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Home  /  Podcast   /  The Formula of Incredible Storytelling with Chris West – Episode #39

In this episode of Training Unleashed, Evan speaks with Chris West about how to tell incredible stories to capture and engage your audience. Chris is the founder of Video Narrative, a company that helps businesses tell stories through brand clarity, speaker videos and web design. Listeners who want to take an online training course on how to conduct effective videos can use coupon code “unleashed” for $100 off.





Announcer: Welcome to Training Unleashed, the show that will help you design and deliver training that’s off the chain and will make a difference. Now, here’s your host, Evan Hackel.

Evan: Welcome to another exciting episode of Training Unleashed, and today we have a real treat. With us is Chris West. He is the founder and CEO of Video Narrative, and I have had the pleasure of knowing Chris for quite a number of years. In fact, I am a customer of Chris’s, which I really enjoy. Chris’s real business is helping professional speakers create incredible storytelling videos. And we know that most of you online aren’t professional speakers, so he’s going to really be gracious enough to really talk to us about how we can use storytelling and video to improve training. So, Chris, why don’t you just tell us briefly a little bit about yourself and how you got into storytelling?

Chris: Yeah, well, thank you, Evan. It’s great to be on the podcast with you, and yeah, so a little bit about my background is that I had no intention of starting a business when I did start the business. My goal was to do freelance videography while I paid my way through graduate school, and I was studying narrative therapy. And I love working and mentoring kids. I had a great mentor in college myself and I love that mentorship side of things. And when you get a young person from a hard background, thinking about their life as a story, they tend to start making better decisions. And so I’ve always loved story and been obsessed with it, and I’ve also always been making videos. Pretty much everyone on my team is similar to me, where we can say, “What was your childhood like?” And we were always the ones with the video camera. And so I started doing the work, but I happened to have a professional speaker ask me to do a video for him during that time and I fell in love with working with professional speakers and thought leaders. And eventually I ended up not getting the license in counseling but instead I started working with speakers and then slowly built a business. That was seven years ago, and it’s been quite a ride since.

Evan: Well, I think that almost everyone understands storytelling is powerful. I think unfortunately a lot of people don’t necessarily do a lot of it, particularly in training. But if you can help somebody create a mental picture, I think we all know that that’s far more lasting than just talking to them. So maybe just give everyone just a quick education on how you go about finding stories and making stories.

Chris: Absolutely. I’m so glad that you asked that question because it’s so important. It’s amazing how much we think, “Well, I’ve got a lot of information here to share. I need to be systematic. I need to be, you know, I need to have adult learning practices in place. I need to have interactive.” and all of these things we go through and think through on a training level, but story is kind of left out so often and the timing. What’s funny about that is two things. The first is that story is how our brain processes information. And so if we’re not telling a good story it’s really limiting on whether or not we can think someone is going to remember any of the content, right? And then second, if we want our training to be more fun and if we want it to leave a lasting impression, people just listen better, they stay more attentive if they’re hearing stories. And so, it’s not like you have to keep telling story after story, it’s that if you understand the elements, the formula of story, you can then start with, “What is the training material that I’m trying to get across, what’s my end goal, and what’s a story that I can do?” And especially if you’ve got an online training that you’re trying to sell you have to understand the story elements to make sure that the first video or the first script that you do is going to be something that resonates with people, and there’s literally nothing, nothing else, that’s more effective than a story. And I could geek out and talk about the neurological reasons for all that, but it’s so profound.

Evan: Well, I’m going to actually share something with you. I’ve been doing some research on sexual harassment training, and what is effective sexual harassment training. And what the research is coming back and telling me is that the biggest problem with the training, is the training is all about what not to do as opposed to what to do, and that if you model or tell the story of what great behavior is it’s a lot more powerful than if you just talk about what not to do, because subconsciously people don’t hear the word “not.” It’s almost you’re telling them what to do. And so I think the modeling of the positive behavior, whether it’s sexual harassment or whatever it is, is really powerful.

