Is your storytelling tank on empty? No need to call for a tow; we’re talking about how the tenets of journalism fuels transformational content for the stage.

Melanie Deziel is the founder of StoryFuel, which teaches marketers, publishers, creators and companies of all sizes how to tell better brand stories. She’s a keynote speaker, author, award-winning branded content creator, and lifelong storyteller who is on a mission to share the power of compelling and credible content with others. Her new book is The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas.

How You Can Steal the Show

  • Unpack when Melanie started teaching brand partners at The New York Times how to tell stories.
  • Learn the secret to engaging an audience and what Melanie says many speakers are missing on stage.
  • Balance certain elements to serve your audiences best.
  • Discover why non-journalists need to find and cite original sources.
  • Explore why you should never look for sources to back your claims.
  • Gain the mindset you must take to broaden your interests so you don’t get “stale.”
  • Uncover why we should all be having “idea sex.”
  • Identify how to have a better brainstorm.
  • Follow your own path, even if people say you’re crazy.

Alumni Highlights

Discover how Mind Love Podcast host Melissa Monte stepped up her speaking game (even after achieving 1 million downloads on her own).

Michael Port: (00:05)
Welcome to steal the show with Michael port. I am Michael port and today’s guest is Melanie diesel. She’s the founder of story fuel. She’s a leading expert in native advertising, which is paid content and branded content and she teaches marketers how to think like journalists and tell better brand stories. She was in fact the first editor of branded content at the New York times and she won awards for her work there. She serves on the board of the native advertising Institute and has judged countless industry awards including the content marketing Institute awards, digital day content marketing awards, the native ad awards, the WANIFRA. Seriously, it says W. A. N. I. F. R. A. WANIFRA Digital media awards and the mirror awards. She has been an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson university and Syracuse university where my mother went to college. She’s an international keynote speaker and as appear to have content marketing world, native ad days, social media marketing world, South by Southwest, and more. Her book, the content fuel framework, how to generate unlimited story ideas was just released. It features her content fuel system for generating hundreds of unique content ideas for your blog, website, social media, and more in a single sitting, allowing you to become a more prolific, creative and confident content marketer, content strategist, and content creator. So without further ado, let’s do it.

Michael Port: (01:47)
Melanie, thank you so much for being on steal the show.

Melanie Deziel: (01:50)
Thanks for letting me come on and join you.

Michael Port: (01:52)
You know, as I mentioned in our preamble before we started recording, I’m feeling feisty today, so who knows where this is going to go. But I, I have been looking forward to having you on the show for some time. Amy and I had the chance to work with you on one of your speeches some time ago. We’ve been following your career. We think you’re absolutely remarkable it really you’ve done so many interesting things over the years and I think you do such great work that I know our audience is going to love having you here. So I want to start with your backstory around speaking just so people get a sense of when you started, how you started how it developed over time and what kind of speaking you’re doing.

Melanie Deziel: (02:37)
Yeah. You know, it’s, it’s interesting. I was listening recently to a previous episode that you had done with Ann Handley and I think for anyone who enjoyed that episode, there’s a lot of similarities in our backgrounds. So I am also a former journalist. I started out, you know, wanting to work in a newsroom and I got my dream job at the New York times. But what I found is that the role that I had is I was teaching our brand partners, our advertising partners, how to tell stories. And I really loved that job. It was awesome to work in a newsroom environment and work with our brand partners that way. But I found that I was only allowed to really communicate with a limited set of advertisers, right. Those that chose to work with our company and the work I was doing was really teaching what I loved about journalism to these brand partners.

Melanie Deziel: (03:22)
And I loved the impact that that had. I love the potential of teaching these people to love storytelling as much as I do. But it was limited. And so what I discovered is that a way that I could reach many more brand partners, many more marketers, advertisers, and storytellers, was to go out and speak. And so for me, it was actually quite accidental. It was never something I set out to do, but something that I realized one day that I was sort of doing. When I was at the New York times, a colleague of mine had been invited to speak at a conference and wasn’t able to go. And after a chain of, you know, two or three other people who kindly bowed out I was given the chance to go in his stead. And once I got up there and did it, I, it was like a, a bug.

Melanie Deziel: (04:04)
I couldn’t get enough of it. I mean, I loved, I loved it. This was actually, it was a tourism conference and I was presenting someone else’s research. So it was about the psychology of social sharing, why people share certain things on social platforms. So it was really interesting, but it wasn’t my material. So when I decided I wanted to keep doing this, I thought, well, I can’t rely on some very smart colleague of mine being unable to attend something and inviting me in their stead. So I guess I need to develop some material. And that luckily, you know, after a year, another year or so of, of having done the work that I was doing, I had enough case studies, experiences and stories of my own that I could kind of get on stage and share. And I always say that having the, the New York times is a brand, whether it’s your current job or former is always a good way to open some doors. So that was definitely a perk, you know, having those early conversations too.

Michael Port: (04:53)
No doubt. And so now you’re speaking full time, correct?

Melanie Deziel: (04:58)
I am. Yeah. So about, gosh, okay. I’m trying to do the math now. It’s a new year. Things get crazy. Right? So, I think it’s about four years now. I started my company, which is called story fuel. And I work as both as a consultant and as a speaker. So I’m going out you know, depending on the year, depending on what other things are happening in life. You know, this past year I had a baby so I spoke a little bit less. But you know, I’m, I’m doing a good mix of, of consulting and speaking, but this, this speaking stuff just really lights me up.

Michael Port: (05:25)
Yeah. And you’re wonderful at it too. You know, you, you have such a natural way about you on stage and you’re so direct and down to earth. And of course you know, very, very experienced in and you know, extremely intelligent. So when you package all those things together you bring a really refreshing sensibility to the stage. And that was the experience that we had with you when you know, getting to know you. So, yeah. So as the founder of story fuel, you work with brands and individuals to craft better stories. So this is your area of expertise and, and you know, some journalists I think might be strong storytellers and others might be stronger storytellers and I think you fall into that category. So let’s, let’s dive right into storytelling. Cause of course at HPS we teach storytelling techniques and you approach it more from the brand perspective, but of course you’re a master storyteller in all of these different categories. So they’re crucial for, you know, creating a referrable speech because you want people to be able to share the stories that you’re sharing with them. So what do you think makes a really good story, number one, and number two, how do you know if you should include a story in your speech or not?

