3 Simple Communication Tips That Turned This Producer Into a Hollywood Icon

The communication tips I learned in a recent interview from iconic Hollywood producer Brian Grazer are so insightful, I almost kept them to myself! But that wouldn’t be fair to the readers of Talking Leadership, would it? You’re here to get fresh insights from billionaires, CEOs, entrepreneurs and business leaders.  So here goes.

Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard teamed up forty years ago to form Imagine Entertainment. They’ve made some of the highest-grossing and iconic movies and television shows of our time: A Beautiful Mind, Splash, Apollo 13, American Gangster, 8 Mile, The Da Vinci Code, Arrested Development, and 100 others.

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I caught up with Grazer to talk about his new book. It’s titled, Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection. Here are 3 tips that Grazer credits for propelling his career from an entry-level clerk to the top of Hollywood’s A-list.

 

1). Seek out curiosity conversations

When Grazer first started in the business, he set a goal to meet one new person a day in the movie business—and to learn one nugget of wisdom from that person. He then expanded the goal to meet to one person a week from outside the industry. Forty years later, he still sets up “curiosity conversations.” Grazer reaches out to people he’s curious about to talk to them for one hour. He has other motive than to learn something from them that will broaden his mind and leave him inspired, uplifted, and curious to know even more. As Grazer’s influence grew, so did the caliber of curiosity conversations. Grazer has had conversations with a who’s who of leadership over the years: Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, Warren Buffett, Sara Blakely, Isaac Asimov and countless others.

Be curious and keep an open mind and open heart.

2). Establish trust with eye contact

Grazer gave me the simplest and most profound advice he’s ever received—and he’s used the tip for decades to convince studio heads, actors, directors and funders to back his ideas. Strong relationships are based on trust, Grazer says. And trust starts with eye contact. According to Grazer, “Eye contact is the first, simplest and most important step to get on that bridge to human connection. Nobody is going to make any major decision in your favor unless they feel a human connection. It all begins with eye contact.”

eye contact matters.

3). Pitch ideas with a universal theme

Grazer told me that early in his career, he wrote a story about a mermaid who falls in love with a regular guy. Nobody wanted to take a chance on it. A mermaid movie was a hard sell. Grazer made one switch to his pitch and landed Disney as the studio that made Splash, one of the highest-grossing films of 1984 and the movie that made Tom Hanks a star. Instead of pitching a ‘mermaid movie,’ Grazer reframed the pitch. Instead of a mermaid movie, Grazerexplained how  it was inspired by his personal search for true love in Los Angeles, “a place where everything—including relationships—seemed superficial.” Finding a deep connection seemed unattainable to Grazer at the time, almost like falling in love with a mermaid. From that day on, Grazer pitched ideas with universal themes that everyone could relate: love, family, unity, self-respect, or survival against the odds.

Find a theme that relates to everyone and you’re more likely win people over.

Brian GrazerFull disclosure—The personal interviews I have with leaders like Brian Grazer (see photo on left) are my version of curiosity conversations. I’m glad I can share them with you in this blog. Please tell your friends about it!

Find your passion, tell your story.

Carmine

The Tiger Woods Hero’s Journey in One Remarkable Graphic

Tigermania is sweeping the nation after Woods’s remarkable comeback, winning the Masters after his first victory at the Augusta National golf course 15 years earlier. “It’s a story we’ll be telling our grand-kids,” said one spectator.

Nike, the brand that stuck with Woods through ups and downs, didn’t wait that long. It released a 51-second ad within minutes of Woods putting on the green jacket. Nike is a brand steeped in narrative. Its senior executives are even coached to be ‘corporate storytellers.’

Nike knows a good story when it sees it. A good story has a beginning, middle and an end. A great story has highs and lows. And humans are wired to love great stories.

Nike scored big this week with its ad showing videos and images of Tiger Woods from the age of 3 to winning his fifth Masters at the age of 43. Words on the screen reminded viewers that Tiger has experienced “every high and every low.”

The headlines that accompanied Woods’s victory also framed his journey in the context of epic stories. In the New York Times, Thomas Friedman used Tiger as a metaphor for the ‘game of life.’ One writer declared, “The Greatest Comeback Story in the History of Sports.” A UK newspaper called it “A True Story of Redemption.”

What’s going on here?

Woods’s story is irresistible because it follows a time-tested formula that mythologist Joseph Campbell identified in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In its simplest form Campbell’s hero is called to an adventure (Tiger’s quest to become the greatest golfer of all time), meets a mentor who provides wisdom along the journey (Tiger’s dad, Earl), faces challenges and temptations (Tiger’s domestic and physical problems), and returns triumphantly as a transformed person (Tiger wins the Masters for the first time in nearly 15 years) and “becomes the person he wanted to be,” according to Sports Illustrated.

