glove or the Advisorist. So if you need to reach out to me, call me anytime. 919-329-2723, 919-329-2723 or email [email protected]. I hope this was valuable. Please let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to cover in these podcasts. We’re doing these to help you and I want to make them the most valuable they can be so don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything. Thanks for listening today. This has been Frank Maselli for the Advisorist Network. Good luck out there.

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Jeremiah Desmarais

Jeremiah Desmarais

Jeremiah is the founder and CEO of Advisorist® and is a 23-time award winning financial marketer, a TED speaker and philanthropist. He’s been featured on Forbes, CNN, and Worth. His work has generated over $2 million insurance leads and helped advisors in over 51 countries generate over $300 million in sales commissions. He is the author of the best selling book, SHIFT.

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