Melanie Deziel: (06:59)
I think that’s a very good question. You know, and being candid, there are a lot of amazing speakers, many of them colleagues of ours who talk about things like story structure, you know, what first, act second, all of those things. My expertise tends to be a little more focused on bringing those best practices from the world of journalism that makes some of the best journalism good. Right? How do we take some of those characteristics of the, the stories that touch our hearts and start conversations and create social change and apply some of those same best practices to the work that we do, whether it’s onstage or in our marketing or, or wherever else. So some of the things that I always recommend, one of the best ways to really engage an audience is to teach them something. I think as speakers we sort of have that built in.

Melanie Deziel: (07:43)
Most of us are stepping on stage to share our experience, our background, our knowledge with others. So the teaching element is not something we necessarily need to teach, for lack of a better word, to speakers who are trying to tell stories. But one of the things we do lack in many cases is bringing in reputable sources. And I think some of the best speakers know that we are not there on stage to simply share our own experience that we are better off. And so are our audiences. If we can pull in, whether it’s, you know, studies, statistics, quotes and references to two other great minds and thinkers in our space, in our industry. So, you know, reputable sources is one of the things that I spend a lot of time talking about. How we can bring that into the content we create, no matter whether that is spoken content or written content, video content or something else. So reputable sources is probably the easiest thing you can pull from, you know, a journalistic experience to, to kind of take your storytelling to the next level. And it’s really important for building credibility, which I think has never been more important than in this unfortunate age of consumer skepticism and fake news and all these other things. You know, our, our ability to earn our audience’s trust is, is one of the things we can do

Michael Port: (08:56)
To differentiate ourselves. Ah, that’s wonderful. So, let me jump in here because I want to add some additional context around this for our listeners because one of the things that we know is that there are different types of expertise and when a meeting planner is considering a speaker, they’re considering the different types of expertise that they bring to a speech or to an audience. And generally what we find, especially in newer speakers, is they will bring a lot of anecdotal expertise and anecdotal expertise absolutely has its place and it can be very, very effective. However, what we find is that many speakers don’t bring enough empirical expertise and that’s what you’re referring to reputable sources so that you have a speech that is both sound from an empirical perspective and really interesting from an anecdotal perspective. And the person that that I’ve seen, one of the speakers that I’ve seen do this brilliantly is Bernay Brown.

Michael Port: (10:21)
Now, Britney Brown, of course, was a a researcher. And so she’s bringing the research that she did and she’s bringing the research that her colleagues did. And when she brings the research that our colleagues did, that’s you know, any other speaker could do that if they study the research that, you know, just because she is a researcher doesn’t mean she has any more ability to bring other people’s research to her speech. But of course she’s able to bring to her research. But if she only brought that anecdotal expertise to her work, it might be a little flat, meaning that people might not connect with her emotionally. And the work that she’s doing is of course very, very provocative for many people from an emotional perspective. So she brings empirical expertise. She brings her own experiences in as well to show you, listen, I’ve gone through this too.

Michael Port: (11:16)
And you know, and here’s, here’s how I suffered and here’s how I came through it. And people relate to her as a result. So the balance of those two things is very, very important. And we know that this is important when we look at what makes a Russ a referrable speech, a speech that that, that produces more leads when people see it. So if it’s all empirical, doesn’t tend to work as well. If it’s all anecdotal, doesn’t tend to work as well, but when you have a good combination of both then it tends to spread more effectively. It’s a little bit of that balance of liking a speaker and also trusting a speaker. That’s a balance that

Melanie Deziel: (11:54)
We all have to strike.

Michael Port: (11:55)
Yeah. So can we talk a little bit more about how to make sure that what we are bringing to the conversation is in fact accurate? Because one of the things that we see often when people bring speeches to HPS HQ is they will say, well, you know, studies show that X you know, or there was a study done that showed why and because we hear so many speeches we will often hear the same studies referenced, but in fact completely misappropriated. Yeah. Yeah. So, for example, the study about you know public speaking, being, you know, people’s number one fear, you know, or greater than death. It’s actually not true at all. And I can prove it to you by, you know, by threatening your life and saying, listen, you can either speak or I’ll kill you. Most people would speak. It’s pretty straight forward. The study wasn’t actually about that. It was, it was more about what are your present fears? What’s a more in depth is generally not a present fear for most of us, thankfully. But having to speak in front of people every day is often a very present fear. So it’s just something that we think about more. It’s not that we’re more afraid of it. And so we hear a lot of those kinds of things. So what can people do to make sure that they’re actually delivering reputable ideas?

Melanie Deziel: (13:17)
So one of the things that I remember learning in journalism school, you know, I had a, I had a really grizzled professor who, God I love so much, he really helped me get into journalism and the way that I did and fall in love with it. And he uses a, you know, if your mother says she loves you, check it out. Right? So anything that you are claiming, anything that you are saying, anything that you are trying to convince your audience to believe, you need to go to the original source, right? You need to find the evidence that points to that. And so we as a, as a culture conversationally have a way of saying, well I read something that said or I heard the other day, right? That’s, that’s how we engage when we’re having an informal conversation. That’s fine. When you’re being seen as an authority, when you’re being given the responsibility to educate others, you need to go a little bit deeper.

Melanie Deziel: (14:02)
And so the way you do that is you need to find this close to the original source as possible. So say you find an article that, you know, this article about public speaking being the number one fear greater than death, right? My guess is that you read that article, which is probably in you know, standard news coverage somewhere or on ink.com or you know HuffPost or something. Well you want to do is look in that article to find what they are citing. They are probably going to say a study done by the such and such Institute or the research center at such and such university. You want to then go and find the study itself. Now there’s a solid chance that once you find that original source, whether it’s a study, a research paper or you know, a dataset of some kind that your ability to understand it.

