Course Change

From Laid Off to TEDx and Sales Keynote Speaker; Selling by Storytelling, with John Livesay, EP 6

July 07, 2020 Thor Challgren
Course Change
From Laid Off to TEDx and Sales Keynote Speaker; Selling by Storytelling, with John Livesay, EP 6
Course Change
From Laid Off to TEDx and Sales Keynote Speaker; Selling by Storytelling, with John Livesay, EP 6
Jul 07, 2020
Thor Challgren

John Livesay is the author of Better Sales Through Storytelling. His TEDx talk, “Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life,” has over 1 million views. In our conversation, John reveals how he transitioned from a successful career in media sales to becoming a sales keynote speaker known as The Pitch Whisperer.

John shares strategies on how to create a successful elevator pitch, and how you can transform your personal history into compelling stories that will make you stand out from the competition. We also talk about the mindset that will help anyone survive during change and uncertainty.

For podcast listeners, John is offering FREE tips on Top Storytelling Sales Secrets. To receive your copy, just text the word “pitch” to 66866.

More On John Livesay
Instagram: @thepitchwhisperer
LinkedIn: johnlivesay
TEDX talk: “Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life”

Online Course: Better Selling Through Storytelling Course
Book: Better Selling Through Storytelling

More On Thor
On Instagram: @thorchallgren
On Facebook:

Win Your Week 7-Day Guide Free Download!

Thanks for listening!

John Livesay is a top-rated keynote speaker on sales, storytelling, marketing, negotiation and persuasion. As a keynote speaker and storyteller John shares lessons he learned from his sales career at Conde Nast where he won 2012 Salesperson of the Year for Conde Nast's 22 brands & 400 salespeople. After John speaks, the sales team becomes revenue rock stars who know how to form an emotional connection and a compelling sales story with clients. His TEDx talk “Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life” has over 1,000,000 views.

In addition to being a top-rated sales keynote speaker, John Livesay is the best selling author of "Better Selling Through Storytelling" and has appeared on TV multiple times including being interviewed by Larry King. He is also the host of "The Successful Pitch" podcast, which is heard in over 60 countries.

John has delivered keynotes to the world’s largest companies and organizations such as Coca Cola, Anthem and Honeywell.

Show Notes Transcript

John Livesay is the author of Better Sales Through Storytelling. His TEDx talk, “Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life,” has over 1 million views. In our conversation, John reveals how he transitioned from a successful career in media sales to becoming a sales keynote speaker known as The Pitch Whisperer.

John shares strategies on how to create a successful elevator pitch, and how you can transform your personal history into compelling stories that will make you stand out from the competition. We also talk about the mindset that will help anyone survive during change and uncertainty.

For podcast listeners, John is offering FREE tips on Top Storytelling Sales Secrets. To receive your copy, just text the word “pitch” to 66866.

More On John Livesay
Instagram: @thepitchwhisperer
LinkedIn: johnlivesay
TEDX talk: “Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life”

Online Course: Better Selling Through Storytelling Course
Book: Better Selling Through Storytelling

More On Thor
On Instagram: @thorchallgren
On Facebook:

Win Your Week 7-Day Guide Free Download!

Thanks for listening!

John Livesay is a top-rated keynote speaker on sales, storytelling, marketing, negotiation and persuasion. As a keynote speaker and storyteller John shares lessons he learned from his sales career at Conde Nast where he won 2012 Salesperson of the Year for Conde Nast's 22 brands & 400 salespeople. After John speaks, the sales team becomes revenue rock stars who know how to form an emotional connection and a compelling sales story with clients. His TEDx talk “Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life” has over 1,000,000 views.

In addition to being a top-rated sales keynote speaker, John Livesay is the best selling author of "Better Selling Through Storytelling" and has appeared on TV multiple times including being interviewed by Larry King. He is also the host of "The Successful Pitch" podcast, which is heard in over 60 countries.

John has delivered keynotes to the world’s largest companies and organizations such as Coca Cola, Anthem and Honeywell.

Thor Challgren  00:04

Welcome to the Course Change podcast. My name is Thor Challgren and every week I love sharing with you stories of people who have made a dramatic career change. We talk about the challenges they faced, the lessons they learned and the success they found on their own unique journey. Over the course of my own life, I've worked in multiple industries, from startups to corporations. A common factor in my work experience -- the ability to adapt to change. If you're looking for insights and inspiration to thrive during change, you'll be glad you listened. 

John Livesay  00:37

The value of a story is you go from forgettable to memorable, and we're wired for stories, it makes people emotionally engaged makes them want to go on that journey with you. So there's a lot of value to being the best storyteller. 

John Livesay  00:49

Avoid this big mistake that most people make if this is not their career. They get up in front of an audience and they waste that opening 90 seconds which is when you need to grab people.

John Livesay  01:00

I remember asking a friend of mine saying, you know, I want to give a TEDx talk and there was a part of me going, oh boy, who do you think you are to give a TEDx talk? It took me a year and a half to get it.  I applied over fifteen tiems.

Thor Challgren  01:12

That is John Livesay, my guest today on the show. John is the author of "Better Sales Through Storytelling." His TEDx talk, "Be The Life Guard of Your Own Life" has over 1 million views. In our conversation, John reveals how he transitioned from a successful career in media sales, to becoming a keynote speaker known as The Pitch Whisperer. John shares strategies on how to create a successful elevator pitch, and how you can transform your personal history into compelling stories that will make you stand out from the competition. We also talk about the mindset that will help anyone survive during change and uncertainty. Here now is my interview with John Livesay..

Thor Challgren  01:18

John, welcome to the show. I really want to thank you a lot for joining me here today. You know, I have to tell you, I've been really looking forward to this conversation, there's a lot I want to talk with you about. So thank you for being on the show today.

