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Podcast Guesting Pro founder Graham Brown joins podcast host George Torok on "Your Intended Message" podcast to discuss the three box storytelling technique. The following is a transcript of their conversation. For more tips on podcast guesting success, go to our podcast guesting resources.

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Graham Brown 00:00

This is a tool for the heart. Now that's an analogy. Isn't actually, it wasn't actually a pacemaker. It was a tool for the heart and the heart was a byword for music, love relationships, friendships, dreams, hopes, fears, all the things that we grew up with and are meaningful to us. 

George Torok 00:17

Welcome to your intended message, the perfect place for leaders and promising professionals who want to convey the intended message for greater success. Every week we interview experts who address the challenges and best practices to deliver your message effectively. That might be one to one, one to few or one to many, and perhaps the most important conversation. One to self. I'm your host, George Torok.

George Torok 00:55

My guest today is Graham brown. Here's three facts that I think you should know about Graham one. He's the founder of Pikkal and company. It's an award-winning podcast agency, an AI powered data driven B2B podcast agency in Singapore. Two, he is a published author on the subject of the digital transformation of communication. His works include the human communication playbook, sounds like a good book to read, the mobile youth voices of the connected generation. Hmm. And his work has been featured in the financial times, the wall street journal and his clients include, McKinsey leap, UTI investment bank, air Asia, zero, the Singapore Institute of management, Vodafone, Nokia, UNICEF, MTV via European commission, Disney and monster energy drinks. It sounds like there's no one left for anyone else to have as a client now. And his third fact about Graham, he is an ironman triathlete he's completed so far, he's completed one full, iron man and four half iron man. He's born in the UK, lived in lived around the world, including Thailand, Spain, Cypress, and Japan and now he's in Singapore living full time with his family. Graham Brown, welcome to your intended message. 

Graham Brown 02:38 

George, wonderful to be here. Thank you for this opportunity. Looking forward to this very much, indeed, 

George Torok 02:44 

very much, glad to be connecting with you. Here we are on opposite sides of the world, a great way to have a conversation and connect with people, our messages about communication and you are in particular, you talk about communication and you have a technique or a collection of techniques that you called a three box storytelling techniques. Can you give us a hint? Can you tell us a little bit more what that's about and, and how a business leader might start getting used to using those tools?

Graham Brown 03:17 

Sure. Well, thanks for the teeing. This one up three boxes, just a simple way to break down a story into three scenes. Every good narrative is broken into three scenes. Probably the easiest way to think about this. Remember the Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens. I think there was a, a recent remake of it, it's on Netflix somewhere. Can't remember who the actors were, but the, the, the plot is the same where Ebenezer Scrooge is confronted on Christmas Eve by three apparitions, three ghosts, and they were the ghosts of Christmas, past, ghosts of christmas present and ghosts of christmas future. And those are the three scenes. It paints out. It shows Ebenezer a screw, who's, who's a bit of a stingy old man,  stingy old Giza who doesn't give his employees time off, over Christmas or a raise or anything like that. He's but a humble who's that guy. And, these three scenes are basically how we consume stories. So he sees himself in the past as a, a young man him today, where he is now sort of consumed as a capitalist owning this factory or whatever is in the Victorian era. And then the future, he sees his vision of himself at a funeral, and it's a funeral. Nobody comes watch, nobody comes to pay respect and they find out it's his funeral and upon seeing this, he goes through this transformation and he realizes actually that he's a bad man after all. And he will repent. And that's the whole sort of transformation journey. That he learns about himself. And those three boxes, if you like are as any play or movie is told as the backstory, how we got here and the promised land, the vision of the place that you want to take the audience. And if you know that structure, I mean, we can go into a bit more depth about, but if you know those three scenes, when you do a presentation or any public speaking, or even a chart presenting a chart or pitching to an investor, those three scenes are pivotal. If you get that right, you can pull people in, you can engage audiences and you can get your message, your intended message out to the people that need to hear it.

George Torok 05:40 

So, Graham, take us through a, take us through a potential sales presentation. Here, here's a here's a company owner, an entrepreneur, selling his product, selling his plan, his project to a client. How might that business leader, that company owner put their sales presentation in using those three boxes? What, what, where are the boxes? 