Melanie Deziel: (14:43)
I mean it could be a little bit over your head. We are generally, you know, if we’re speaking on like Brene Brown, right? We’re not all researchers and experts in decoding some of this language. So if that’s the case, if you find that this dataset or this study or this research is over your head, find an expert. So that’s where the reputable sources come in. Find the person who wrote that study, who did that research, ask them to explain it, right? Most of these people who work in academia or in research or, or in other related fields, they’re generally choosing a fairly unpaid or low paid version of whatever their industry is because they love the idea of finding and sharing knowledge, right? People who are researchers, who are professors, they love teaching others. That’s why they do what they do to uncover this information and share it.

Melanie Deziel: (15:29)
So oftentimes they’re very willing, especially if it’s coming from a place of, I want to better understand what it is that you study, what it is that you’ve uncovered so that I can help share that with more people. So find those people who understand it well. Make sure that you’re interpreting it properly and when in doubt, check it against someone else. Have another person look at it. You know, whether it’s working with you guys there at the, at the, at HQ you know, whether it’s other researchers, other experts in your industry, have them take a look at the material and see, are there ways where I can make this more clear? Are there ways I could bring in more sources to help give this more credibility and make sure I’m representing the information accurately?

Michael Port: (16:07)
You know, it’s, it’s a, it’s really good idea and sometimes people worry that they will bother the the, the person who did that study you know, and that they don’t want to interfere or intrude. And in fact, they love it when you ask them to confirm if your understanding of their results are accurate because they want their accurate results portrayed you know, out in the media, so to speak. And often it’s misrepresented or misappropriated in some way. But if you say, listen, this is my understanding of your project. Here is how I want to share it with people citing you and your research. Am I on target here or is there something that I don’t understand or am missing? And man, they’d love it. Cause I can’t tell you, you know, I’m not a researcher, but I get quoted a lot and very often I’ll read something and I go, that’s not what I said, not even close or yes, that’s what I said, but it’s not what I meant.

Michael Port: (17:11)
You know, it’s completely out of context. And when somebody writes to me, you know, if they put something in a book, I say, you know, according to Michael port or blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. When they say, when they send me that and say, look I’m quoting you in here, is this accurate? Oh gosh, I love it. I have so much appreciation for those folks. First of all that they are citing something that I said or, or, or worked on or produced, which just, you know, I feel so much gratitude for, but second that they are interested in getting it right. Because sometimes when people are using studies, they’re, or, or using quotes from others they’re using because to not, not to represent the work so much, but for their own end. Yeah. and and then they as a result, even if it’s not intentional or they may unintentionally misrepresent those ideas,

Melanie Deziel: (18:04)
You know, I, when we’re having this conversation about, you know, sort of using data for your own purposes, it reminds me of an experience I had when I was in journalism school. We had an assignment in what was at that point called an ethics class. I don’t know if they still teach these sorts of classes, but this class was almost like philosophy in a way for journalists. And what we were given was we were given a belief that they were fairly certain we would disagree with and we were going to be graded on how well we could build a compelling case using accurate and legitimate sources for that belief. So I’ll give you an example. My case that I was given was I had to stand up and make a strong case for a cigarette. Advertising should be allowed on television during children’s programming.

Melanie Deziel: (18:50)
The average, you know, moral, you know, person would not agree with such a thing. Right? And they were all along those lines right? Things that we probably don’t agree with. But the exercise was so valuable and that it showed me if you go into any project with a preconceived idea, you will find data points that support that stance, right? So it’s really important that we be careful about coming to some conclusion on our own and saying, I want to get up on stage and share this message. Now it’s just a matter of backing myself up, right? You don’t want to do that. You don’t want to decide what the story is before you’ve actually looked into it, right? Because you will absolutely find data points that support your, your belief. But that belief may be misguided or it may be the minority or it may not be accurate for the vast majority of your audience.

Melanie Deziel: (19:37)
So it’s very important to say that you’re not looking for sources to back it up. You’re looking for information that explores the topic, right? That’s what you’re looking for. You’re, you’re not trying to confirm your belief, you’re trying to explore that topic and, and you may have to change course, but ultimately that’s for the better. If you discover information in your, your research and you’re looking for these sources, if you discover information that shows you are off base, wouldn’t you rather course correct and present something accurate and valuable on stage. Then be someone who has built this sort of, you know, up there selling snake oil and built this, this empty house of cards, you know, built based on nothing. You know, you want a strong foundation for the stories you get on stage and tell. And so making sure that you have a wide array of sources that you’ve looked with an open mind at those potential sources to be sure you’re telling some telling a story that, that people should hear.

Michael Port: (20:28)
Indeed. So, you know, one of the things that our students often ask is how they can source stories. So we have some exercises that we do with them to help them source personal stories. And they’re often surprised how in five minutes they can come up with 15 or 20 stories that really are, are, can be crafted into really compelling, remarkable, exciting theatrical experiences on stage. What do you recommend people do when they’re researching to come up with stories or case studies or research studies examples to help fit their net well, not to fit their narrative in a way, you know, you just gave a great example, like, don’t try to, you know, fit the data to your narrative, but if they’re trying to, you know, if they do believe like, okay, I’m trying to demonstrate X I want to find an accurate appropriate case study that would help me illustrate it.

Michael Port: (21:32)
What do you think is a good way to go about sourcing those kinds of stories? So that what they’re sharing is not, you know, what everybody else is sharing from Zappos or Apple or, you know, Ron tight who has been on the show and is one of our junk faculty members and a client of ours one of the pitches for his book you know, says something like, and he does all of this without ever once mentioning Apple, which I think is just great. So what do you recommend people do?