John Livesay  02:17

Thank you, Thor, for having me.

Thor Challgren  02:18

You know, there's a lot of people now that are going through change, we're recording this in the spring of 2020. Some of that change can be painful, you know, it might be a job or career that's gone. Or maybe people are going through a transition to something new in their life. So their ability to roll with that and thrive even, depends on their ability to sell who they are and what they have to offer. And that comes down to knowing their story and what makes them unique, which is why I'm excited to talk with you, because this is really your background and expertise is to understand that power of story. So I feel like you're the perfect person to help us understand that better. So, you all set?

John Livesay  02:57

I'm ready to go. Let's help some people.

Thor Challgren  02:59

All right, perfect. So I want to start our conversation in the early 2000s, you were selling advertising for Conde Nast, a company with a huge catalog of magazines. For people who don't know what that job entails, give me the elevator pitch for how you sell magazine ads and what skill set you bring to bear on that.

John Livesay  03:17

Well, like everything, there's a lot of competition. And so a big company like Lexus or Guess jeans would look at all their choices on how they wanted to reach their target audience. Then they would ask the salesperson from each of those brands, each magazine, to come in and explain to them: Who's the editor? What are the columns? Where could our ad appear, that would be the best place for us? And then most importantly, and where the creativity came in was, what kind of added value, creative events could you produce for us, that would give us impact over and above just creating brand awareness from the ads? And that's really what what I love doing so much was every time they were launching a new model or spring campaign was coming out there, was looking for what else can we do to make this come to life, if you will.

Thor Challgren  04:03

So you're in that for a number of years, I think all told 15 years in that career. Sometime around 2006, and you mentioned this in your book, you started to see a shift where ads were moving from print to digital. But it was another couple of years before you saw the implications of that kind of hit home to you personally, and we'll talk about that more in a second. But when we see change in our business now or the industry we're in, what do you think we can do to start to prepare for that change? Because change is inevitable. But if you were to, you know, go back to John in 2006, anything that you could say to him or say, hey, you should be mindful of this because here's where things are going. 

John Livesay  04:41

What it felt like watching that happen was like the Titanic hitting an iceberg in slow motion. So you're on the Titanic, and you can see that you're going to hit an iceberg if you don't change course, and yet, everything's fine. Now, you know, do you really want to try something new when you don't have to? And it's a whole other skill set and a whole other language to learn. And I'm in my comfort zone. I would say that the big takeaway for everyone is one, don't depend on one source of revenue. In this case it was majority of it was coming from print as opposed to being diversified and getting money from website advertising and eventually video advertising. And two, don't get stuck in your comfort zone and think, "I don't need to keep learning." That's the biggest mistake I made myself and I see a lot of other people making. 

John Livesay  05:34

And as a keynote speaker, you know, I've been focusing 100% of my efforts now in this career, you know, I had momentum, and it was- we can talk about all the steps you have to take to get that up and running from writing a book to doing a TEDx talk to getting video footage of yourself on a reel, and getting an agent just like an actor and then getting testimonials and then really being known for solving one thing. And things were starting to really take off for me this year. In fact, I had three live engagements booked for April. And then of course, COVID came, and my speaking agents, you know, they're that whole industry, anything to do with live events, like the, you know, the record of the needle on the record. (NEEDLE SCRATCH SOUND) And he said, Oh, man, we've all made the mistake of depending on live events for the majority of our income. And I thought, oh, again, I made the same mistake in a different industry, mostly because it's very hard to fathom. There was no slow trend, like this year, print budgets got cut by 20% and went to digital The next year, it was cut by 30%. And then went to digital. This there was no little secrets of it coming. 

John Livesay  06:44

But here's the surprising part of that. I think, you know, when you listen to your intuition and learn new things, I had seen a lot of other speakers creating an online course based on their book and their content. And I thought last September I'm going to invest in doing that. There's 100 reasons not to. I may not sell any, it's a lot of work just like a book, on and on and on. But I did it. So now when this hit, I do have another source of revenue, which is people buying my online course to learn about storytelling and sales. And ironically, it's what helped me keep one of my live events when it decided to go virtual. The similarities between print to digital, it's all over again, from a live event to can you do a virtual talk? And do you have virtual training to go with the virtual talk? And so luckily for me, I did, but that was something I started months and months ago. It's not something you can whip together in 30 days.

Thor Challgren  07:39

And what's interesting about that is two things as I hear it. One is sort of going back to that slow motion iceberg Titanic experience. If you start to hear yourself rationalizing things and going, Oh, it's fine, or I'll be fine. Like maybe that's a sign that you know, you were being sent signals to start to move the ship in a different direction and you're not listening. So maybe you should listen and then b) you know to your point of last fall with your course. When that idea comes along, that's something to pay attention to. Because that might be you getting guidance of where your path is supposed to lead you, right?

John Livesay 08:14

Exactly. You know, Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote "Eat, Pray Love" and this new book about creativity, "Big Magic," she talks about ideas being energy, and the more we listen from quieting our minds and meditation or whatever we want to do to what's coming in and acting on it, the more messages you get. It's almost as if the universe is like, why bother? He's never going to take action. But if you go, Oh, I I did that and then they go, Okay, so here's another hint. And in my case, I decided I wanted to move out of L.A. after being there for 30 years. And I wasn't sure where so that was an exploratory process, which city or maybe even a different country and, and then I made the decision. I'm like, All right. Now I am going to sell my condo I've been in for 10 years. So when should I sell it? Should I wait for March when the spring, maybe the weather will be better and people said, Ah, you know it's not like the Midwest where you have to- you know, for weather it's not rainy that bad now you could put it on in January and I thought, am I ready? Yeah, well we all know this where this story is going.