Chris: Absolutely. I mean, and that goes back to, you know, my training in narrative therapy. Whenever you have someone starting to think about the life that they’re leading as a story, or especially if you think about your training that you’re about to do, or the people in it, what the stories are that they’re leading, whenever you think in story your brain actually processes information better. It clearly organizes information better. So it helps you prepare and it allows the listener to listen better. So when it comes to any kind of training, including, you know, sexual harassment, like, it’s so true. If you tell powerful stories of modeling what to do, instead of focusing on what not to do, it’s far more effective.

Evan: So, I would like us to play a little game.

Chris: Okay.

Evan: It’s somewhat like we’re telling a story.

Chris: Cool.

Evan: So, you work with professional speakers and you help them tell a story, and I would guess that many of the professional speakers don’t even know their story until you’ve asked them the questions to help them build the story.

Chris: Sure.

Evan: So, you know me a little bit, but let’s just assume you don’t. Ask me some of the questions you would ask me as a professional speaker, to help you understand how to build that story about me.

Chris: Sounds great. And if it’s okay, what I’ll do is I’ll give a little context right after the question, for the listeners.

Evan: I think that’d be fantastic.

Chris: Cool. So the number one, the number one starting point of any story is that you have a character, and they have a problem. And so I would not be focused at all on you. My first question, Evan, for you is, “When you look back over the last five years, and you know the types of clients that you’ve loved working with, where it’s just like your energy is there, their energy is there, and you had a great experience. Talk to me about an ideal client for you.”

Evan: To me, my favorite clients are companies that have independent businesses, be it franchise, be it coop, a manufacturer who has a dealer network, and they’re trying to get everyone to share a common vision and that by working together they can achieve more. And I love to be able to convey the power of teamwork, the power of improving the organization, and how everyone has the responsibility to make that organization better.

Chris: That’s awesome, and such a beautiful thing and a beautiful goal. So can I ask if you…when you do work with your clients that are franchises and coops and they have this vision to get everyone working together, what are some of the major barriers that keep them from achieving that goal?

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Evan: There is an opinion, or a feeling, I think it’s actually somewhat psychological, that you grow up with, which is, “Don’t trust others. You’ve got to do it yourself,” and that people don’t recognize that there is more when people work together as a group, and to have people understand the power of a group and what groups can accomplish. And many times the opportunity for most of these businesses is to outperform the competition because you have entrepreneurs. If you’re a manufacturer you have a dealer network that are entrepreneurs. If you’re a franchisor and you have franchisees, they’re entrepreneurs. That the entrepreneur is great, but if everyone is doing different things, then it’s not great because you haven’t built a brand or you haven’t achieved a goal because everyone’s going in different directions. But if you can get these really smart people all to be rowing in the same direction, then there’s a big “a-ha” moment that it’s more powerful being together. So mine is to get people to pass, “Hey, I’m on my own,” to understand it’s more powerful if I’m part of a team and if I’m a contributor.

Chris: Nice. And I would normally at this point ask a bunch more because obviously the bedrock is a character who has a problem. So as soon as we want something, like we want everyone to work together, we have this vision for what our franchise or coop can be in five years and we’re not there yet, whenever people have this desire it creates a problem in them. So I would ask you three, four, or five, I would spend a lot more time on these parts of really understanding the struggle and the pain because every story needs to start with a character that has a problem. And this is the most important thing. So as trainers too often a time, and then as speakers, this is where my business really thrived over the years, is that I came into an industry where everybody was, typically in the kinds of videos they were doing, had the guide which we’re moving into now, as first in the story. So they would have a speaker video all about the speaker. But a speaker video can’t be about a speaker, and a training video or training session, it can’t be about the trainer, right? It has to be about the audience. So I first got clear on your character and their problem, and now what I would ask is, “On the guide section, what makes you so uniquely fit for working with franchise and coops? I mean, what’s your background, what have you done to position yourself to be such a trusted guide in this area?” And I would let you go into detail there.