Melanie Deziel: (22:07)
I mean there’s, there’s a couple of different ways to go about it. The first thing I always recommend is actually just to ask people, and I know that sounds really silly, but hopefully you have some sort of community, whether it’s a community of, of fans, followers, listeners, readers, you know, or your, your professional colleagues to say, I’m looking for examples of this particular tactic. Or I’m looking for examples of people who have had this type of experience. I want to find stories that can help me share this type of lesson, right? And oftentimes if you, you pose that question, whether it’s as simple as, you know, a Facebook post to your, to your friends or you know, a tweet out to your, to your community, you’ll often find that they will surface them for you if you have a community that’s engaged and interested in the same types of things that you are. So I have found that simply asking works really well often. And the added bonus there as you create this relationship with your audience where they feel like they are partners in creation, that they are contributing back to you. So many times, you know, these are people who have found a lot of value in the information you have given them. So it makes them feel good to be able to give something back to you to, to share an experience or an example. So asking works really well

Michael Port: (23:19)
And let me, let me before we go do everything, let me throw in another reason that people love to share their experiences or their resources with you. You know, sometimes yes, you may have done things for them that they appreciate and they want to try to contribute and give back. Other times it’s just an incredible opportunity for someone to get to share something that they know, a resource that have access to because they don’t get to do what we get to do. Yeah. I mean, we get to share our ideas every single day. We’re doing it right now. We get a, we get a microphone. And you know, we have a platform and we get to talk about the things that are interesting to us on a regular basis. Most people do not have that opportunity. Most people have to talk about whatever you know, their boss wants to talk about or you know, whatever their parents want to talk about. I don’t know. But most people are not in careers where they get to freely share the things that are really interesting to them. And so when you give people the opportunity to contribute in that way, many people often jump on it because it’s a chance to be fully self expressed and they may not always have that opportunity.

Melanie Deziel: (24:34)
Absolutely. And, and it does build a relationship with your audience too, which is always good, right? They actually feel like it’s a dialogue. It’s not a one way broadcast. Where are you are just sharing with them. It’s like you said, it’s their chance to join the conversation. And I think a lot of people find that very valuable. The other thing that I think is really important, and this is less of a task and more of a mindset, a shift is you really need to make sure that your life has a variety of inputs. And what I mean by that is it’s very easy for us to only consume those things that fit a very tight topic or you know, to get locked into these sort of bubbles where we only receive the same kind of information. If you are watching the same shows and listening to the same podcasts and reading the same books and subscribing to the same, you know, following the same accounts, you’re not going to see new information, you’re going to see more of the same.

Melanie Deziel: (25:27)
And those may be very valuable podcasts, books and people to be engaged with. But if you’re looking to have different outputs, you need to have different inputs. And so I always recommend if you’re feeling stale, you’re feeling like you’re not getting the kind of inspiration and new ideas that you used to. It’s time to mix up your inputs, you know, subscribe to a podcast about architecture or farming or you know, read a book about a historical figure that you’ve never even heard of, right? Just fine. Give yourself something completely new to look. I give your brain a totally different way of thinking. And I think these kinds of new inputs, you know, sometimes you can discover a passion or an interest you didn’t even know you had. You know, this is not designed to be an exercise in suffering. So, you know, don’t find things that make you miserable, but, you know, give it, see it as an opportunity to bring some new ideas, new topics, new people into your feeds, into your earbuds, into your brain.

Melanie Deziel: (26:22)
Because I think you find those uncommon connections between things that you wouldn’t otherwise. And that works in many ways. The same way as, as your prompts that you guys give at HQ and when you’re working with folks, right, is you’re not necessarily telling us new stories. You’re just giving us our brain and direction to look that we may not have thought to look before. And so you can create some approximation of that by just sort of mixing up the inputs that are in your life. You know, watch new shows, read a different book, listen to different podcasts you know, try to try to diversify your portfolio of inputs so to speak.

Michael Port: (26:54)
Yeah, you don’t remember how at the beginning of the beginning of the episode, I said, I’m feeling a little feisty today, so let me just, let me just be a little provocative for the few of our listeners who may be like, Oh, I don’t want to read a book about something else. I don’t have time for that. Or, you know, that just seems like, I don’t know. It’s not like I don’t know exactly what I’m going to discover if I do that. So it seems like it could be a waste of time. Get over it. Because here’s the thing. If you want to be a visionary thought leader of, of any kind, the number one trait is curiosity because the future belongs to the learner, not the learned, not the person who already has all the answers and is done. The future belongs to the people who are willing to, a, continue to learn in an area where they think they already have a certain level of mastery. A and B you know, folks who are willing to unlearn things that they learned at a time where they had less context. And so, you know, for those few listeners who kind of go, man, I want to do, you know, okay, that’s fine, but this is going to be a tough a career for you if you’re in the business of trying to bring relevant, interesting, important ideas to the people that you want to serve.

Melanie Deziel: (28:19)
The other thing I want to stress too is there’s no need for you to engage in some sign. That kind of consumption that doesn’t suit your lifestyle. So if you’re like, I haven’t read a book in five years, that’s not how I acquire knowledge. Well, I’m not saying you need to go, you know, order 15 books from Amazon. If that’s not how you roll, you know, get an audio book. If you prefer to listen, watch Ted talks. If that’s more your style. Right? You know, the input medium is less important than the content being different. So whatever it is that you do, again, if you subscribe to YouTube or as if that’s like how you get your inputs, fine, subscribe to some different YouTube ERs and mix up, mix up your inputs, right? If you, you’re like, I don’t, I don’t read books, I don’t watch movies, but I really spend a lot of time on Instagram.

Melanie Deziel: (29:02)
Find, follow some new people there, right? So I’m not necessarily forcing you to, to adopt a content format or a type of content consumption that’s not your style. Obviously if you’re not enjoying it, you’re not going to get much out of it anyway. But just acknowledge that there’s a good chance, whatever way you consume information. If you haven’t added any new people or sources or you know, content into that input in a long time, you’re not going to get new ideas coming to you as frequently. So, you know, you’ll start to hear the same points over and over again. And I think we often recognize when we hit that point, you kind of fall out of love with something, right? Maybe you stop watching Netflix after a while cause say I, well there’s not really anything to watch anymore. I’ve run out of stuff or I used to love going on Twitter, but I don’t see any new ideas anymore.