Thor Challgren  09:14

Boy you have perfect timing.

John Livesay  09:15

Yeah, had I not sold my place in January and done the three day car ride with my sister at the end of February and found a place March 1st, you know, so people can look at your life and go god how did you know to do an online course so many months ago? How do you know to move that and then. 

Thor Challgren  09:32

You listened.

John Livesay  09:32

I just don't know that we do have any answer for that but it is getting in touch with our inner gut and trusting that a lot more then we have been taught to.

Thor Challgren  09:45

I want to jump back to the time, and this was 2008 ish, where you- what happened to you is happening to a lot of folks now. You get a pink slip and you basically are told, be out by the end of the day. You sort of saw the direction this was going, but what was that day like?  Did you feel surprised? Or were you just kind of like, okay, yeah, that makes sense?

John Livesay  10:07

No, it's like a kick in the gut. It's amazing how you go into denial, almost like grieving. And you keep hoping and thinking, you know, and literally, they were going magazine by magazine and every day was a different call, the head of that magazine to the team and you're thinking, well, they're not laying everyone off. Maybe they'll keep me. I'm great. So when I got the call, I did go into shock. It reminds me of when my dad died. We all knew he was dying. And yet when you get that call, but he's gone, you're like, what are you sure? So that's why I compare it to grieving. And the shock of it. Being told we need you out by the end of the day. I'm like, whoa, I'm gonna have to get some help because I got a lot of stuff there after all those years.

Thor Challgren  10:49


John Livesay  10:49

Plants and artwork and what have you. And then there was something again in me, Thor, that I said to my boss, Well, don't you want me to leave a status report of where the ads should run on which page and which issue? And she said, Oh, well, that'd be great. But everyone else and all the other outside offices and 30% of people here in New York are so mad, they're just storming out. I'm like, what? I'm not gonna do that. I care too much about these clients. I've watched them get married and have kids. Little did I know, Thor, that one decision would impact me years later. So there I am in my office. My sister and a friend are helping me pack it up. It's like Mary Tyler Moore. You know, the end of the episode. 

Thor Challgren  11:25

The group hug. 

John Livesay  11:25

Yeah. And then you know, and then you close the door the last time after everything is moved out. And I thought, well, what am I feeling? I'm feeling sad, scared, and maybe a little angry. And then I remembered that I might have lost my job, but I didn't lose my identity. And I'm like, Okay, I'm not this job. I'm more than this job and the title and the perks and everything that went with it. So I just have to trust that things are gonna work out. But it was not an easy- "Oh, all right, I expected the call. I'll be out." No problem. It was not at all that feeling.

Thor Challgren  11:57

No, I've had that experience, several times. And it's always a shock. For me, I was at a company where they laid me off twice. And I think the second time I came back, I thought, oh, we're gonna be fine. And that lasted 10 months,

Thor Challgren  12:09

We almost have the same path.

Thor Challgren  12:10

I know, when I was reading your book, I'm like, I identify with that. 

John Livesay  12:14

Isn't that funny?

Thor Challgren  12:15

You know, I do want to talk about your book, which by the way, I'm going to link this in the show notes. It's an excellent read and so actionable for anyone who is looking to understand how to be a better storyteller, and how to increase their ability to sell not only themselves, but wherever they are, whatever product they have. But you talk about this idea of a self-esteem roller coaster and how at a moment like this, when you're let go of a company, you can have that sort of roller coaster of emotions. You said that we have to let go of that kind of thinking and be bigger than any one result. Why is it that sort of letting go of fear at a moment like this is so important, and how do you do it? Like what's the first step that you can take? 

John Livesay  12:55

Well, I think you have to practice it, so practice it in less dramatic events. So I work with salespeople all the time on helping them not get on that self esteem rollercoaster, being attached to the outcome of a particular sale happening or not. Because I used to be on it, you know, if they buy somebody else, I think, Oh, another salesperson could have gotten the yes. Or maybe they're right, maybe that other products better than mine.  I'm like, whoa, whoa, whoa, I'm rejecting myself stop doing that. And then, you know, you start looking at your numbers. And, you know, I have friends that worked in retail, and 40% of their revenue for the whole year comes between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, and jewelry sales. And so they would monitor them hourly. "You know, last December 7, between noon and one you sell this much this year, you've only sold that much." And if you let yourself go on that roller coaster up and down, depending on your results, right? It's exhausting. So I realized that was happening. And I thought, oh, there's a lot of other people who do that I've got to help as many people realize that what is consistent is our sense of self and our self worth and not tie it to outside results on small things right? And then when a big thing happens like a loss of a job, a loss of a loved one, anything big like that, you can go back to that muscle you've been exercising of Wait a minute, let me just try to remember who I am. And sometimes if you have really great people in your life, they'll remember for you they'll say, "You're John Livesay, for god's sakes," of course, you'll get another job or your start your own thing. And that's really what it is all about in my world, is having people in your life that know and love you and remind you of the truth of who you are when you forget. And I think we all forget, from time to time,

Thor Challgren  14:31

I just have to share this because going back to your point earlier about having moments where something occurs to you.  Last night, I was looking for something to watch. I'm staying with my dad, we watched "Jerry Maguire," which I haven't seen in 25 years. An amazing movie for this time, because there is a character who at the start of the movie who comes up with his mission statement of what he thinks life should be about. And the people in his life basically knock him down and say, Are you crazy? No! And then he gets fired. He meets the Renee Zellweger character and she's the one person in his life that says, I was inspired by you. And that whole movie then becomes this interplay of someone who wants to believe in something bigger, a bigger vision of himself, but he's knocked down and has trouble with it. And there's someone in his life who goes, No, I believe in you. And to your point that someone in your life said, No, you're John Livesay, you can do this. And maybe that's what we all need. 