Graham Brown 06:02 

Okay. Very random. It's like a sell me this pen type scenario, picking up on my desk here, George, I've got a Rubik's cube. I dunno if you're a fan of one of these things, but I tend to play with it when I'm talking to people, zoom calls and so on. So let's say you were trying to pitch this rubik's cube to an investor or a client, a potential client. Well, most people would do it the wrong way, which is a single scene, which is just basically, this is a toy you can play with it and maybe it will improve your IQ. Maybe it will help you with your sensory motor skills. You can spin this thing around, impress people, et cetera. And that's how most people sell stuff. Whether that stuff is software or something tangible like a rubik’s cube. However, the better way to do it is to say, how do we get here? How did this come into being, what's the backstory? Why are we playing with this thing now? And what can it do for you in the future? So you take any object. What the audience wants to really know is why. You know, why did this come into being, how did this happen? Why are we talking about it now? What problem is it solving? And it's not a product that you have to sell. It's a solution to a problem that a, an audience or a listener or a potential buyer has. And that's the important part is that backstory for what you are selling and so I see so many founders do this so many. You know, CEOs of their own companies, they just pitch their stuff. It, this is the best Rubik’s cube that's out there. Here's the best product. Here's the best SaaS platform. This is the best service. Nobody cares. What they care about is how did you get here? How did this happen? And that makes them connect with you. Like George. We were talking on there about Singapore. You've been here a few years ago and you're backpacking through as a young lad. That's a connection, isn't it? That we've been to the same place in the world. We've got a connection there that's memorable, and that you have to create that backstory before you sell anything first, that commonality, how are we connected? How did this happen? Why are we in this middle scene, the present right now in this story? And then you can pitch them the promise land, which is where do I need to take you? Where does this go? Where do we need to head together? You know, what is the solution? How is the, you know, the world, a better place if you own this Rubik's cube, for example. So that's how you can use three boxes to sell. You can use it to pitch a great one is, for example, raising money for which is sales process. If you think about it, how did I start this company? You know, why am I doing podcasting? Why, you know, all these kind of backstory questions. And then this is where we are now. This is the problem we're solving. And then, if you invest in my company, Mr. Investor, this is what we'll do together. This is what we're gonna bill. So those are three scenes that you could easily follow through in any kind of sales process or pitch.

George Torok 09:16 

And interesting enough, while you're, you're going through those three scenes, I'm. comparing it to the, the story of Scrooge, the, the three scenes that he went through that, you know, the Christmas past, Christmas, present, Christmas future. And I suppose if any leader wanted to frame their story, they could simply frame it on the Christmas Carol.

Graham Brown 09:40 

Yeah, why not? It's transformation? Isn't it, that you know, uh, so Ebenezer Scrooge in the Christmas carol went through a transformation. He changed and change is what this is all about. The changes is the reason we tell stories to get people, to act, to do something differently. And change is uncomfortable. You think about every single heroic myth that's told there's always a scene in it, George, that you probably know from Lord of the rings or Harry Potter or whatever it is, star wars. There's a scene where the hero has to cross the river. And sometimes it physically is a river and sometimes it may be manifesting in some other form, but he has to cross the river. And either side of the river, on the side that he's on currently is, is home, which is safe. It's the world as it was. And then he has to cross the river into the unknown, which is the Rocky road where he's gonna meet, you know, thieves and people who are gonna trick him and heroes that may appear in different forms and guides and so on. That's classic narrative myths. And the point being is that we all have to make this crossing and that's what we, as salespeople or communicators have to do with the audience. We have to get them to cross. This is the reason why you're gonna come out of your comfort zone and cross into the unknown. And to do that, it's gonna be a challenge. And if you think about it, that's what happened. Christmas carol. He made that transformation. He crossed, and that's what we have to do as a salesperson. I have to get you to open your wallet. That's uncomfortable, but there's an unknown here that this may be a waste of money. It may be a trick, it may end up making you look stupid, right? So all of this is about getting people to cross that river. And that's why we see in these heroic narratives, that's seen as a pivotal scene in every single movie or book that you've read even in classical literature as well. So that's key here.