Melanie Deziel: (29:47)
Right? So if you feel yourself feeling that stagnation, that lack of interest, that lack of new ideas, it’s time to shake it up a little bit. And I think in so many cases I have had people come back and say, you’re right, I unfollowed. Or, or, you know, I stopped reading these books that I wasn’t enjoying and I went totally outside of my comfort zone and found these new people, these new books, these new films or TV shows or graphic novels, whatever lights your fire. And I, I feel renewed. I feel refreshed because I have, you know, brand new ideas, you know, coming in. And so I think it’s also fun. I mean, it’s fun to find new things to be interested in, right? It’s like an experiment. So consider it, you know, shopping for new content.

Michael Port: (30:25)
Yes, yes. I love that. A lot. Shopping for new content. That’s fun. So you know, you you’re talking about is not not over consumption but a diverse consumption. So I was speaking to actually somebody one of my family members at the holiday and we were talking about politics and that was going marginally well, but, but but she mentioned that she reads about 10 different publications and and I remember Amy saying, Oh, that’s wonderful. Why, why? Why do you read the different publications? She said well, because I really want a lot of you know, different perspectives. I said, Oh, that’s interesting. I said, what publications are they? And she told me, and I said, I didn’t actually say it, but in my mind I said, Oh, those are actually the exact same publications. They just have different names, different people working there, but their particular profiles and perspectives are identical. So she was actually getting only one source of information from 10 different publications. So it’s the diversity that’s key. And it’s just, I actually in life, you know, it’s just so much more interesting to be interested in how lots of different people see the world, even if you don’t agree with all of it.

Melanie Deziel: (31:46)
Well, and I want to stress too in this idea, I can’t remember where it came from. So here we are talking about sources. I want to make it clear that this is not my original idea. But there are many people who have talked about this phenomenon. The, they call it idea sex, right? It’s the combination of two divergent ideas is where something new comes together, right? So you need to have, you know, new ingredients to make new recipes. If you have the same set of a few ingredients, you’re going to keep cooking up the same stuff. And so, you know, when you get these new perspectives from different people, different points of view, different life experiences, different backgrounds, you know, there’s, there’s micro ways you can fix this too. You know, one of the things I find is I live in the New York Metro area and so a lot of my network is New York Metro area.

Melanie Deziel: (32:27)
And that means that I see perspectives that are all city perspectives. They’re all New York perspectives, they’re all, I live in a tiny apartment that costs too much perspectives and there’s a vast part of the world and of my audience that doesn’t live that perspective. So you know, politics aside, there are ways in which our audience starts to to become more same over time. And so it’s important for us to, to kind of mix those inputs up. I, I, I can’t advocate this enough. I think it’ll help in so many areas of life, not just with coming up with new ideas and new stories, but just in, in broadening your perspective and changing the way you think and, and allowing you to relate to more people. You know, at the end of the day, I think we’ve all said this, right? Speaking is so much a relationship business and the more shared data points you can have with someone, you know, the more opportunities you have to connect with them, you know?

Melanie Deziel: (33:15)
Oh yeah, I’ve also watched that film even though you know, you might not expect it or yeah, I read about that even though you may not have otherwise. So it just gives you more opportunities to, to form a connection with members of your audience, with, you know, folks who may book you for an event. Just the diverse inputs I think is such a game changer for so many people. What tips can you give speakers for having what you call better brainstorms? How do you determine what an audience really wants from your content? These are two big questions. So better brainstorms. Better brainstorms I would say is very similar to what I talked about. Finding sources for your stories. Again, so often we sort of predetermine what it is that we’re trying to do. And when we do that, we severely limit ourselves. So if you walk into a brainstorm, you know, let’s say you’re talking about as a speaker, you, you need to have content, right?

Melanie Deziel: (34:08)
You need to have, whether it’s a YouTube channel or social programming, a blog, some way to demonstrate your thought leadership and your expertise. You know, even if something as simple as copy on your website so that event organizers can see that, right? It’s important. You’re going into a brainstorm thinking, well how do I do this on YouTube? If you are focused solely on video, you may be missing out on amazing opportunities for written content or for an infographic or for some other type of content, right? Because you come into your brainstorm with a predetermined outcome in mind already. This is something that in journalism, you know, we always say you find the story first and then you figure out what’s the best way to tell that story. And that’s why so often you see many different media types in any content experience you may have, right?

Melanie Deziel: (34:53)
Because this part needed an infographic and this part needed audio and this part needed video. So you know a better brainstorm is one where you haven’t already determined what you’re trying to come up with necessarily. You don’t limit yourself in terms of your outcome because you could be missing out on so many cool ideas that you already counted out by limiting, I only want a video idea or I only want to a blog idea, right? So sort of Unchained yourself from a particular format is, is a surefire way to open up your brainstorms and make them so much more productive. This is a whole system that I use. I call it the content fuel system. It’s what actually my forthcoming book is about a that comes out in February 24th, 2020 so that’s really exciting for me. I’m sharing that system of how you can set up a brainstorm and and be able to, you know, look at all the different available focuses and formats that you have to be able to make the most possible content ideas in a single sitting.

Melanie Deziel: (35:48)
Because I think the other problem with brainstorms that that many of us have is that they tend to drag on forever. We don’t really know when we’re done. Right. When does one stop brainstorming, right? If you don’t know necessarily the conclusion you don’t have a process or a system for it, it can feel like this sort of aimless exercise in thinking about things which is not a very structured activity. So you know, having a process for it I think will also help. And there’s, there’s a lot of different schools of thought on how you can organize your brainstorms. I like the content feel system. It works for the clients that I work with. It gives us a good structure and allows us to really think of all the possibilities for the content we want to create in the stories we want to tell.

Michael Port: (36:27)
So then how do you know you know, what kind of content is really gonna resonate with your audience.

Melanie Deziel: (36:35)
I know this is going to sound and sound like a broken record here. You know, you can maybe just take the answer from before and splice it in here, but I think asking your audience is really the best way to find out. And I think, you know, obviously we can’t necessarily ask on stage is choose your own adventure. What kind of story would you all like as an example here,

Michael Port: (36:51)
How’s the fish? No, to do a whole choose your own adventure speeds. You create this. It’d be, you could absolutely do this just like they do this in TV and film where you get to a particular I guess turning point or particular milestone and you say, okay, we could go this way or we could go this way. Let’s take a vote and then the audience votes and then you go down that path. So you’d have to have, you’d have to be able to do multiple versions of one speech. But it could be really interesting and really quite creative. And then what it allows each group to do is to determine, is to get a speech that is the most relevant to them. Right? Cause you got a, right now I could address this particular concept in video or an audio. Let’s do a show of hands. No show of hands. Let’s do it. A round of applause. You want to get an audio, boom, we going to go to video book and then you get to go the direction that they want you to go could be actually kind of fun.

