How Jeff Bezos Uses Storytelling To Engage Audiences

Carmine GalloApril 18, 20233 min

Storytelling is a foundational skill for entrepreneurs and founders to attract investors, employees, and customers. People want to partner with someone who’s smart, of course, but they also want to be a part of an exciting and inspiring journey.

The story you tell–and how you tell it–is critical to building a winning team.

While interviewing former Amazon executives for my new book, The Bezos Blueprint, I learned that Jeff Bezos was a captivating storyteller, a skill that he learned as a young boy who devoured science fiction novels. Bezos continued to sharpen his storytelling skills as he grew older.

When he tells the founding story of how Amazon started, Bezos uses an advanced storytelling tactic familiar to Hollywood screenwriters: Beats. A ‘beat’ is a scene that keeps the action moving and the audience engaged.

While a two-hour movie might contain fifteen or more major story beats, there are three essential ones that you should weave into a business pitch or presentation.

1. The Catalyst

This is the inciting incident, the scene that triggers the adventure. It’s the scene in Notting Hill when Hugh Grant walks around a corner and bumps into Julia Roberts, spilling orange juice on her blouse. There’s no movie without the incident.

For Jeff Bezos, the inciting incident occurred while he was working for a hedge fund in New York City. He learned that the Internet was growing at 2300 percent a year. If he hadn’t stumbled upon that statistic, he would not have pursued the idea of selling products online.

Ask yourself, “What inspired my idea?” It might have been a book, an event, a problem in need of a solution. Once you’ve identified the incident that started the adventure, share it with your audience.

2. All Is Lost

This is one of my favorite scenes in any good movie. It’s pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for.

The ‘all is lost’ moment is when it appears the hero will never reach their goal. George Lucas, a student of storytelling, created an iconic ‘all is lost’ moment in the original Stars Wars when the central characters are nearly crushed in a trash compactor. The experience changes them and strengthens their determination.

These scenes are so critical that mythologist Joseph Campbell traced them back to some of the earliest narratives in recorded history. He called them the “dark night of the soul.”

Bezos’ dark night occurred after Amazon’s share price collapsed by 90 percent after the dot-com bust. One popular business publication ran the headline, “Amazon.Bomb.” It’s a headline that Bezos loves to bring up nearly every time he shares the Amazon story. Why? Because the story of how Amazon survived reflects the enduring values of grit, determination, and a commitment to excellence.

Ask yourself the following questions:

“What obstacles nearly derailed my plans?”

“What hurdles did my team overcome and how has it shaped our values?”

“What problems did I face while building my company and what lessons did I learn?

The way you climbed out of the abyss–and what you learned from the experience–will inspire your audience.

3. Fun And Games 

This is the beat or beats when screenwriters create funny, light-hearted moments to break the tension. Harry Potter fans will recognize the scene instantly–it’s literally when the characters have fun playing the game of Quidditch.

Bezos relies on several ‘fun and games’ scenes when he recounts the founding of Amazon. For example, while Bezos was traveling west on the now-famous road trip to Seattle, he called an attorney to file the papers of incorporation. Bezos named the company Cadabra. But the attorney didn’t understand it and repeated, “Cadaver?”

Bezos got the hint and changed the name to Amazon.

The Cadabra scene isn’t necessary to the Amazon story. But Bezos realizes that a good story informs and entertains.

Don’t give your audience a chance to get bored. Use beats to the action moving, and your listeners will be glued to every word.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Carmine Gallo, Author, The Bezos Blueprint: Communication Secrets of the World’s Greatest Salesman

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