John Livesay  15:25


Thor Challgren  15:26

In your book, you talk about the power of story and this idea of having an origin story. Now I want to talk about that in a second. But tell me first, why do you think story is so important in the sales process? And you know, whether we're selling a product or a service or ourselves. What's the value of story as you see it?

John Livesay  15:44

Well, the value of a story is it solves a lot of problems. The first problem is, if you don't have a story, you're not memorable. I've worked with companies when it's between them and two other firms, whether it's an architecture firm or an executive search firm or tech firm, and they all go in and they talk and try to convince someone to pick them. And it all just starts to sound the same because everybody's making the same mistake, which is pushing out a bunch of information. And the problem with that is people buy emotionally and then back it up with logic. And if you're pushing out information, it's not memorable, certainly not magnetic. And that's what causes people to fight on price. 

John Livesay  16:21

However, the value of a story is you go from forgettable to memorable. And you can turn some really boring data, like what typically is- in what's called a case study, where you talk about other clients that you've worked with, and turn it into a case story. Well, now you've got all the elements of story, and we're wired for stories, makes people emotionally engaged, makes them want to go on that journey with you. So there's a lot of value to being the best storyteller.

Thor Challgren  16:48

And you say that just to sort of delve further into stories, that story has four parts to it. It has the exposition, the problem, the solution and the resolution. Kind of walk me through that process of how you think about- if I'm constructing a story about myself, then I'm trying to sell my services or a product? How do I go about doing that with those four parts to the story?

John Livesay  17:10

Well, I'll tell you a story. And then we'll break it down, you can see how the parts work. One of the things I do with my clients is work with them on their confidence, and I have them do something I call stacking your moments of certainty. So you write down two or three times in your life when you knew you nailed it, got a job offer, you got a yes for your spouse, whatever it was, and then you write down the feelings with those moments. And that's what you put in your head before you go interview or pitch or do anything out of your comfort zone, as opposed to the negative self talk that come in. So you need to replace it with these moments of certainty. So my client Martin said, Wow, what a great exercise for me. The big one is, you know, I was born in South America, but I grew up in the Netherlands. And when I turned 18, my parents took me back to South America and dropped me off naked in the Amazon jungle to survive for two weeks because in my culture, that's the rite of passage into manhood. I said, whoo, that gives me chills. Okay, let's work on that story. What lessons did you learn in the jungle? "Well, I learned how to focus and pivot and persevere." I said great, you're gonna take those lessons from the Amazon jungle, to the concrete jungle of being an entrepreneur. And when he told that story to investors, he got his startup funded, because they figured, well, if he survived that, he'll do anything it takes to make this business work. 

John Livesay  18:22

So that's a short little story about one person, you know, we all haven't had that dramatic of an experience, but we all have something. So the exposition is the who, what, where when. We know Martin is 18, we know why he's there. In fact, sometimes when he was practicing, and he would forget to say it's a rite of passage in his culture. I said, if you don't say that sounds like child abuse. So paint the picture, very important. Get us in the story. And then the problem is clearly he's naked there for two weeks stakes are very high. And the solution is he not only survives, but has some life lessons, pivot, focus, persevere. And then the secret to a great story, Thor, is the resolution. What happened to Martin after this experience when he told the story and got his startup funded instead of telling people I've got great tenacity, he showed it a story.

Thor Challgren  19:07

Yeah, you say that in the book, you say, instead of saying in an interview or a pitch, "I'm persistent and resilient." You tell them the story that illustrates those points, and they're much more likely to remember that then some five syllable words that you spouted off. There's another thing in the book that you talked about, I think it's an interesting sort of twist, you said that the process that we're going through is to get someone to trust, like and know, and that's different than- I think a lot of people think of it is know, like and trust. So tell me why you emphasize- why you start with trust.

John Livesay  19:44

Well, the old way of doing this is well, you know, you got to get people to know you and then they'll like you and then eventually trust you. And the problem that causes, Thor, is what I said earlier, which is then people go, Okay, so first you have to know me before you buy from me or hire me. So let me just inundate you with a bunch of information about me and my product. So you get to know me. And that's not how people buy. People buy emotionally and then back it up with logic. And a lot of people aren't aware of that. Even if you go buy a really expensive sports car, they're not talking about how many miles per gallon it gets. They're talking about how you're going to feel in it. And it's fun to drive and you look sexy, and all that. 

John Livesay  20:22

So I tell people start at the gut. That's really where the trust has to come. Literally, it's the fight or flight response. And that's where the handshake came from, to show we didn't have a weapon in our hand. So you get an email- is this from someone I know? Is this spam? Is it even safe to open? It's a trust thing. And then you move from the gut to the heart, and that's where the likability factor comes in. And the more you show empathy for the person you're talking to, and that you describe a problem someone's having better than anybody else does, the more they think you have their solution. Doctors spend more time with patients they like, teachers spend more time with students they like. So if you really want to up your likability factor- there's a great book on it by Tim Sanders. And it's really about showing empathy, putting yourself in the other person's shoes, right? And then it gets to the head. And again, it's not about information. The person has this unspoken question when they're listening to you describe how you help someone else and how great your product is, so that they trust you, it's safe to listen, they like you, you're showing some empathy about there challenges. And always the unspoken question in their head is, Will this work for me? If I can't see myself in your story, of someone else you helped, I'm not gonna buy it.