Melanie Deziel: (37:56)
All right, so great. Now I know what projects we’re going to be working together on next. That sounds awesome. That sounds great. But yeah, I mean I think asking your audience whether it is, you know, in a sort of choose your own adventure on a onstage situation or, or the more realistic, you know, pulling your audience, having conversations with members of your audience. You know, this is one of the things you can ask as part of your, your pre event calls and strategy that you’re building is, you know, does this audience, you know, do you typically give the employees learning materials through video, through PDFs, written PDFs? You know, what’s, what’s the typical way that they receive this type of information or you know, when you’ve done this type of stuff in the past, what’s worked well? Was it those who shared video or those who did audio, you know, you can get a sense of people’s, I call it a first content language. Everyone has a content language that they speak most fluently, both in terms of creating content and consuming it, right? So Michael, you and I I imagine are similar and that the spoken language is what works well for us. It’s why we do what we do. That’s our easiest way to create content because it comes out naturally, right? If you or I were tasked with you know, designing an infographic by end of day, it might create a little bit more anxiety. I don’t necessarily know your Photoshop skills, but I’m guessing, right?

Melanie Deziel: (39:10)
So, you know, design and visuals would not necessarily be our first content language. So your audience has that too, right? There’s a type of content they love to consume. And so what you want to do is try to match up the content you are excited and able to create and the content that they are excited and able to consume. And so, you know, oftentimes it’s just a matter of asking either them or, or the gatekeepers who, who bring you to them, you know, the event organizers or, or a point of contact that the staff may be able to share this particular audience, you know, really enjoys video or this particular audience. You know, they consume our podcasts for the association, you know, ravenously I’m sure they’d react well to audio. Those kinds of insights will come if you look for them.

Michael Port: (39:52)
You know, it reminds me a little bit of of an, of an element of a book that Andrew Davis and I are writing right now. It’s a super secret project. So forget that I just told you the nobody, nobody can know. No, I’m just getting it. We, we call it our super secret project. But but the book is called the referable speech and it’s all about what makes, what verbal speech. And one of the elements in the book is what we call the audience’s hierarchy of needs. And it, you know, it, it plays off the concept of Maslow’s hierarchy. And you know, you have a number of different types referableof audience members in many speeches. Now certainly there are some speeches where you may have a very, very homogeneous group of of attendees. But many larger conferences will have different types of audience members.

Michael Port: (40:48)
So you’ll have the practitioners, they’re the, they’re at the lowest level of the pyramid and they’re looking for how to content. You know, it’s, it’s the actionable takeaways that you know, that the meeting planners always say, Oh, our audience needs action. We’ll take away as well. The practitioners are the ones who are looking for the actual takeaways. And then we have the managers who are looking for how should they content? Then you have the executives are looking for how should we content? And then you have C-suite folks who are looking for big ideas that change the way they see the world. And so if you have all these different types of audience members your speech needs to deliver to all of those different audience. And one of the reasons that so many people in the speaking industry, especially meeting planners, are hyper-focused, often too focused on the actionable takeaways is because they’re often influenced by their performance or evaluations.

Michael Port: (41:49)
Although the evils that people fill out at the end of a speech, those evils are generally filled out by the people at the first level of the pyramid. The practitioners, the executives in the C suite are not filling out those evaluations as regularly and certainly not as often because there are fewer of them so that the data gets skewed toward the practitioners. But if you’re trying to create a speech that is serving all of these different levels of the audience, then you need to make sure that you’ve got content that is serving them. So what you’re talking about is the different type of content, right? So what’s the form of it? And then what I’m addressing is, okay, what is the actual content that each one of those groups needs? And so if you can look at both of those factors, what do they need idea wise or action wise? W, what do you, how do they, how do you want them to think, feel and act at every level of the pyramid and then what kind of content, either in your speech or when you’re doing your sort of general content production through other distribution channels what, what form should that content come in?

Melanie Deziel: (43:01)
Absolutely. And I think it’s important to note coming back to our conversation earlier about sources is that those different groups of people may trust different types of sources. And so that’s where, again, the diversity of what’s coming in the practitioners may trust, you know, influencers in that particular realm. But the executives are probably looking for more data backed research because they have more at stake with their individual decisions, right? They need, or they have different people. They need to justify those decisions too. So, you know, that’s where again, the diversity of sources and finding those reputable sources, bringing them in at different points of the content you create is, is going to be important because you’ve got to, you’ve got to have trust if you want that content to have an impact.

Michael Port: (43:41)
I think that piece of advice that you just gave could change the careers for many of our listeners for the better because that is a crucial learning to be able to if you can identify these different audience different types of audience members and you can figure out, well, what does each audience need to experience, you know, what do you want them to feel, think and do? But then how do you back it up? The different audiences may need something different. You know, if you say to the practitioners, Oh, well, you know Tony Robbins said to do this, then I go, Oh, okay, great. I’ll do it. But, you know, the CEO of Microsoft, he may need a little bit more. And so what is gonna, you know, get the CEO, the CFO and

Melanie Deziel: (44:32)
And then the executives below them to go, yeah, I can, I can allocate resources to this or I can make this change because I think the sources are credible. And we can back this up, right? Yeah. It goes back to your empirical and anecdotal. Really, really nice. So you’ve been quoted in various media outlets ad age content, Lee, NBC news, et cetera. And of course, you were the first editor of branded content at the New York times. So you know, a lot about getting quoted in the media. And we know anecdotally at least that just being in the media doesn’t necessarily sell books or get you booked to speak, right? But it often adds a, a certain credibility so that in your bio either you’re written by or the introduction bio or when you’re being introduced to somebody and they see things like, Oh, has been featured in the New York times, or ad age or NBC news, et cetera, it lends a certain credibility.