Evan: Yeah. And we’re going to save time here, but it’s a deep personal passion and I’ve done a ton of it. But I’m not going to…we don’t need to elaborate. This is really, I think, powerful, powerful stuff and I just want to reiterate, focusing on the audience and focusing on the end result is great. I love the term, “a character and you have a problem to solve.” I like the term “villain.” There’s always a villain to be overcome, which is sort of another term for problem but maybe a little bit more exciting of a term. So I love that term, I love what you do. One of the things I know that you’re passionate on, and we’re going to change topic here just a little bit but I think it’s important, is the use of video in training. A lot of companies shy away from video in training, one because it’s expensive, two, because they don’t really know how to utilize it. And I know that you believe that it’s not hard for companies to utilize training and to build studios in their organization and to bring video into the process. Chris, now what would the next part be?

Chris: Yeah, so once we do have the guide, and there is that credibility piece in place, you do want to talk about yourself at some point and what you’ve done, the next part is that a guide gives the character a plan to follow. And so that’s where the training comes into play. I see too many people lead with the plan, right? But they have to really talk through the character and the problem, help them understand why they’ve positioned themselves or what they’ve experienced in their own lives to be able to learn this, and then, “Here’s what you need to do.” And so the plan is next. And so what I would ask you then, Evan, is to say, “So when you work with franchise and coops, in what particular or what specific way do you help them accomplish that vision?”

Evan: Well, for me, I do it by interactive play. I create games, and these games are designed to make a point. So through the game they see the power of teamwork and the power in which they can achieve, and then I have them ideate on ideas on how they can work together better.

Chris: Nice. Yeah, and then the last question that I would ask, and I would ask it in a number of different ways but the most important one is just to say, “What is possible when you have everyone working together?” And I would want you to go into a lot of detail both on what’s possible for the organization and what is at stake if they don’t get this right. Because the idea of a good story and especially a good video that leaves people wanting more, now in a training you would wrap this up in a real good way, but the key is you’ve got to see what’s possible or what’s at stake to make you want to take an action in one direction or the other.

Evan: Well, that’s actually a big part of what I do, is I create the vision of where we could be, what would be possible if this was the behavior, if everyone did this, how could it be different. And that’s actually to me the most fun part is creating that vision and telling that story, which is why as a professional speaker one of the most important singular things I do is truly take the time to understand the client’s needs and what that vision is, so that I really create the right picture that will stimulate people.

Chris: Yeah, and it’s so cool, and you do that so effectively with your games. And I want to say that like if I can leave listeners with any one clear idea, it is that whenever I lead a training because of my background and my training in this, I always think, “What is the goal that I want people to take away, or, you know, what do I want to accomplish at the end of this training?” And then I come up with one story line where I do open within a story, and then throughout the training I’m giving great details but I’m always referring back to that one idea, that one story. And then at the end I want to talk about what were the results of that character or that person or that speaker, right? So it’s one seamless story and long after anyone forgets the details, when they go to make their choice, if you want your training to last, they’ll remember the character choices or the story that you presented them, far more than the details of what you did.

Evan: You know, it’s so true what you’re saying, and one of the games I play involves a red dot and a green dot. And I won’t explain the game but I can tell you that I will talk to people that I have given a speech to five and six years later, who will talk about, “Oh, we’re going green.” And, you know, because that visual and that story were so impactful, that they have in a simple way, by just simply saying, “We’re going green,” that everyone knows what that means in the organization. So I think that is terrific. Anything else on this before we move into our next topic?

Chris: I don’t think so. I think that was…that gist will help people a lot.

Evan: Yeah, no. I think it was fantastic and I think it’s a great way to understand storytelling and applies to everything that we do. It really does. I know that you’re a big believer in the use of video in training, and I know a lot of people think of video as hard, as expensive, but I know that you think of it, and you help people think of it in easier ways. So why don’t we start with the first question, which is, “Why is video important in the training world?”

