The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 114

Carmine Gallo

Five Stars

What does it mean to be a five-star communicator? Carmine Gallo – author of Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get From Good to Great  –  says that the power of persuasion and the impact of compelling stories can set us apart from the rest. Discover what it means to be a learn-it-all, why surprise is an important element in storytelling, and how simple language can communicate big ideas.




Please note: this transcript is unedited.

Peter: A quick announcement before we get started with the podcast, my newest book, I think it’s my most important work yet, it’s called Leading With Emotional Courage, is now available for pre-order. You can get it on, or wherever you like to buy books. The book is really about what this podcast was about which is how do you get massive traction on your most important work. When you pre-order a book, it does a lot for the book’s success, it also does a lot for your success because you will be among the very first who get this book in the mail and when you do, it will help you move forward on what’s most important to you. Helps you to have hard conversations, to create accountability, to inspire focused action on your most important work.

Please check out the book, you can pre-order it on, you can read more about it at and hopefully, we will start a movement of people who courageously move forward on what’s most important to them. All right, now, on to the show.

Welcome to the Bregman Leadership podcast, I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.

With us today is Carmine Gallo, he is the best selling author of Talk Like A Ted and The Storyteller’s Secret, he has come out most recently with a book called, Five Stars, The Communication Secret to Get From Good to Great. He’s an expert in communications, he’s worked with a lot of large organizations you’ve heard of, Google, Excentra, Intel, Coke. He’s here with us to share some tidbits and learnings from his latest book Five Stars. Carmine, welcome to the Bregman Leadership podcast.

Carmine: Peter, thank you. Thank you very much for inviting me, I’ve seen you interview a number of luminaries recently, so I’m honored to be on your podcast.

Peter: Well, we’re glad to have you, so thanks so much. Carmine, there’s a trove of communication books out there and I’m curious why you wrote this one. What distinguishes this? What’s the perspective that you’re bringing to this one that for listeners who have read other books on communications would stand out as different.

Carmine: Many of the communication books and public speaking books that are popular today, many of them I’ve written. This is my passion, Peter. This is my passion and I really don’t think that … I think communication is such a gray area, and you know this as well as I do, there’s always something new to learn. The minute you say, “I know everything there is to know about communication, public speaking, presentations, persuasion.”, I think you’ve stopped growing. I like to be a learn-it-all and not a know-it-all. I’ve learned so much just in the last few years, that have really advanced the way I think about this skill, communication that we’re talking about today, that I really wanted to put it in a book and I realized that almost all of the stories, the approaches that I have in this book are very new and very different than the communication books I’ve written in the past. I’ve been very excited. As long as I’m learning something new, I want to keep presenting it to my readers.

Peter: It’s great. If you were to encapsulate the difference in a sentence or two, like a main theme of this book compared to the other books that you’ve written, what bigger picture theme is this adding to the conversation around communication?

Carmine: I think it’s significantly broader. One of my first books on communication and presentation skills that did very well around the world was called, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. That was very focused on one person and one style of presenting, then I wrote a book just on the Ted Talks and how to present in the Ted style. Some of those elements are certainly in this new book, but it’s significantly expanded. In a nutshell, the reason why I wrote this book is because I’d come to realize, speaking to historians, economists, and CEOs and experts, and leaders in a number of different companies and fields, that as the forces of globalization, automation, artificial intelligence are combining to disrupt every career, every industry as you know very well, that we’re in a transformative moment. Where interestingly, and maybe this is something that a lot of people don’t quite understand, the role of persuasion, actually is a fundamental skill.

It’s not a soft skill anymore, there’s a lot of hard data that show the soft skill of persuasion is the key to thriving, standing out, achieving greatness in whether it’s an individual career or in building a brand and motivating employees. Here’s something really interesting, Peter, and I think this is the conversation and the statistic that got me thinking along the lines of this new book. Several years ago, as I was doing some research on business storytelling, I’ve written a book just on business and storytelling, I spoke to economists who pointed me to recent research that shows persuasion as a portion of Americas JDP, drives 30% of America’s economy. I thought, “Wow, that’s an interesting concept. I’m not exactly sure how to articulate that, what does that mean?” I really studied that and I talked to the economist involved with that. And the point is, that much of our economy is based on two people trying to convince the other person to take action to buy a service, to buy a product.