Thor Challgren  21:34

Yeah, I think that's really key. I mean, I used to work years and years ago in putting together promotions, but probably similar in some ways to what you did. And that's always where we started. We think about the client, what were their needs, and how could we help solve them? We didn't start from what service do we have and how can we sell it to people, we started with here's a client, here's the problem they're having, how can we help them solve their problem and the rest will take care of itself, most likely, and it almost always did. 

John Livesay  22:02


Thor Challgren  22:03

Going back to your story, you at 2008, you're laid off from Conde Nast, you're living in LA, but you find this new opportunity in New York and you did something that I love. You used your own money to fly there to interview for the job, which a lot of times people don't necessarily think, they don't think to invest in themselves. But you said to them, Well, hey, I'm gonna be there anyway. Of course you weren't. But you told them that. And you didn't yet have the skill set to do that job of selling digital ads. But how did you adjust? And this is one of the points that you make in the book is, you have to get out of your comfort zone. So this was you getting out of your comfort zone, right?

John Livesay  22:37

Yes. Well, I actually got inspired from Kramer vs. Kramer with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, because in that movie, they were getting divorced and he needed to get a job. He'd been laid off in the advertising world. And in order to get custody, joint custody, he had to prove income. So he, you know, went to a small agency just to get any job right at their Christmas party. Just so he could show income. And you know, of course the judge said, Oh, you're the only person I know working their way down the ladder of success. But when I was up for the job in L.A., the corporate office was in New York. And I knew on paper, I wasn't, quote, first choice, and I had to get in front of them to convince them. So that's when I offered to- I said, Oh, I'm going to be in New York visiting friends over the holidays. Why don't I come by it won't cost you anything to fly me there for an interview. And they said, Well, if you're here anyway, okay, because no one else from L.A. was going to be there. And they were eventually going to come out to LA, but only after they'd pick their top three candidates. So to even get in the top three, I knew I had to go. 

John Livesay  23:37

And it was just like the movie. There were streamers from the holiday party. From the night before in the lobby. I'm like, Oh, God, everyone's gonna be hung over. But the interview worked well enough that I when they did come out, I was in the final three and was able to finally convince them to hire me. And then I got the job and I thought, oh my god, this is really hard. I'm learning a whole different skill set for half the money I was making. And again, it's all how we look at stuff. And I was like, I don't know if I can do this. I went from having a corner office and an assistant to being in a closet with no windows and having to take this shuttle bus from a parking lot to the office every day with a bunch of data entry people. And it was just a real piece of humble pie. And someone said, Just think of it like a paid internship to learn how to sell digital ads. I'm like, Okay, and then I was okay.

Thor Challgren  24:29

It's just a change of perspective. And a lot of times we attach meaning to something like, this is a step down for me. I'm on this bus. I'm in a closet. And if that's how you look at it, yes, that's the experience you'll have. But if you turn it around, like you said, then it's a different experience, right?

John Livesay  24:45

Yes. And then ironically, two years after, you know, I was able to break some new business and then my old boss called in from Conde Nast and said, you know, we have a new editor. We now have a website, we're selling print and digital. We're looking for someone who can do both. Would you ever consider coming back? And I thought had I not gotten this digital experience, I wouldn't even be qualified for my old job again, because I had some other friends that have been laid off. And they said, I'm not taking a pay cut. And of course, the longer you stay out of the workplace and the iPad came out then and you just get out of touch with technology, the longer you're unemployed. 

John Livesay  25:17

So I said, Yes, but I'm not coming back with any fears, is what I said to myself. Because I lived in fear of, I don't make my quota. What if a magazine goes under? What if- What if- negative, but this time I'm like, I've already been laid off, so I'm not going to be afraid of it. And then, you know, that's the freedom that it gives you. It's all about, I call it how much rent spaces in your head. So if you've got all this extra space in your head that's not filled up with fear and doubt worry, then other creative ideas can come in. And that's when I came up with an idea of doing a joint anniversary promotion with Guess jeans. And I ended up winning Salesperson of the Year for the entire company. 

Thor Challgren  25:54

That's great. 

John Livesay  25:55

So I thought I'm the same person whether I'm being laid off or winning this award. And that was really, like, I'm not going to go on a self esteem roller coaster either. And then they promoted me to the corporate division after that, and then a year after that they go, you know what we're having budget cuts again, and you were the last person in the department. So you'll be the first person laid off even though you one salesperson of the year, and I went, Okay, I got it. I'm not going back and they go, we'll try and find you another job. And my friend said, that's like going back to an abusive spouse, don't do it, you know, start your own thing. So that's what I did.

Thor Challgren  26:27

Because of course, you know, every company is going to say, let's let go of the Salesperson of the Year. That makes perfect sense.

John Livesay  26:35

Now, the criteria is seniority not revenue.

Thor Challgren  26:38

Right, right. But now do you think your mindset at that point was dramatically different than it was the first time around?

John Livesay  26:44

It was actually. It still wasn't fun and it still hurt, but I didn't feel nearly as disrupted I guess. It's kind of like your first earthquake in LA, you're like, what the heck. And then you have another one. You're like, Oh, I know what this is. So there was some familiarity. I think that's part of the shock, like the virus in the quarantine, nobody's experienced that. So it's hard to process this. There's no frame of reference. So with a frame of reference I've been laid off, I'll be fine. Okay, this isn't fun, but I'll deal with it.

Thor Challgren  27:16

I wonder if that's gonna be something as we look in the fullness of time at our lives, and see that, you know, maybe 30-40 years ago, someone had a career where they were at a company for a long time. And then then those sorts of times where you're with a company start to become smaller and smaller. And so each time it happens, you're like, Oh, I got this, I can handle it. I mean, that's something that to your point of thinking back to those experiences that you had of success, the more that you can go, Oh, you know what, I had that experience before, and I was fine with it. In fact, I became Salesperson of the Year that's how fine I was.

