By Allen Haynes May 15, 2024

Listen to the podcast.

Andy Stanley (00:02):
Hey everybody. Welcome to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast from the Vault. But before we jump into today’s content, I wanted to share an exciting offer from our friends at belay, A free resource to help busy leaders reclaim their time, and of course maximize their productivity. So if you’re looking to find a rhythm of productivity in your work routine, belay can help. This is why they are our primary advertiser because we believe so much in what they do. As you know, leading any organization large or small means spending your valuable time and energy on the things that really matter most. And the thing about belay is belay frees you up to focus on the things that only you can do are the things that only you should be doing With exceptional US-based virtual assistants, accounting professionals and social media managers, belay can help you find the right hire right now to help get started.

Belay is offering a free download of their ebook, rise Up and Lead. Well rise up and lead well. The sooner rising leaders accept that it’s okay to ask for help, the more sustainable their workdays become. So this resource provides valuable insights about how leveraging an assistant will change your life and maximize your time. So make sure you claim this free download of Rise Up and Lead. Well, before the opportunity is gone, just text the word Andy to 5 5 1 2 3. That’s a NDY to five five. 1, 2, 3. And now let’s dive into today’s content from the vault in the studio With me today is Donald Miller and we’re going to talk about messaging, creating talks, whether it’s for the marketplace leader, the business leader, or the pastor out there, you’re going to enjoy this conversation. For those of you who don’t know, Don is the CEO of StoryBrand, a company that helps businesses and nonprofits clarify their messaging. He spent an entire day with our staff. I’ve asked everybody in our organization to read the book. So here’s Donald.

Donald Miller (01:53):
Andy. We’re both using this same interview for, you’re using it for your podcast. I’m using it for mine. I know. So I’m going to go first. Thanks for being on

Andy Stanley (02:01):
Donald. I want to thank you for being on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast.

Donald Miller (02:05):
Thank you for being on Building a StoryBrand. You and I have known each other for quite a long time, and we met at Catalyst conference, and I say it was 10 years ago, I don’t know, but it was a long time ago and I was pretty new to the speaking world, and that was by far the biggest crowd I’ve ever had. The privilege might still be the biggest crowd I’ve ever been from. And you spoke and you spoke after me, and you were kind of the closer, and when you spoke in the workbook, you had blank lines for people to fill out. I think you might’ve had one point. I mean, it was a very simple message. And I remember wondering as a new communicator, okay, is Andy speaking beneath these people in the sense that 10,000, 40-year-old business people in the room, I remember having that question and 10 years later, I’m talking to a lady, she was actually at that conference and I asked her, what do you remember?

And she remembered every point that you had. And then I said, do you remember any of the other speakers? She said, yeah, I remember. So-and-so spoke. I said, do you remember that? I spoke and she did not remember that I spoke. That was one of the things that taught me, again, you are a master at what you do, and I think you’re one of the best speakers period on the planet. And here’s what you taught me, and I don’t know if you’ve ever viewed it this way. I prepared a speech that time and I want it to be entertaining. I want it to be informative, wanted to be interesting. You guided people through an exercise in memorization. You wanted them to remember very certain things. That’s true. As you walked off that stage and they walked out of that arena 10 years later, the woman remembered not just that you spoke and that you were good, she remembered your points.

That to me was that helped me understand what I’m trying to get companies to do in their marketing. I’m trying to get companies in their marketing to do what you did and do every Sunday at church guide people through an exercise in memorization. It was groundbreaking for me. I’m wondering, how do you do it? How do you prepare? What are you thinking about when you sit down to prepare a talk? And if you don’t mind, well, let me ask you, have you ever viewed it that way that you’re guiding people through an exercise and memorization?

Andy Stanley (04:19):
Well, lemme tell a quick story. That was a defining moment for me in that regard. When I was in graduate school however many years ago, that was a lot. I was asked to speak at a chapel for a Christian high school in the area. I was living in Dallas. And so I was sitting in my little efficiency apartment and I mean efficient, like you could do everything at one time from one spot, one of those kind apartments bars on the window, not a great part of Dallas. And I thought to myself, here comes another chapel, another unknown chapel speaker. These kids don’t care. They’re high school. It’s Friday. And I had all this stuff I had planned and prepared because I was all geeked out. I was a seminarian. And it dawned on me, okay, what are they going to remember? And I decided in that moment I was going to create a talk for high school students at a Christian school chapel that they would actually remember.