This entire conversation is persuasion. You had to persuade me to be on this show and you did a good job, you connected with me emotionally and you used data and facts to get me on your show. I’m persuading you that this is a good idea, I’m persuading people to read my book, everything is persuasion. The entire economy, 30% is persuasion, that’s never happened in our history. Not in the agrarian age, not in the industrial age and that portion is only going up. So within that, there are categories, leaders especially who most of their day is involved with some type of persuasion; motivating, inspiring, explaining. If you can be a better communicator, if you can just have a little better skill, not a lot better, a little better, at expressing your ideas, you significantly can enhance your success and your brand success and really stand out in any field. It’s a really fascinating area.

Peter: I have a funny question that’s coming to me right now, which is, is that a good thing? Is it a good thing that so much of our economy is based on persuasion? And I look at politics, and I look at business, and I look at so many situations in which I, and other people, are feeling sold to. And I feel like I’m selling, and I don’t know, I’m just wondering as I’m listening to you and I’m thinking, and I’m not questioning what you’re saying, I think you’re totally right. What I’m questioning is, are we feeding a cycle that ultimately is almost dehumanizing because we’re just pushing our perspective and learning how to do it more subtly, and more skillfully, but in a way where we’re not seeing the other. We’re just trying to sell to them.

Carmine: Peter, I think you have to look outside of that perspective at this point, because I’ve had sleepless nights thinking about the same thing. Especially when it comes to politics because it’s so divisive these days and I don’t want to get into politics, but you can point to persuasion as political leaders try to get their ideas across. It’s all major persuasion as you know, but the more you understand how persuasion works, the more you understand how people are convinced of one idea or another. Now, I actually find it empowering. I find it very empowering because it’s all ideas. Economists and historians have taught me, and you know this better than I, that the modern world was built on ideas, as opposed to the agrarian age where one farmer could plow a field faster than the farmer next to them, they wouldn’t see a huge increase in wealth.

This is something right from Warren Buffet, he’s talked about this, in the industrial age, you could assemble a widget faster than the next person on the factor, you wouldn’t see a substantial wealth increase unless you owned the factory. Today, for the first time in history, really in the last 40 to 50 years, anyone with an idea has a better platform, and more platforms, to express their ideas and to get other people to act on it. If some people use persuasion in a way that may not connect with you, may make you uncomfortable, well that means that there’s also the opportunity for people to use persuasion in a positive way.

Peter: Right.

Carmine: Peter, you look at people like Bill Gates. Bill Gates is learning how to be a better communicator because he knows in order to motivate people and to get people interested in philanthropy and the things that they’re doing at the Gates Foundation, he needs to be a better communicator. So again, there’s positive and negative to it, right?

Peter: Share some of these skills then with us, ’cause you talk a lot about skills, the pathos principle, the three acts, smart words, verbal beauty, help us as listeners, learn a few of the tidbits that you share in the book that can help us go from three or four star communicators to five star communicators.

Carmine: I’m glad you brought that up. I use Five Stars both metaphorically, because there’s a difference between average and great. Then I also use it very literally, that’s where I first started getting the idea for this Five Stars concept. I spoke to CEOs of hospitals in America that are under the only maybe 5% of all hospitals, they get a five star rating from patients. Those leaders are very different than the average leader, those leaders are actually great persuaders and inspirers.

Peter: Get us some concrete things, what can we do to be that five star rating?

Carmine: Yeah. We could talk about storytelling a little bit, but I wrote a whole book on storytelling, I go a little bit into that in this book. We’ll start with storytelling but I’ll be very brief, stories are the best way we have to inform, to educate, and inspire. Most people, especially in business today, leaders are not storytellers, they can deliver a really good Power Point, and put a lot of facts and figures on a Power Point, but what they can’t do and what many don’t do effectively is connect to people emotionally. We’ve just seen that recently with people like Jeff Bezos, Jeff Bezos has said he doesn’t want to see a Power Point in a meeting, he wants to see a six page memo that is written, and here’s the key, in narrative form.

Peter: Tell us what are some of the tips you have for us to move from the bullet point to the narrative, from the factual to the story.

Carmine: There’s three ways, there’s three types of stories that you can incorporate in any presentation that most people don’t do. And that is, one is personal stories, those stories of a leader facing adversity, facing hurdles in their career, or their business, and how they overcame those hurdles. That’s a classic narrative structure, all great movies, all great books have them, going back thousands of years. We rarely do that in presentation form. Steve Jobs was brilliant at it, talking about how a company, or how an individual faced a struggle, faced a conflict and how they overcame that. So that personal stories of triumphal reversibility are very powerful, and a lot of leaders talk about that.

I interviewed Richard Branson not too long ago, he frequently talks about his challenges with dyslexia. Why? Why do you do that? And I asked him, “Why do you do that?” He goes, “Because people see themselves in my story.” He’s using the story to connect with people. So at the very least, you should be using more personal stories that are relevant to whatever topic you’re speaking about. Most people don’t do that in Power Points.