Chris: Yeah. I mean, everybody knows this, we know it either unconsciously or we truly understand it, but I mean the internet is going to VR eventually. It’s going to be virtual reality. It’s going to be visual, and in the next two years, the numbers are changing all the time because it’s going so fast, but at least 80% of the internet will be video, 80% or more. So anybody who’s in the training industry, if they aren’t ahead of the trend, knowing that we’re going to have to be online, that we’re going to have to be visual, we’re going to have to be constantly updating, and that there’s this huge passive income to make, when we don’t have to keep offering our trainings in person over and over and over. You know, video is central, it’s crucial, and one of the most important things that I think any training company can do is set up a studio so that they can deliver consistent training regularly, and if you know how to do it right, it can be done these days for a very affordable rate, incredibly affordable. The DSLR cameras and the way that things have come down in price, it’s just amazing what you can do today for less than what it cost to rent out a studio for the day.

Evan: Well, I will tell you that when I was back in corporate training, and we’re talking now over 10 years ago, we did that. We built a studio, and it enabled us to communicate far more effectively. It also enabled us to make updates and changes and improvements very, very cheaply. But just give me a ballpark. If I was in training and I wanted to build a studio, how much would it cost, you know, with equipment and all that stuff?

Chris: I feel like there’s multiple tiers, right, depending on what you’re going for and what kind of company you are. For an individual who just needs to do more training for their clients, a solopreneur or an individual business owner, no more than about $1,000 to $1,200.

Evan: Wow.

Chris: Total, including the DSLR camera, and these days you can get a 4K camera, although I don’t recommend shooting in 4K just because you have to process so much and there’s just no need for it yet, but you can get a 4K camera these days for, you know…I mean your phone has a 4K camera. So it’s amazing how much price has come down. And then if you know the right equipment to buy on Amazon, you know, the total amount of equipment you’re going to invest is about $500.

Evan: Wow. So, you talked about levels. Let’s say I’m on the high end. What price would the high end be?

Chris: Yeah. Well, high end is going to be more like $3,000 to $4,000. I mean, because you’re going to have to create more space and do more lights, and you’re going to have more trainers coming down, and you want to really create the real look and feel of a true professional space. And, you know, a lot of companies want a green screen so they can constantly change the background. Well, in that case you’re going to need a lot more room, so you’re going to need a larger room to use as your studio and you’re going to have to double the lights because you have to light the backdrop and front. So, there’s more nuance to a bigger company that’s going to be using it more often, but the average person is going to spend about $1,200 and a larger company is going to spend about $3,000 to $5,000 max.

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Evan: To give everyone here a little flavor, when we built ours it was at least $25,000.

Chris: Oh, yeah.

Evan: Because you needed really high-quality cameras, and everything was expensive. And I think as you describe this, the cost is so little, and maybe you’re going to take bigger projects and outsource them, but how much stuff can you do internally, and how much better can you be in the training department communicating if you could utilize more video? So I know you have a special offer, but you can’t really share that special offer until you tell people what it is. So you have a special program, an online program, that helps people really not just set up but understand how to take advantage of video in a powerful way. And maybe you if you could tell us about that, so that when you tell us the special offer it will make sense.

Chris: Yeah. Well, all I am doing is basically following my own advice. I constantly keep telling people that you’ve got to duplicate yourself, and you’ve got to create training videos so that you can do training 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You know, in Australia they’re going to be watching your videos completely different than when they’re watching them in England, or when they’re watching them in the US. And I had so many professional speakers and business owners ask me, “Hey, could you help me set up a personal studio? Hey, could you help us set up a studio in our garage or in our, you know, in our office, or wherever. I’ve been in attics, in basements, and everywhere you can think of, and I was literally going all over the country, because I was requested so often to help people set up a studio. And it literally like took me two years before I was less than an idiot to realize this, like, “Why am I helping people set up video studios about trainings, when I have no training of my own on how to set up your studio. So basically I took what I do in a three-day consultation if I were to come in person and help you set up a studio, everything from the pre-setup like, “What are the equipment that you need to buy and what are your goals from this?” “How do you want to prepare your schedule so that this isn’t a time-suck, and it’s not a distraction?” “And how do you create a plan for how to use a studio?” And then all of the equipment. “What is the equipment you need to buy,” with links to where to buy it and options on those, from, you know, what will be basic to what’s more advanced. And then how to set up your studio step by step by step to get perfect lighting, how to position your camera, how to do those setups. And then how to market with your videos after, how to upload them, how to market on YouTube, how to build campaigns, pretty much everything that I would teach people from start to finish in using videos and the studio setup. I turned in the videos and put it online, and the feedback from everyone who’s taken it has just been phenomenal because people feel like they’re getting such professional in the videos and they think that they did it themselves. And that’s what they say, “I feel like I did this all, but all I did was watch the videos and just do what you said.” And I feel like I’m the hero, so that’s been the fun part.