Melanie Deziel: (45:38)
So there’s some there’s some real value in getting referenced, mentioned featured, quoted in gr, in, in journalistic outlets that serve the audience that you speak to. So what’s your advice for folks if they want to get featured more in various outlets to help build their brand and their reputation? So a very tactical one first, and then a broader one second. So tactical, there is a website called help a reporter out H, a, R. O. It’s often called HARO. It’s abbreviated that way. Look up HARO and sign up. You can sign up either as a journalist or as a source. So for those of you listening, you want to sign up as a source. What that means is you are going to get an email at the frequency you decide, you know, several times a day, daily, weekly, et cetera.

Melanie Deziel: (46:29)
With opportunities from the journalist who have up saying, I am looking for an expert on blank for an article in blank. Please get back to me with your thoughts on the following questions so you can actually respond to queries and get yourself quoted more frequently. You know, it’s, it’s a wonderful resource because it comes right to you. People don’t have to necessarily find you because you’ll receive the outlet. You know, the list of, of opportunities. It is, of course, very competitive. Lots of people sign up and lots of people will reply. So you need to make sure that your responses are going to be differentiated enough to get you selected. And that’s what brings me to the the bigger thing. So many times when we’re trying to engage, whether it’s with our audience, with a potential, you know, someone who’s going to hire us for a speaking event or with the media trying to get them to quote us.

Melanie Deziel: (47:15)
We have our own self interest in mind and we forget that we are trying to fit into a puzzle that someone else has designed. We need to be that piece that they need. And so when you are thinking about responding to these requests on HARO or you know, pitching yourself to media for coverage for your book or you know, whatever else it is that you may be doing, remember that you need to structure that in a way that appeals to their needs and not to yours. It is not in any journalist’s best interest to quote you just because you are smart and wonderful and you know, entertaining. Their mission is to serve their audience. They are trying to inform their audience, entertain their audience, deliver valuable information to their audience, whether that’s their podcast listeners or their column readers or the viewers of their show, whatever the case may be, you need to position yourself as fulfilling that goal of theirs.

Melanie Deziel: (48:08)
And so that simple mindset change. You know, I as a, I wrote for inc for quite some time. I wrote for inc for a little over a year, I did six columns a month and the number of pitches I would receive that said, Hey, I’ve done this awesome, amazing thing and I think you should talk about me. I mean, good for you buddy. But like that’s not my problem, right? That’s not my audience’s problem. I don’t work for you. I work for my audience. And so many more times the pitches that I would accept where the people who came to me and said, Hey, I noticed that you’ve written about these types of topics before. It seems that your audience is really interested in solving these kinds of problems. I thought they might like to hear about this particular thing we do, which solves that problem. If you’d like more information or some details, I can share more with you. They’re telling me why it’s a good fit for my audience, not why it’s a good fit for them. And so if you can have that mindset shift to say, here’s how I can help you do the thing you want to do, which is, you know, educate, entertain your audience, you’re going to have much better luck getting your, your voice heard and getting included in that type of content.

Michael Port: (49:15)
Yeah. That’s nice. I have one last question. You know, a lot of people that we serve at HPS and a lot of listeners on the show are people who are either currently transitioning from one particular career or one way of delivering their expertise to another one through speaking and other mediums that are similar or they’ve recently made that transition or they’re thinking of making that transition. And Amy and I have made an a number of those kinds of transitions over the years. And you similarly trained in one career as a journalist and then you use those skills as a journalist but then went on to become the first editor of branded content at the New York times, which is not traditional journalism. Right. And then you pivoted again to teaching marketers how to tell better stories and of course, into a professional speaking career. So how did, how did you look at those pivots along the way and do you have any advice for folks who are maybe have a little

Melanie Deziel: (50:28)
Bit of hesitation, a little bit nervous cause it’s perfectly natural to be anxious about making a change like this, you know, to better facilitate that process or experience for them? Yeah, I think one of the, I mean I talk about this often having not, not followed a path that I knew existed and having not followed the path I thought I would right there, there isn’t much of a squiggly line that got me to where I am. And I get asked this type of question a lot. The biggest thing that I think is important for navigating those kinds of transitions because they will continue to come. Our industries are always changing. The biggest thing is to be open to possibility. And I know that sounds very Pollyanna. It sounds, you know, very woo woo, like that’s not gonna solve all your problems. But what I mean by that is again, with the predetermined outcome, you know, if you are driven by your why instead of your how it becomes much easier to see the opportunities that arise.

Melanie Deziel: (51:26)
So for me, I became a journalist because I like telling other people’s stories. So when I was given an opportunity to help advertisers tell their stories, it’s still aligned with my why. I was still held helping other people tell their stories. It may not have been in the same medium or at the same company or the same department, but I was still helping people, other people tell their stories, telling other people’s stories. When the New York times brought me there, it was again, still in that same main, still helping other people tell their stories. The consulting work that I do and working with brands, I’m helping those marketers tell their stories. The, the work that I do on stage, I’m helping give people the tools so that they can turn around and do the same thing, help them and their brands tell better stories. So having a clear sense of why you do what you do, you know why what you’re passionate about, I think will help you see new mediums, new tactics, new methods by which you can do that.

Melanie Deziel: (52:19)
Same thing that on paper, it’s not the same job. It’s not the same company, but you’re still, you know, you’re still doing the same work for the same impact. And I think for so many people who have made those kinds of shifts, it’s often that it shares a similar mission in maybe a different, again, different job title. You know, I, I joke sometimes that the horrific job titles I’ve had you know, that are so corporate speak, that are all essentially the same thing. I’ve been a content strategist and native ad product manager an editor, a brand editor, you know, a, a creative strategist, a creative director. I mean, but all of that work was really the same. I was giving other people the tools to tell better stories. And so I think if you could spend some time figuring out why do I love what it is that I do, or, or maybe conversely, why do I not love what it is that I do?