George Torok 11:45 

and I'm wondering the, the impetus to cross the river at that point one is facing fear at atleast fear and perhaps even real danger. And so at that point, they need to overcome that fear of moving forward and, and they, and they might do that because the fear of staying where they were or going back is, is worse than the fear of going ahead or perhaps in a sales situation, it might be at that point that they've there's enough trust been built up. So, so that the fears. Does that make sense? 

Graham Brown 12:22 

Yeah. trust is so important to that process. That's why the commonality part, the backstory is really important because the fact that you were in Singapore, I was in Singapore. That may seem inconsequential, but that's actually really important because it is a small world. Now we tend to trust people who share some geographical similarity. It's difficult to do business with people in different countries. Even if though we can do it all by zoom. People want to know you are there, locally. It's the trust factor. So establishing trust is a key part of the backstory. The why, and if you look at sales pitches, it's all about the commonality. If you look at raising funds for a startup. The why part to the business is about trust. Isn't it, it's an opportunity to sort of input your story into it as well. You know, this is my backstory. I was working in a bank, tired of staring out the window, wondering, what am I gonna do with my life? Took a risk, started to start up, et cetera, et cetera, people connect with those stories. And that's the trust building part. And if you think about George as well, those whole narrative structures, Steve jobs was a master of this, that he employed these narrative structures to build trust. He used it because, you know, they say there's only seven plot lines in Hollywood. Well, the reason we keep seeing the same movie over and over again with different actors, different content is because we like the plot structures. We like how it ends. We're not looking for a new structure, the point. If it ends where the hero dies or it's not a Hollywood ending, we feel kind of a bit strange. That's why they always end like that mostly. And that's the point is that's the trust building part we're familiar with these structures and Steve jobs would use those to sell iPhones or iPods because he's getting you to absorb an unfamiliar future and connect it to a familiar past. And that's the power of a story. That's that's the anchoring of those unfamiliar fear that you talked about outcomes with familiar, experienced past that we've had.

George Torok 14:31 

I'm wondering, Graham, do you believe that it might be useful or helpful for business leaders when they're telling a story, when they're selling a new idea to look for a, look for, look for analogies with those old idea, those old stories. 

Graham Brown 14:52 

Yeah. Analogies are powerful, George. I call them short form stories. There are so many great analogies out there. We don't tend to think of them as stories. I'll give you an example. When Steve jobs sold the Ipod, which really was the in, into the iPhone world, he didn't stand up and say, This is the best MP3 player in the world because there were MP3 players out there, creative, for example, world leader and MP3 players. Instead he stood up and said, this is a tool for the heart. Now that's an analogy. Isn't actually, it wasn't actually a pacemaker. It was a tool for the heart and heart was a by-word for music, love relationships, friendships, dreams, hopes, fears, all the things that we grew up with and are meaningful to us. And that's the power of analogy. People understood that now, understood what this could be for their powerful analogy. There are so many good examples out another one, which we to show you how powerful analogies are when the town planners introduced traffic lights, they didn't have anything to go by as a, you know, there wasn't any sort of established rules of the road. People didn't even drive on the left and right hand sides until much later on; that wasn't an established part of the protocol of driving. So they looked at trains and they looked at the traffic signaling in trains, which were based on the red and green lights. And so they knew that if people had to make decisions really fast when they were driving that they had to use something that they already knew. They didn't have to, they didn't have the time to stop and analyze something. It was just, you know, this it's familiar past, you know, kind of how it works. Red, stop green, go. We're gonna use that. And so the idea of traffic lights is they used an analogy of what people already understood and Steve jobs did the same to get people to buy into something that was unfamiliar, but could be connected to something that we've experienced that is familiar and very close to us. Those are short form stories. And if you can master those, you know, you are the X of Y, you are the Uber of, you know, pet. Booming take your pick. You're the X of Y. If you can work that out, that's an extremely powerful piece of mental real estate to occupy in your audience.

George Torok 17:24 

Now I'm wondering when, when you use a phrase and, and, and I think I've heard it, you are the Uber of what pick the, the industry, the new industry. So I think that what that does to the listener is that they start, they start writing their own story. They, they create their own, own movie. When, when they, when you, when you use those words, all your words are, are introducing them and tempting them to write their own story.