John Livesay  27:50

I just want to comment on that because this concept of our comfort zone again and picking what we perceive to be the safe choice. And how many more times do we have to get messages to go out on your own, try take a risk. Get out of your comfort zone, don't keep staying in the corporate world. And it wasn't easy. So now six years and I've got it up and running, but there's not the consistent flow of income when you're starting and all that good stuff. And now what's so interesting for me Thor, is I'm sitting here with a great deal of empathy and sadness for people who've been laid off, and the volume of people who've been laid off or gotten their salaries cut by 20 or even 50%. I'm so glad I went out and created my own source of revenue as opposed to being dependent on a job, not being laid off, or my salary cut, or all these other things that most people who decided not to take the risk to go work- and it's not for everyone. There's nothing wrong with working for the company, believe me. But from my own personal story and watching it, I was like, wow, sometimes doing, quote, the perceived safe thing is really the most dangerous thing.

Thor Challgren  28:55

And I think it's also possible that people will think to themselves, Well, I work for a big company. I'm not like John. John is going out there, and he's an entrepreneur. But I would argue that even if you work for a big company, you are going to be better off if you think of yourself as a product, as a brand, that just currently happens to be lending your services to that company, and that you're always looking to increase your value as a product so that you can increase the opportunities that you have with whatever companies you want to work for.

John Livesay  29:29

It reminds me of people who decided they're going to renew their wedding vows every five or seven years. And not assuming that just because we said yes now means the next 20-30 years. And so if you have that mindset, and a job event, it's like we're both deciding if this is continuing to work for both interests, best interest.

Thor Challgren  29:45

You mentioned earlier about this idea of the ladder of success and climbing that and you have a great metaphor in the book where you talk about these five rungs of a ladder and how you move in a sales sense. How you move from being invisible to insignificant to interesting to intriguing, and finally to irresistible. So you're kind of moving up the ladder. And that's your metaphor for how you move from the start of the sale to closing the sale. Tell me a little how that works and how you sort of move up that ladder?

John Livesay  30:20

Well, you know, the old way of salespeople looking at potential clients is they would break them into a, b and c prospects. 90%, they're going to buy, 50% are B, and you know, 20% are C. The problem is no potential client ever thinks of themselves as a letter. And so I created this ladder to say, Where do clients see you? Are you invisible? Are you insignificant? You know, they know what you do, but they don't care. Or are you at the "interesting" rung of the ladder? And Fortune and Inc. magazine actually interviewed me about that, because I said, it's like being stuck at the friendzone at work. You know, people can get so- Oh, they're interested. They ask for more information. And they're like, yeah, there's someone's in Interested doesn't mean they're going out with you on a date either. Oh, we're stuck at this interesting rung, how do we move up and we say and do come up with something that's intriguing them to want to continue the situation. And then of course, you know, the irresistible rung is where people are your brand ambassadors, and they rave to you and send you referrals. The problem sometimes happens is people take that relationship for granted. And then the competition comes along. So it's a really great roadmap for everyone, but particularly for salespeople to identify where are these clients on the rung and what do I need to do and who can help me get moved up a rung?

Thor Challgren  31:34

And it's a great point to that you can move up to a rung of irresistible with a client and but don't take that for granted because that can change.

John Livesay  31:42

Oh yes. Especially now. And you know, everyone's targeting everyone else's best clients. So, you know, you're naive to think that just because you have a relationship, and I've seen ad agencies with clients for decades, and then suddenly, we're done.

Thor Challgren  31:56

Well, in 2018, you did something that most people people would probably be terrified by. In fact, if you ask people what is the thing they're most afraid of supposedly public speaking is number one, and death is number two. But you gave a TEDx talk and your talk was titled "Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life." And in the talk, you said, you kind of have to get out of your comfort zone. And I imagine at that point, even though you'd been pitching, you were probably comfortable in a room. Was giving a TEDx talk something that was outside of your comfort zone?

Thor Challgren  32:27

Big time. First of all, giving a talk to national sales meeting with a ballroom full of 300 salespeople is very different messaging, because you're about giving them some skills and my case storytelling and really focusing on their industry and what their challenges are so that there's some more sales at the end of that talk and workshop, hopefully. But the TEDx talk, this is a broader- what's your idea worth sharing, so much more personal, and you have to come up with something that has nothing to do with the business world really. But it was also, you know, I've been speaking professionally for 15 years. And that was a big marker. When I decided to focus on it full time of you know, if you can get a TEDx talk gives you a lot of credibility. A lot of people discover you that way. I remember asking a friend of mine saying, you know, I want to give a TEDx talk and you know, Thor, there was a part of me going on, boy, who do you think you are to give a TEDx talk? And so you have to overcome that negative self talk of I'm not enough and all that junk and he said, Oh, I know someone down in San Diego that produces those events. He trains people on exactly how to get them to say it so I went and took his weekend workshop which was great

Thor Challgren  33:36

You invested in yourself.

John Livesay  33:37

I did again and I think of myself like a stock and ironically, I heard Reese Witherspoon say that about herself. And I thought, I love that. You know, I know my work ethic and my skill set. I don't know AT&T's. Not that there's anything wrong with AT&T, I'm sure of the stock, but I'd rather put my money on my own stuff. So I thought, Okay, great. I've got the video. I know what my talks about now and I'm ready to go and it took me a year and a half to get a yes, I applied over 15 times.