In filmmaking and storytelling, the challenges—which Campbell called ‘The Road of Trials’—must be serious and progressively difficult because it’s in the struggle that the hero discovers what they’re made of. Screenwriters call it the ‘all is lost’ moment when the hero appears to be defeated. Awful things did happened to Tiger Woods and we knew all about them.

Yes, Woods’s adventure follows Campbell’s structure. And his trials were awful, which makes the road to redemption all the more powerful. According to Campbell, it’s through struggle that we learn who we are and what we’re made of.

The Tiger Woods comeback story is a reminder that we process our world through the lens of narrative. Stories stick. Stories educate. Stories inspire. Share more of them.

Carmine Gallo is a popular keynote speaker, a bestselling author whose books have been translated into 40 languages, a communication advisor to the world’s most admired brands, and a graduate school instructor at Harvard University. 

How Bill Gates’ Favorite Infographic Will Make You a Better Communicator

Meeting with world leaders this week at the Davos conference in Switzerland, Bill Gates gave a public shout-out to the economist Max Roser. Specifically, Gates said that Roser has created his “favorite infographic,” one that depicts “just how much life has improved over the last two centuries.”

The graphic intersects two of my favorite subjects: the visual display of information and the enormous progress we’re making each and every day.

I like to consider myself part of a group of writers and thinkers who call themselves The New Optimists. They include Gates, Steven Pinker, Warren Buffett, and Hans Rosling who passed away last year but whose legacy is carried on by his family. Optimists don’t focus on what’s wrong. They focus on what we’ve done right so far and use the information to improve the future.

Rosling once said that if people knew about this information, they’d be having a party every day. We don’t celebrate every day, of course, because psychologically we’re wired for threats—bad news spreads much faster than good news.

The graphic is a wonderful illustration of the concept. Instead of using percentages, which are often abstract, it breaks down progress per 100 people. For example, let’s take extreme poverty. In 1820, 94 out of every 100 people in the world lived in extreme poverty. Today, the number of people living in extreme poverty is 10 out of every 100. The same type of breakdown shows massive improvement in basic education, literacy, democracy, vaccination rates and child mortality.

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If you look at the original research that made up the charts, you’ll find that it requires about 4,000 words to explain what you see. Or you can look at the visual and get the gist of it in under a minute.

When you deliver complex information in a presentation, website or social media, keep in mind that people are visual learners for the most part. Photos, graphics and animations are much more powerful than text alone.

Why the Best Ideas Fit on the Back of a Napkin, According to Richard Branson

After twenty years of studying persuasion, I’m convinced the best pitch should fit on the back of a napkin. Here’s why.

Americans lost a true maverick and innovator when Southwest Airlines founder, Herb Kelleher, passed away at the age of 87. While the business news was, understandably, focused on the brand’s financial success, I’ve always been intrigued by one extraordinary event at a St. Antonio bar in 1967—the day the idea for Southwest was first planted.

I devote an entire chapter to Kelleher in my book, The Storyteller’s Secret. The story goes like this. At the St. Anthony Club in San Antonio in 1966, two friends meet for drinks at the bar. Rollin King is a Texas businessman. Herb Kelleher is a gregarious, whiskey-swigging lawyer. They’ve been kicking around a business plan to get into the airline business. What happens next is brand-making history.

Rollins reaches for a cocktail napkin. At the top of the triangle, he writes “Dallas.” On the bottom left, he writes “San Antonio.” On the bottom right, he writes “Houston.” Their vision was simple—to create a small, local airline connecting three Texas cities. People would fly instead of drive between them.

“You’re crazy,” Kelleher responded. “Let’s do it.”

And with that, Southwest Airlines was born. It democratized air travel for millions of Americans who, previously, couldn’t afford to fly.

This week the hotel commemorated the meeting with a special edition cocktail napkin. They sent me a photo of the design which you can see below. If you’re near the hotel, stop in for a drink and feel the energy!

If a cocktail napkin isn’t handy, a beer coaster will do. Just ask Richard Branson—which I did. In this video interview with the billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Virgin, I ask Branson why he prefers pitches that can fit on a napkin, envelope or—in a real case—on a beer coaster.

Baseball Legend Reads Carmine’s Books to Raise His Public-Speaking Game

Alex Rodriguez chooses Carmine’s “Talk Like TED” as a must-read book.

Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) had one of the most storied careers in baseball history. Today he’s learning about storytelling to become more persuasive and successful as an entrepreneur and investor.

I was thrilled to see that A-Rod included one of my books in his 2019 reading list. The book is “Talk Like TED” which is one of the most popular public-speaking books in the U.S. and in many parts of the world.

As the CEO of A-Rod Corp, Rodriguez has expanded beyond the baseball field to invest in real estate, sports, wellness and media. He’s also a guest shark on ABC’s Shark Tank. A-Rod’s portfolio of assets is worth close to half a billion dollars. With that kind of wealth, the price of a book is minimal, but I hope the lessons he learns will be invaluable.

Thanks, A-Rod!

-Carmine