Graham Brown 18:00 

They've done a lot of the filling in of the unknown, if you like, that's the key, isn't it. If people really don't like the unknown, that's the problem with sales. That's the problem with raising money? The fear of the unknown is the biggest enemy here. And if you go back to movies, the most feared enemies, if you think about them, are often formless, you know, Dark Lords or these sort of ethereal beings that don't have any kind of shape, don't look like us. You know, the bad guys never really look like us if they do, they've got sort of a deformed face or like joker like qualities, or they're just an eye, for example, you know, we don't like the unknown and that's our fear and that's a very primal fear. That we have. And so when you introduce something like a Rubik's cube or an iPod, whatever it is to somebody you've gotta connect him with something known such that that removes the fear and they can write that story for you because oh yeah. I know how this goes. I know what the Uber of X will look like, because I know Uber is familiar. Therefore I can kind of work that out there. I can kind of figure out what that looks like in new territory. That's an extremely powerful way to communicate a message and to look out for those analogies and some people use them very effectively and use them a lot like Steve jobs, a good example, but great communicators do as well. John F. Kennedy was a good example. All these leaders, they know how to master communication through not necessarily fantastical storytelling, but using what we already know.

George Torok 19:45 

So I'm hearing that if, if a person says this is new technology, this is, you know, this is groundbreaking. Well, hang on a minute. Before you start telling people how new and ground break breaking it is, you need to find out what you can, how can you find a familiar territory in their mind? Mm-hmm you've gotta make that. You can't just say this is brand new. There's nothing like it. There has to be something like it.

Graham Brown 20:08 

Yeah, exactly. What was the familiarity? You go back to the iPod. You, I dunno if you remember George, uh, the zoom that was Microsoft's attempt at an iPod and they actually marketed his thing just as you said, it's this completely new, it's an iPod killer. And that didn't work. And you know, it was a disaster. They spent like $200 million on marketing, this thing, a complete disaster, because it was unfamiliar, you know, what was it doing? What was it like? I didn't understand it. What did it fit in my consciousness? Whereas, you know, the iPod was about music and relationships and love. The zoom was just, I don't know. And there you go. That, that goes to show that it doesn't work. 

George Torok 20:53 

And, and I think about the, think about the technology that we're using right now, where I remember the days when the internet was called this 500 channel universe, it was gonna be this 500 channel universe. If only there were only 500 channels, but that's how, but that's how we introduced. That's how people were introduced to the concept of the internet. Imagine having 500 channels. Wow. That would be great. Imagine that, you know, it's gone way past that, but we had to start somewhere that we could relate to and when I've talked to people who, there are people, might still be people who aren't don't aren't aware of podcasts. And when, when we first started talking about podcasts, I explained it to people. It's like radio on the internet. 

Graham Brown 21:40 

Yeah, there you go. That takes a lot of the unknown away. 

George Torok 21:45 

Yeah. And, and people know what red oh, radio. Okay. Only the difference is you can listen to it anytime. 

Graham Brown 21:51 

Yeah. On demand. Exactly. That's important, isn't it, to getting people to change behaviors because they could understand the value of radio. Radio's, you know, over a] hundred years old as an industry and it's not going away. And now I can see the benefit of the internet. So let's put these two together. I kind of get that now, because if you try and explain it to something else where it's like this audio thing and you record com ah, I don't understand that people won't get that. Will they? But they get radio. And it's hugely popular. So that's powerful. If you can simplify it like that, George, like you did. And yeah, it isn't right. Every time it's not a hundred percent, right. Is it's not a hundred percent, right. Like your 500 channel example, but that's okay. It has to be mostly right. That's enough. 

George Torok 22:42 

And, and what I'm hearing there is that, and, and you talked about changing behavior. It's one thing to change behavior, but people are only willing to change if they know there's something that's gonna stay the same, something that they're comfortable, that will stay the same. They might change some parts, but not gonna change a hundred percent.