Thor Challgren  34:03


John Livesay  34:04

And I thought, Oh, I got to take my own medicine here. I'm not taking rejection personally. And they would say to me, Listen, you're a good speaker. And it's just your topic doesn't fit our theme. I'm like, oh, because you again, it's part of a bigger picture. The whole day is, you know, a series of things. The one that finally said, Yes, to me, their theme was amazement. So I had to work that into my talk- that you'll be amazed at what you can do when you get out of your comfort zone. But again, a lot of people, they just see the talk, and they see it got a lot of views, and they go, Oh, well-

Thor Challgren  34:36

Over a million.

John Livesay  34:37

Thanks. They think, Oh, well, that was easy for you. No one really understands. Or even when I get off stage, sometimes people go, god, you're a natural speaker. I just say thank you. I doubt people say that to Michael Phelps. You know, this concept that people don't see the work that goes into something, they just see the outcome. They assume, oh, you're a natural speaker or Michael Phelps is just you know, genetically gifted to be so good at swimming. I actually met him at an event from selling advertising to Speedo, and he was their spokesperson at the time. And that wasn't an easy sale, believe me a high fashion magazine and Speedo. But the point of the story is not how I did that. But how I got to talk to Michael Phelps and being a former lifeguard, obviously, a big thrill. And I said, Michael, everyone says you're a great swimmer because your feet are big. They're like fins and your lung capacity is bigger than most people. I'm guessing there's something else. Yes, John. When I was young, my coach said to me, Michael, are you willing to work out on Sunday? Yes, coach. Great. We just got 52 more workouts a year than the competition. And I thought, Ah, so what I'm talking about this encounter, then I say to my audience, all right, what are you willing to do that the competition isn't to become an Olympic level in whatever your industry is?

Thor Challgren  35:51

Your history demonstrates that that there was a job you wanted and you went out there on your own to interview for it. I think in your book, you even talk about, you mocked up, what, 90 days worth of ads to show them this is what you would get if you hire me. So people have to think about what is the competition out there doing and what are you willing to be the best at what you can deliver?

John Livesay  36:14

Yes, you want to take away the risk of- Listen, I'm acting as if I already have the job. Here's how I would convince Lexus to advertise. And here's who else I would call on. And then they think, oh, instead of just coming in and saying you have a plan, or you're somebody that doesn't require a lot of hand holding, because you're in LA, and we're in New York, you're actually showing us.

Thor Challgren  36:33

In his book, "Think and Grow Rich," Napoleon Hill talks about that multiple times. He tells a story about his son who wanted a job working for a company that made hearing aid devices and his son wrote up a business plan and said, This is what I would do for the next two years to market this product. And that was what got him the job and ended up being a career in that industry.


John Livesay  36:56

Wow, that's quite ambitious. You know, most people can't plan past 30 days, let alone 90. But two years is- I don't think people do that anymore. Things change too fast. You know, they used to ask you that, where do you see yourself in five years? I was like, let's just try to get through the next year, wee where we all are. 

Thor Challgren  37:12

Well, and that's a good point. And I think we've all had this lesson in the last two or three months with the pandemic, that things that we would have never thought could either go away or be diminished or be challenged. were suddenly like, Oh, I guess restaurants are something that could go away. Like with your career now, do you think it's wise for us to always be thinking about how could I put myself out of business or create additional opportunities so that I'm not a victim of change down the road? You know, what I mean? 

John Livesay  37:47

Ah yes. I think it just keeps going back to the concept of don't put all your eggs in one basket. Don't just have one source of being your main revenue. Diversify, it'd be easier, like I get all my revenue from speaking and I travel. And the irony is even if live events had not been stopped, what I see happening to a lot of speakers is they get burnt out, it can be very lonely on the road. They don't want to travel anymore, and yet they haven't planned for that day. So they don't have any other sources of revenue, whether it's a virtual talk or an online course. 

Thor Challgren  38:16

And I suspect that they're probably people out there in that position who are thinking, Okay, so maybe this- well, not maybe, but this does come back. There is a demand still for this, but maybe it looks different. And so if it does, how can I adjust and pivot so that I fit the need of where it's going to be in the future? It's like the old saying that Wayne Gretzky had, which was he skates to where the puck will be, not where the pass goes.

John Livesay  38:45

Exactly. And of course, the companies that do that- I always compare blockbuster versus Netflix. I'm sure the people at Blockbuster were very busy and focused on being the best at what they do. Whereas Netflix is like you know what this sending out of the disk, we could just do that forever. Or we could try something else.

Thor Challgren  39:03

It's fascinating looking at that example, because it would have been defensible, I think, for Blockbuster to say, Well, people love the experience of coming into the store and picking up the little slip cases and looking at them, and they like spending 20 minutes and that will never go away because people always-and then Netflix said, No, I think they'll be fine getting in the mail and turns out even that they were the ones that put themselves out of business and said, that is going away. And what people really want is they just want it delivered when they want it. 

Thor Challgren  39:34

As someone who delivers keynote speeches, you give workshops, you help people develop pitches, you have some specific advice on how to be a better presenter and you talk about things like stacking your moments of certainty, standing in a superhero pose and increasing your energy. Tell me about those and what's something that people can do at their next presentation to be a better stronger presenter.

John Livesay  40:00

Well avoid this big mistake that most people make if this is not their career, and sometimes even if it is. And they get up in front of an audience, and they waste that opening 90 seconds, which is when you need to grab people. And they'll go, Oh, thanks for that nice intro. I'm excited to be here. And then people like, Oh, God, who cares? It's not about you. It's about the audience. So the best thing you can do, even when people see it done, like I did in my TEDx- in TEDx, you don't do that. Well, like for example, when I've spoken at the Global Truth Center, I take a beat, I look people in the eye, and people are looking going so you can start talking anytime soon? But you're quote, owning the room, owning the space because confident people are comfortable with silence. And then I start right into a story to pull them in. None of that "Thanks, I'm excited to be here" stuff.