That was actually my goal. And I taught this story from the Old Testament about this guy named Naman and he has leprosy. And I tell the whole story, and I finished the narrative, the Old Testament narrative with this one idea to understand why submit and apply, to understand why submit and apply. Sometimes God asks us to do things we don’t understand, to understand why submit and apply. So that was my talk. So I finish three years later. Three years later, I’m standing in the college ministry of this same church that had the high school and I’m welcoming college students. And in walks this guy with some guys and he looks up at me, he said, Hey, you spoke at my chapel. I’m like, where? He said, here at the such and such academy. And he looks up and he says to understand why submit and apply and just walk down in the room. It really was a defining moment. I thought, that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to take somewhat complex things. Was it

Donald Miller (06:12):
At that point when he said that, that you went, I like that. That’s

Andy Stanley (06:16):
What I wanted. I can still see his face. He never, and the thing is, to your point where when we talked earlier, he did not know my name. He didn’t walk up and say, oh, you’re Andy Stanley. No, he just looked at me. You’re the chapel speaker. To understand why submit and apply. I thought that’s what I’m going to do the rest of my life. That along with something I heard Gary Smalley say many years later, just for me galvanized this idea that memorable is portable and portable has to be memorable. And if my life ambition is to impart practical ideas and truth to people, then it’s got to be memorable and portable. And I have, that’s been what’s driven me ever since.

Donald Miller (06:52):
Yeah, it’s interesting that I usually ask two questions when I’m in front of a big audience talking about messaging, and I say, what was Jeb Bush’s plan for America back in the primaries? I’ve never had anybody. Exactly. I get crickets. He wrote a book on education. He wrote a book on immigration. He’s a scholar. He was my choice. He’s the guy I wanted to win. And then I asked, what did Donald Trump want to do? And everybody can say it. And it’s interesting that the country voted for, there’s a bunch of dynamics there you’d have to unpack. They voted for what they could remember. They voted for a narrative they could remember likers don’t like the president. That was a messaging,

Andy Stanley (07:28):
The last leader, cast, leader, cast events ago. It was all business leaders. And I was trying to make this point, and I asked for President Obama’s one liner, Hillary’s one. I went through a whole bunch and the only two anyone could even shout out from the audience, even halfway acting. In fact, to your point, everybody else, it was kind of crickets because they all kept changing their songs. But hope we can believe in or hope and change and make America great again. Everybody knew. I’m like, there it is. And I think this is, we should come back and just talk about this idea because I’ve never explored it, but I’m convinced it’s true. People say when it comes to leadership, they say they want character, but they always follow clarity. Yes, they say they want character. We want somebody who’s a great whatever. But at the end of the day, we intuitively, instinctively follow clarity.

Donald Miller (08:19):
And that’s what we always say. People will not move into confusion. Yeah. They will not follow you if they’re confused about where you’re taking them.

Andy Stanley (08:28):
Even if you’re right. I mean, being right is almost irrelevant. If it’s confusing, they just won’t go.

Donald Miller (08:33):
And then if you think about the narrative structure of it, make America Great again is roughly an elusively, the climactic scene of a story.

Andy Stanley (08:42):

Donald Miller (08:43):
I’m with her. Is not,

Andy Stanley (08:46):
I wasn’t going to quote it, but exactly.

Donald Miller (08:49):
Now, if she would’ve said She’s with us, she would’ve got a lot more traction. But she said, I’m with her. So that’s the story about you, not me. And then I don’t know what the climactic scene is. Shining city on a hill is something that we’re going to create together and so on and so on. So we’re not talking about Republican, Democrat or any sort of policies here. We’re talking about just the importance of creating clear message. I want to back up a little bit. Normally if somebody is asked to give a talk, especially at the age you were at that college chapel, they are immediately thinking about themselves. They’re thinking about, how am I going to come off? Are these people going to like me, blah, blah, blah.

Andy Stanley (09:23):
I was high school, and even more so with high school students. That’s to me, one of the most intimidating environments imaginable. But yes, to your point, keep,

Donald Miller (09:30):
What is it about you that you had already experienced the sort of Jim Collins paradigm shift where you’re falling in love with the ideas more than yourself. He talks about that as a transformation or an evolution of a leader. What is it about you that early, and I’m asking you to brag a little bit or maybe explain something that happened that allowed you to care more about this audience, understanding something than even knowing who you are or how big a deal you are or whatever. What happened to you? I asked Pete Carroll this question. Let me give you a little permission to sort of expound, because Pete did. He’s one of the few people I’ve actually asked a question like that to who did. He said, Don, I had a lot of success early on. I just found out it was really meaningless and empty and that I actually helped somebody else succeed. And it was just so much more life giving that I just got hooked on that. You know what I mean?

Andy Stanley (10:20):
So it was a bit self-serving not to be self-serving.

Donald Miller (10:22):
Exactly. Someone

Andy Stanley (10:23):
Famous said that a long time ago. He was

Donald Miller (10:25):
Saying, look, I succeeded a lot. And I was pretty much just depressing when I helped somebody else succeed. It was like, wait, this feels good.