Graham Brown 23:03 

Yeah. That's the familiarity part that connecting, if you look at, you know, it's neuropsychologists have done a lot of studies of how storytelling affects the brain. And what I found fascinating was, and I wrote about this in my playbook is that the human brain can't actually distinguish between past and, and present and future. It doesn't know the difference, which I thought was strange because our world is separated into those three scenes. Really? Isn't it. We always think about things as what we've experienced, what's coming around the corner. And if you're very zen-like, maybe you just focus on the present, but. You know, that's always a fleeting moment for most people, but the brain just experiences it all as experience. That's it there's either experiences which have happened and therefore, you know, they're memorized or experiences, which it's thinking about, which it still thinks are real. And so there's no differentiation. And now the point is, is that with that fact in mind, when you tell somebody a. and the reason why the familiarity part is really crucial here is because if it's an experience I've already had in my brain, I understand this boy meets girl. They fall in love. They split up, I've seen this movie before. If we're familiar with it, then we easily absorb it. And if we easily absorb it, there's no resistance to change. And I feel it's familiar. And that's important how the psychology of storytelling works. It takes an unfamiliar outcome and connects it to an experienced, familiar past because the brain doesn't know any different. And that's why if you look, I mean, I dunno if you're a, a student of Joseph Campbell, you know, the hero with a thousand faces. He, he basically wrote a book called the hero, you know, talked about the hero's journey, which was that there were only a number of plot lines in all of history. If you look at all these sort of classical mono myths, you know, in the modern day from star war, Marvel all the way back to, you know, the Bible and all these sort of like very strong cultural narratives that resonated throughout time. They'll follow these very similar plot lines. There's very similar scenes in them. You know, there's a scene in star wars, for example, where Luke and Dar theta. you know, in a late, I can't remember which one it is, but they, they have, what's called an atonement. An atonement basically means at one it means where the son atone, he makes peace with the father, right. He sort of makes peace with him. And in all past transgressions are forgotten and that's very biblical. As a scene, you know, you don't have to be religious. You just know that that exists in the Bible and in many, many religious texts, and this is the familiarity part. If you want people to change, you have to make it extremely familiar that these scenes exist almost imprinted in our mind. And Joseph Campbell talks about archetypes, you know, the characters that keep coming up throughout. You know, Donald Trump is this archetype and the bad guy is that archetype. And the thief is this archetype. These are real. And these, you know, these are very Shakespearean in their roles. You know, this character enters the scene exit, you know, what kind of role he's gonna play. And so when it comes to storytelling, the best storytellers, they leverage all of these existing. archetypes and plot lines. They don't look for something new and fantastical. You know, that's the idea of this new product, doesn't work like that. Instead they take, what's been written thousands and thousands of times, and they just change the content and the characters.

George Torok 26:51 

Hmm. And one avenue for people to tell stories is on podcasts and I believe that you, you run an agency that books people on podcasts. Tell us a little bit about that and, and where they can find that. 

Graham Brown 27:08 

Yeah, so they started really, because I had a podcast agency which produces podcast for the kind of brands you talked about and what was happening was is that some of the, the hosts on those podcasts wanted to get on other podcasts, and we were just kind of moving people around as a favour, you know, you get on this podcast and he'll return the favor and, you know, it's a bit like a talk show, you know, where they're kind of rotating hosts and guests and it worked out really well. But then people started saying, actually, I wanna do more of that guesting how do I do that? And what the trouble was with, it is actually, it's not hard to get booked on a podcast. It's hard, just the whole process. You have to do your job, you have to practice your content. And then you've gotta do all the kind of heavy lifting that goes with the back and forth of talking to hosts and so on. So we said that actually we could, you know, there's a, there's a growing demand for this. There's like 4 million podcasts. Now there's a podcast for everything. You know, if you're interested in garden furniture, there's a podcast on that. You know, now there's podcast out there with built audiences, like your intended message, for example, you, if you spent time curating your audience and looking after them, you know who they are. And you told me about the avatar of your audience and you know, these people, you speak to them, you interact with them. You talk to them, right. So there are people out there who've grown and curated these audiences for you. And so we realized there was a growing demand for it. And then people, you know, with the numbers going to 4 million people realized actually there was, there was enough podcast out there for very specific niches. So just put these two together and that's where we are. We created a booking agency almost through the back door. You know, it was almost by accident that people said, oh no, we need this, we need this. And we said, okay, we've just gotta help out. But it's grown since then. That's where we are now. 