Thor Challgren  40:50

I heard someone say in the context of speaking one time that the reason that we are so reluctant to have any empty spaces, we're used to, in conversations having someone jump in and interrupt us. When you're a speaker, no one's gonna jump in and interrupt you so you can take the time that you want and those moments of silence, they're okay if the audience is trusting that you know where you're going.

John Livesay  41:16

Yes. And that's what good stories do. When I was on television, it was live TV, and you know, your adrenaline's going, your heart's pumping. There's a robotic camera coming at you, and it's over in three minutes. And you know, I knew what my answers were going to be pretty much but you still have to be spontaneous in case they ask you something that wasn't planned. But you know, they asked me a softball question like John, what makes a good pitch? "Oh, good pitches clear, concise and compelling." And then I watched the footage back with my media coach, and he said, You know, I know you're afraid of dead air time on TV. But you said that so fast, nobody could absorb it. So take a beat between those three words. So now it sounds like a good pitch is clear, concise and compelling.

Thor Challgren  41:58

As we're wrapping up I want to speak to that listener whose business or industry has been affected by everything that's going on. And I know you have some tools that can help people. And I'll link up to those in the show notes, including your course, which takes them through the process of helping them develop their story and know how to deploy that in sales, whether it's themselves, their product that they're working on. But if someone was going to do one thing today, or this week, what can they start to do right now with the power of story to help improve their life in their career? Where should they start? 

John Livesay  42:33

You shoud start by making sure you have a great elevator pitch. It is not a 10 minute invitation for a monologue. "Hey, what do you do?" Oh, well, now I have permission to talk to you for 10 minutes and not- So make sure that your elevator pitch is all those things I just said clear, concise and compelling. And the whole goal of an elevator pitch is to intrigue people enough to say that's interesting, Thor, tell me more.

Thor Challgren  42:57

So you're developing it so that it's something that's on the shorter side, but hopefully it's provocative so that you leave them asking more and then you should probably I'm guessing, be prepared to tell them more right?

John Livesay  43:09

Big time. Like, here's mine. You know how so many salespeople struggle to not be seen as just a commodity and not fight about price? Well, I'm known as the Pitch Whisperer and companies bring me in at their national sales meeting to teach their sales team how to become a storyteller. And whoever tells the best story gets the Yes, and when that happens, they all become revenue rock stars.

Thor Challgren  43:32

So if I'm in the elevator with you, and I hear Pitch Whisperer, chances are I'm going to say, what's that? Tell me more about that. That's provocative, right?

John Livesay  43:41

Exactly. I know what a dog whisperer is and a horse whisperer, and then I have a whole answer ready to go. Well, much like a dog or horse whisperer. I calm people down when they get nervous in front of people and "Oh, okay, what else do you do revenue Rockstar. How's that happen?" Oh, well, storytelling makes you irresistible and magnetic. "How does that happen?" How does that happen- So it's a conversation.

Thor Challgren  44:02

Right. But it starts with you having to understand your story and figure out what it is about that story that's unique or makes people want to know more. And that's what you lead with. Right?

John Livesay  44:13

Yes. And you know, the biggest thing is, don't confuse people. A confused mind always says no. You have to be really clear: Here's who I help and what problem I solve and just like the storytelling, and here's what happens after I solve that problem. So if you look at that little elevator pitch, it's very clear that I help salespeople who are struggling Oh, they have a problem. Just fighting it out on price. Even people not in sales go Oh, I imagine that's happens a lot. You're the Pitch Whisperer, your solution is you teach some storytelling? And whoever tells the best story gets the yes? I didn't know that. After you do that, what happens- oh the revenue rockstars Oh my God, I totally get who you help, what problem you solve and what their life is like, after you come and give a talk.

Thor Challgren  44:56

That's a great point about not confusing them. It reminds me I don't know if you know the book, "Story Brand" by Donald Miller. He talks he talks about that concept and said, confused people don't buy and that if you overwhelm them with information, then they just stop they shut down. So your your job as a storyteller then is to make it something that's clear and understandable but leaves them wanting to know more, right?

John Livesay  45:21

Yep, that's the whole goal of the pitch is to get the second date.

Thor Challgren  45:25

Well, John, for people who want to know more, what's the best way for them to reach out to you?

John Livesay  45:30

Well, everyone listening I'm going to give you a free gift, which is a PDF with some of the tips from my book, "Better Selling Through Storytelling." All you have to do is text the word "pitch," p-i-t-c-h to this number 66866. So put the number in first and then for the message, type in the word pitch, and you'll get a free PDF. And if you want to follow me, I'm @thepitchwhisperer on Instagram. Or you can just go to my website,


Thor Challgren  45:59

Perfect. Well, I will have all of that in the show notes, including I'm gonna have the link for your sales course. And we'll make sure that the audience has the ability to reach out to you that way. And through the methods that you suggested. So, John, thank you so much. I really I love this conversation. I had a really good time today. And I hope you did too. And I really appreciate you being on the show.

John Livesay  46:19

Oh, it's great. Thanks for asking such prepared questions.

Thor Challgren  46:23

All right. Thank you and have a great day. 


Thor Challgren  46:27

All right. Thanks for listening to the Course Change podcast. If you liked this episode, I would be incredibly grateful to you if you jump over to the Apple Podcasts app and leave a five star written review. This one simple act will help others find the show and build a community of people who support each other. You can always find me on Instagram @ThorChallgren. Send me a DM and let me know what you thought. Thanks again for listening and until next time, here's to your success.