Peter: Are there other narratives besides the one that you’re describing, which is the from rags to riches kind of thing, the struggle to achieve resolution?

Carmine: Yeah, I like brand narratives. A lot of people don’t realize just how positive and effective brand narratives can be. For example, and this is in the book, I was working with some winemakers at some famous wineries here in California, that’s where I live, I live in northern California. And there’s no question, they already know this very well, if you understand the story behind a bottle of wine, where it’s grown, the families that grow that wine, the history of those families in the region, you’re more likely to buy an expensive bottle of wine. It’s the stories behind the product that connect with people emotionally, and I think that’s the whole idea.

Peter: Because it humanizes it, in effect. Because it takes a bottle of wine and it talks about the people behind it. Then that’s back to the Branson quote, which is that you end up connecting with the people, you end up identifying with the people, and then you’re buying the people, not just the bottle.

Carmine: Peter, what’s fascinating about this whole topic, is people don’t buy products, they buy into the story behind the product. There is an economist named Robert Shiller, at Yale, he’s a Nobel prize winner, he studies narrative because he says, “Narrative drives the entire economy.” Why you decide to start a company, why you decide to invest in the stock market, it’s all based on stories that you heard. Narrative drives the economy, narrative is very powerful, as you know, because you’ve written on emotion. And narrative is the best tool we have of transferring our emotion to another person, what I’m trying to get across to your viewers is, I don’t think they’re doing enough to bring narrative into their presentation time.

Peter: Let’s help them out. You talk about the seven elements of impactful signature stories, do you want to take us through those seven elements?

Carmine: Yeah. I won’t take you through all seven.

Peter: No, you could list maybe a sentence about each to just give us a sense of, “Here’s what you’re going for. You want to tell great stories, here’s what you’re going for.”

Carmine: Yeah, that is based on a story at … again, one of the wineries, there’s a winery called the Stags Leap Winery that really put Napa Valley on the map. When I went over to Stags Leap, I realized that there’s different ways of telling the story and one is, having a surprise. A surprise, that’s one of the most important things that we need to get across out of this whole list, is not just telling the background, but telling part of the story that has a twist, it’s the M. Night Shyamalan area of talking about the story. When I went to Stags Leap Wine Cellars for example, they talk about the history of the winery, they talk about the fact that they started when no one knew about Napa Valley, no one cared about California, because there’s no way a California wine would ever be world class.

Peter: Right.

Carmine: In 1976, there was something called the judgment of Paris, where for the first time ever in a very prestigious event, a California cabernet beat the French wines. The judges were so upset that they thought it had to be rigged, but there was a Time Magazine reporter at the event, that if he had not written about it, it would have been lost to history. And it’s that event that actually put Napa Valley on the map. What I learned from them is that they teach all of them, this is something that all leaders should know, they teach all of their employees, they teach all of the cast to tell the Stags Leap story of the judgment of Paris. So a few things, you got a little history, you’ve got interesting moments, but above all, you got a little shock or surprise.

What’s interesting is that, that whole element of surprise, is the element of narrative. That is what all great stories have to have, it has to have a little surprise or unpredictability, and Steve Jobs, he was brilliant at that too. He’d use products and then he’d change it up, like in the 2007 iPhone introduction, which I know you and your viewers know about, where he came out and he said, “We have three products today. We have three new products.” Everyone was excited and he went through every product and finally said, “Aren’t you getting it? It’s one product and we’re calling it the iPhone.” Oh, surprise, shocks, novelty. That’s the key to all great stories, is make sure you have a conflict, there has to be a little conflict, there has to be a hero, but above all there has to be a surprise. A little twist that people aren’t expecting and that’s what they’ll remember.

Peter: That’s great. You have conflict, you have a little bit of surprise, what are some other elements that people can incorporate into their communication?

Carmine: There’s a chapter that I haven’t really written in other books and this is fairly new to me because I wasn’t really sure how to articulate it. I really believe that in order to get an idea across to the masses, it’s really important to keep your content short, succinct and simple, use simple words. What does that mean though? You and I have talked about that before, the simplicity. What does it mean to use simple words? Well, what shocked me, and I really had to stress test this, is that great leaders who communicate complexity, can reduce the language to third grade language. That was a surprise to me, I didn’t believe it when I heard it. I took some great presentations, again, I don’t want to harp on Steve Jobs, but ol’ Steve Jobs presentations, and I took it and I put the text into readability indexes. You know what those are, those are the readability software platforms that educators use to measure the readability of textbooks and to see what grade level they’re in.