George Torok 29:04 

And the place to find that agency is at and you can find that link into description as well. That's podcast, and that's how to get. Graham Brown and Pikkal and company, Graham in, in wrapping up, if you could offer one, two or three ideas to business leaders who have to make a sales presentation this week, and they've heard about telling stories, but they've been reluctant to maybe they're thinking, well, I'm not a good storyteller. And, and you know, my clients are different. They just want the facts. If you could give them one, two or three ideas to help get them cross their river to make more effective use of stories. What might that be?

Graham Brown 29:58 

Okay. Right. I would say probably at the top of the advice that would give them is Maya Angelou, the civil rights activist and author. She said that people will always forget what you said, but they'll always remember how you made them feel and it's so important when you make a presentation that you've gotta make them feel something and whatever that something is, it's the lasting impression that they'll have of you. They'll forget all your facts. Forget the facts. Forget the bullet points. Use the emotion. There's gotta be emotion in your presentation. And it doesn't have to be operatic. It can just be simple. You know, you could talk about family, you could talk about, you know, fear. You could talk about frustration. You could talk about vulnerability. You can talk about hope in different ways. People will remember that, you can make them laugh. You can make them worried. That's what they remember, whatever it is that you want them to feel, you can make them feel that, but that is what they'll remember your presentation for every single fact that you give them will be forgotten in time, but those emotions will last. So that's the first point always focus on the feeling that you're gonna leave behind. The second point is, is that use the power of the backstory. So when you deliver your presentation, before you tell them what, you know, show them that you care. And deliver the backstory. This is why I'm here. This is why I am here. Not anybody else. Why I am here to talk about this because there's a reason, one of the best ways to do that is to use the accidental hero narrative, which is, you know, used by many business leaders, the greatest salesman of all time. People like Steve jobs, the accidental hero. I didn't want to be here, but I was chosen, you know, it's like, well, look, you know, all these guys had an attempt to making on a phone and it was awful. So apple was forced to make a phone. And here we are, that was the accidental hero narrative. And it's one of the most powerful narratives. You can use that in your presentation. You know, you're not here just to sell you're here because you are pulled into this thing. So that's the second one and third one. I would say to everybody, you know, it's an ongoing process. Get on podcast, practice your content, practice, your material. The presentation you're gonna do next week is just one of many, no comedian was ever born funny. Remember that. That they spent hundreds, thousands of hours practicing, bombing, dying in front of audiences. You know, they've pitched to 3, 4, 5 people in the front row who may be junk in the dive bar. That's how comedians become really, really good. They practice their material. Consider everything as a scene or material, and you try a pitch, you talk about a story, a scene doesn't work, it bombs. Okay. We won't do that. Or we do it differently. Next time. See everything as these building blocks, these bricks of your presentation and your story, and keep practicing, refining each and single skit within your story and presentation, because the more you practice that the more you get out into the moment of truth, get a validation and feedback on your story, the better you become and then becomes effortless, people say, oh yeah, but this guy he's really confident. He's a really good storyteller. I'll tell you that it's the other way around. He's really confident because he's a good storyteller. Not he's confident therefore he is a good storyteller. And I think once you realize that it's just practice, practice, practice, then you'll wanna do a lot more of this stuff and whatever it is, right. Blog posts, start a podcast, YouTube video like yourself, George, all of that that makes you. But you've gotta do it in front of an audience. 

George Torok 34:06 

My guest today is Graham Brown, reminding you if, when you hear the word or the advice to tell stories, your first impression is to say, bah humbug! Well, you're gonna have a visit from three ghosts.

George Torok 34:23 

If you like what you heard, remember to like, comment and share this podcast. Come back every week for more practical insights to help you deliver your intended message. I'm your host, George Torok.


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About The Author Graham Brown

Graham Brown is the founder of Podcast Guesting Pro. Graham is a published author on the subject of Digital Communication and Personal Branding (Amazon titles include "Brand Love: How to Build a Brand Worth Talking About" and "Mobile Youth: Voices of the Connected Generation). He has produced, project managed and guested on over 2,000 podcast episodes.