Evan: So I have seen your videos, and I’ve seen your training. It’s extremely well done. And I was blown away with how much there is to learn, you know. You do a really good job, and a lot of times they’re, “Oh, Joe, let’s just put this stuff up,” and it will just work. But there’s a lot more to doing effective videos and to be able to learn. Just out of curiosity, “What would it cost for you to come for three days and teach me what you would teach in the online course?

Chris: Yeah, it’s usually somewhere around $2,500 to $4,000 depending on the in-depth level of what we’re doing.

Evan: Yeah. So, doing this online is great for several reasons. One, many people can do it. It’s timeless. You know, if you come you only come one time. So I encourage people to check it out. The pricing is very, very good, but Chris has agreed to give us a special offer. Do you want to tell us about the special offer?

Chris: For sure. Well, the first thing I have to say is there’s a free version for anyone who wants to get started. So there’s three amazing videos where I sort of summarize everything and made it, not all the details but enough so people can say, “Oh my gosh, I just learned so much and, yeah, I can do this.” And that’s at, so just, and that’s all free. But for people who do want to take the course where we teach them everything from start to finish, we’re offering, you know, $100 off for this podcast. So, yeah, they just have to use the coupon code “unleashed.”

Evan: What a great coupon code. I love that coupon code.

Chris: Yeah. So that will be $100 off, and they can use that anytime that they want.

Evan: So you’re helping people unleash the power of video. And, you know, to bring everyone back to the theme of this podcast, and I try to do this a lot because I think it’s important, the opportunity for training to make a real difference in organizations is massive. We just have to unleash that potential, and that’s what we’re about. So, I think, Chris, this is an amazing job helping people understand and how to unleash the power of storytelling, and amazing job helping people understand the importance and how inexpensive it is to be able to use video directly in their own facilities. As always, Chris, I ask my guests for one tip, any tip on any way. It doesn’t have to be anything about what you’re talking about but it certainly can be, that you would give somebody in the training profession.

Chris: Yeah. My number one tip would be to use your phone. Use your phone. I mean, today, the phones that we have in our pockets have a better lens on them than the Hubble telescope. It is incredible how effective our phones can be, and just one quick, like, illustration of this, Steven Soderbergh, who is one of Hollywood’s top film directors, who did “Ocean’s Eleven” and Twelve and all of them, he created his most recent film on a cellphone, and he said that from now on he is going to only use cellphones to make his films, which is being displayed, you know, on live screens or cinemas all across the country. People think they have to get all fancy. I use my phone constantly to record training videos for clients on the go, and there’s an app called Teleprompter Pro, and it will put a teleprompter right next to the camera on your phone so it looks like you’re looking directly at the camera, and really you’re just reading your script that you wrote on the plane on the way there. So I use my phone constantly. The highest, the best tip I can give you is use your phone to do consistent trainings for your clients.

Evan: Wow. What a cool idea. I love the prompter idea, too. That’s… Especially because there are a lot of people that are nervous and if they can be prompted, what a powerful idea. Well, Chris, it’s been great having you on the show. To all the listeners, we really appreciate you listening. I want to wish everyone a great day, and everyone, enjoy the day.

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