Melanie Deziel: (53:08)
You know, you can avoidance, you followed the path of avoidance of the things that don’t let you up to, you know, it’ll make it so much easier to see those opportunities in unexpected places. So, you know, for me, when someone says, would you be interested in writing a book? Do you want to work on a book together? That is another way that I can help people tell better stories. So yes, that aligns with my values. It’s not something I’ve done before, but it’s certainly something that I’m capable of doing and fits with my mission of what I love. So, I mean that, I know it sounds, maybe maybe it’s a little philosophical, it’s a little bit more mindset than a real tactic. That’s what helped me get through all those, all those shifts.

Michael Port: (53:46)
I appreciate that, but I don’t want to sell it short because, you know, it’s wonderful if, you know, if, if, if we just had the, you know, the easiest obvious tactic at our disposal for every single thing that we want to do. But that’s just not the way the world works. Very often the way we see the world is what needs to change in order for us to find the tactics that we need to pursue the objectives that we have. But if we don’t change the way we see the world, you know, we’re, we’re just gonna use the same old tactics that we’ve always used. So I’m 100% with you in, in, in, you know, in, in, in seeing the world from a different perspective if you want to try to change the experience that you’re having in the world.

Melanie Deziel: (54:36)
[Inaudible] And I think it’s also important to let go of those, those tactics and job titles and companies that, that don’t serve you anymore. I can’t tell you how difficult it was for me to be in a place where I voluntarily left my dream job at the New York times, you know? And it’s something that my colleagues there, no, we’ve, you know, we’ve talked about it. It was, it was a place that I had always dreamed of working. Any journalist will tell you, you know, there are a few organizations that sort of exemplify why you become a journalist. And for me, working at the New York times was a dream. But I wasn’t doing, I wasn’t serving my why, right. So I was doing the work that I loved, but in a limited capacity and I wanted to do it in a bigger way. I couldn’t do it there.

Melanie Deziel: (55:20)
So, you know, was it crazy? Probably. Yeah. You know, did, it, did, did I cry when I walked out of that building and left? You know, that, that dream job in my, my desk and all of those, you know, my colleagues. Yeah, of course. The transitions are, are sometimes painful, but it’s important to recognize that something can be good and still not be the right thing for you. Right. So, you know, leaving the company, leaving the job, shifting the tactics that you’re using it’s okay. You know, it’s okay that it hurts. It’s okay that you miss it. It’s okay that people are going to say that it’s crazy for you to do it. You know, if you’re going onto the path that says something that’s better for you, I mean, I think it’s, it’s still the best decision for you.

Michael Port: (55:59)
Well, we are better for it. It’s the New York times loss and it is our game. Cause now we’ve got you and just speaking to tens of thousands of people around the world every year. So Melanie, thank you so much. I think everybody should go buy a copy of your new book, the content fuel framework, how to generate unlimited story ideas and of course you can get it anywhere. Books are sold, but if they want to reach out to you directly or visit you on your website, where should they go? So our website is story fuel.co so story F, U E L. Dot co and you will find everything you need there. The good news is if you look for Melanie Deziel pretty much anywhere you will find me. So Melanie, D, E, Z, I E L you will find me and I would love to hear about the stories that all of you are telling.

Michael Port: (56:45)
Oh, you have a pretty cool name. You have the kind of name that that an actor would choose. If you know their name was like, you know, I dunno Eugene Lipschitz or something. It should be like, I dunno, something diesel VIN diesel. There’s a guy, yeah, there’s an ice and it’s not his real name. So you know, he picked it and I got it all on my own. But he doesn’t cite you properly, I don’t think. No, no, he doesn’t. Does it? His rise to fame proceeded mine. So you know, I think he was there for us. That’s a good point. That’s a good point. He’s got a great haircut though. I don’t aspire to that one. No, I have no choice. It’s what it is. I’m listening to. Let me thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. Thanks for letting me share my story. Michael,

Michael Port: (57:42)
At the end of each episode of Steeler show, we feature a heroic public speaking love who is saving the world one speech at a time this week we’re profiling Melissa Monte, who used her HPS training to make her wildly successful podcast. Even better ever since Melissa was 11 years old, she wanted to be a public speaker. Really? Why? Well, because she wanted to be famous, so her father signed her up for acting classes, but they didn’t quite scratch her itch. She didn’t want to get on stage to perform someone else’s words when she had a message of her own to share. Even at 11 years old and when she grew up, she started her own podcast about modern mindfulness called mind love, figuring she could use it to practice public speaking. Then it took off growing to 1 million downloads in just one year. So she challenged herself to attend conferences to help her further her business goals and she chose HPS live when she decided to sign up for grad.

Michael Port: (58:49)
She did what she’d never done before. She borrowed money from her parents and then she panic hyperventilating in the middle of whole foods in Philadelphia. Though she had her doubts, she decided to trust the process. She asked herself, what makes you so special that it won’t work for you when it works for everyone else besides her mother thought it was her chance to figure out the theme of her story at grass. It didn’t take long to find the thread that together her journey and it was all about learning how to know and love herself. She says this realization alone was worth the price tag. She witnessed her classmates committing 100% of the process, so she did too. Even through the discomfort which came in the form of several, what she called emotional breakdowns. The more she embraced them, the more she grew, but she didn’t do it alone.

Michael Port: (59:52)
She says she made lifelong friends at HPS, a group of classmates who support one another online and in person and after grad she noticed that her podcast performance stepped up a level and she took the stage for several speeches which were well received and has several more lined up for 2020 and she’s working on a coaching program and planning in in-person mind love event, all because she trusted the process. She’d even gifted HBS core to her husband so he could see for himself what had touched her so deeply during her training at HBS. And she says that new students should expect emotional breakdowns and ride through them with fellow classmates who understand and most of all go in, push herself and trust the process because as it turns out, she was right. She saw grad work for everyone else and also for her. Thanks for listening to steal the show. I’m your host Michael port. We record our episodes at heroic public speaking HQ. Thanks for listening and learning how to be a performer in your spotlight moments. Make sure to reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook at heroic public speaking. And leave us a review on iTunes. If you like the show until next time, keep thinking big about who you are and how you see the world. Bye for now.

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