I put some of the presentations into those readability apps, and they turn out to be anywhere from third to sixth grade reading levels. I thought, “Okay, well that’s really interesting.” When Steve Jobs had to communicate a new product or complexity to a general audience, he hit the complexity behind simple words.

Peter: Right.

Carmine: After I did that research, just happened to land on my lap as I was writing the book, I’ve found a startup in San Francisco, in the healthcare space. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s called Collective Health, they were one of the top three startups to watch in healthcare. I read about the startup, I read the CEOs information, it’s a healthcare startup that is in the health insurance space. They said, “We’ve discovered through our research that if you want to communicate complex information to people who are not experts in a particular area, you need to speak in third grade language.” So they sent me, I wish I had them right here for you, I just thought of it, but they sent me brochures that they send to their customers and people who use their health finance material. It’s all written in basic third grade language. They teach their call center reps to answer questions in third grade language when it comes to healthcare.

Peter: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s very interesting.

Carmine: But that’s really hard, Peter.

Peter: Right.

Carmine: I tried to write the chapter on simple language, and I tried to condense it to third grade language, I think I got it down to about sixth grade. It’s actually hard to do because you have to use simple words and you have to get to the point, unlike what I’m doing now, which is rambling. But you gotta get to the point, it’s actually hard to speak simply.

Peter: I’m curious about your view of the role of listening in communication, ’cause you don’t talk about it a lot in the book and my view is that’s a very important element of both communicating and persuasion. I’m curious to get your perspective around it.

Carmine: No, you’re right. I mean, I don’t give enough time, I think, to listening. Maybe it’s because I’m ADHD and I’m always talking, I don’t know, maybe it’s that. I spoke, not too long ago, to a CEO of … well everybody knows the company, it’s Carnival Cruises. It’s the largest travel company in America, actually. At any one time, there’s 300 thousand people at sea on one of Carnival’s ships. I spoke to Arnold Donald, who is actually a really hard CEO to get to because he’s so busy. I had a long conversation with him and he apparently, based on all the information I’ve read, really turned around Carnival, it wasn’t doing that well about five years ago. He’s completely turned it around in terms of financials, and profits, and revenue, and stock price, the whole bit.

I said, “What’s the secret? Tell me, how do you motivate 120 thousand employees to give exceptional service?” Right? Those are the kinds of questions I ask, Peter, that’s exactly what he wanted too. He said, “Actually Carmine, communication does not begin with talking, it begins with listening.” He went on a listening tour when he became the CEO and he did a lot more listening to everyone’s gripes, everyone’s problems, everybody’s issues and concerns, than he did talking. So, you’re absolutely right. This whole idea of before you speak, before you present, you have to incorporate what you hear, that’s a big part of communication isn’t it? But that’s the hard part, that’s why there’s only a few great leaders out there.

I firmly believe there’s only a few great leaders because it’s hard to be a good listeners, it’s hard to be a good communicator, it’s hard to take complexity and make it easy to understand, it’s hard to motivate, it’s hard to inspire. But I believe that by reading the kind of books that we write, by studying the kind of leaders that are exceptional, that there are very, very concrete lessons that we can all take away from those people.

Peter: Carmine Gallo, his latest book is Five Stars, The Communication Secrets to Get From Good to Great. Carmine, thanks so much for being on the Bregman Leadership podcast.

Carmine: You bet. Thank you, Peter.

Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I see in companies, is a lot of busy-ness, a lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our Big Arrow process. For more information about that, or to access all of my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit Thank you Clare Marshall, for producing this episode, and thank you for listening.


  1. such an important topic – I felt Carmine took too long to get to the main point – in other words he didn’t practice the very skill he is preaching about. I fully agree that to communicate clearly you need to communicate simply, and I agree its not easy – so How do you simply complex concepts ? He did not cover this. I think that you could paint the big end-to end picture then fill in the detail. Or you could put together beads of simple points then string them together. Diagrams are very powerful. I don’t agree with six pages of text rather than bullet points. much as a hate bullet point presentations many are put off by bulky text and diagrams are the way to go, I believe.

  2. dr shankar b nelogal says:

    excellent podcast relevant to all budding and also to the elder leaders to learn as to how to reach out to the people /employees to and get maximum benefits of the two way communication and persuation

  3. Pamela Moore says:

    Not one of the better podcasts. I agree with Catherine, he took too long to get to the main points. I lost concentration. He seemed reluctant to really share information “I won’t take you through all seven…” He didn’t influence me to buy his book!!

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