Andy Stanley (10:32):
Yeah. I think the answer for me, and again, this is just my first pass, this is a really great question. I think the thing that breaks my heart, and I think for every leader, this is a question we should all wrestle to the ground. In fact, for every person, what breaks your heart? Organizations have been built around that question. And the thing that has consistently broken my heart since college days when I first started in ministry was watching people make decisions that undermined their own success, undermined their own happiness and undermined their own relationships. There’s enough stress and there’s enough things we can’t control in life that are bad. But to watch a person make decisions that’s going to undermine their own future, that to me, I think gets me more amped up than anything.

Donald Miller (11:17):
Is it because you grew up in the house that you grew up in? You were able to see it. You obviously grew up in a house that produced produce wisdom for a living, mean that’s what they did.

Andy Stanley (11:25):
It was a machine.

Donald Miller (11:26):
This is what we sell. We sell wisdom. And is that why, or

Andy Stanley (11:33):
I don’t know the answer to that. I’ve just always felt like there’s a path, there’s a track, there’s a decisionmaking pathway or story that leads to a happier ending. And of course as a Christian, there’s a framework for that, but this is true for everybody. That’s not a Christian thing. That’s just a thing. So I’ve just always been driven to help people make better and live with fewer regrets. And the way my dad would talk about it, sometimes we would hear preachers and he would say, that guy doesn’t have a burden. That guy doesn’t have a burden. That’s how he would say it. What does that mean? Well, that was his way of saying that guy is just spouting off information. He’s just talking. There’s not something on the inside of him that’s driving him. And of course, back then it was always himms, not himms and hers.

And so I feel like when I get up to speak, I don’t feel like I’m ready. And this is in front of leaders or folks at our church. I don’t feel like I’m ready until there’s something inside of me that is more concerned about them getting what I have to say than them liking me. And I’m like everybody else. I want to be liked. I don’t want to look stupid or sound stupid, but I just know. And I tell our communicators all the time, until you are concerned about the guy on the back row who’s not coming back, or the woman who finally got her boyfriend to come, and he’s going to give it one shot. If that person or that image hasn’t grabbed you, you’re not really ready. I mean, your outline might be perfect and your slides might be ready, but you’re not ready because at some point, this has to be about the audience, not the person standing in front of the audience. So

Donald Miller (13:05):
Anyway, may we go through the five questions you ask when you’re preparing to talk? Sure. Yeah. The first one is what do they need to know? What is the one thing that needs to be communicated? It’s on page 180 7 of you communicating for a change.

Andy Stanley (13:17):
These are the five questions that I honestly keep in front of me. I get stuck all the time. And when I do, that’s when I pull out these questions because it’s this simple. And usually I’ve confused myself. And if the speaker is confused,

Donald Miller (13:29):
You’re lost in the weeds. Good

Andy Stanley (13:30):
Luck for the audience. Yeah. Howard Hendricks used to say, if it is a mist in the pulpit, it will be a fog in the pew. So if the communicator is the least bit confused, good luck for everybody else.

Donald Miller (13:42):
Lemme back up up. Why one thing? Why is it one thing that you want them to know? Is it they can’t walk out with two? Well,

Andy Stanley (13:48):
Because again, to what you said earlier, I want people to remember things. I want people to be in the middle of a decision and remember, oh yeah, my friends determine the direction and quality of my life. My friends determine the direction and quality of my life. I want there to be enough rhetoric around these statements and balance around these statements that they actually pop into people’s minds at critical times. So yeah, I don’t think I can do that very well with three or four or five things. And I’m not against going through lots of information. And the context determines this. And you

Donald Miller (14:17):
Can go through a ton of information as long as it’s on the umbrella of one thing, right?

Andy Stanley (14:22):
Well, if people are taking notes, if they’re going to get a handout, if this is something they have to do at work. So there’s a differences between training for a skill versus motivating and inspiring. So on Sunday or when I’m in front of a general congregation, I think I’m lucky if they can take one thing home. So I’ve decided I should probably determine what that one thing is. But as you know, people hear all kinds of things we said or didn’t say.

Donald Miller (14:49):
Do you remember there was a little church? Well, you obviously remember there was, there’s a little big church across the street from the White House, and I can’t remember if it was the first inauguration or the second of Barack Obama, but somehow I had a buddy in the administration. He said, Hey, I got a seat for you in here if you want to sneak in. I snuck up into the balcony. Betsy and I did actually and watched you deliver the first you were there. I was there. I was in the balcony. Oh, wow. I had a view of the president and you and the entire, I mean, everybody you can think of who has power was in that

Andy Stanley (15:19):
Room. Yes, they were.

Donald Miller (15:21):

Andy Stanley (15:23):
You don’t have to remind me,

Donald Miller (15:24):
Man, you just hit it out the park. And it was really something phenomenal to watch. Walk me through. You’re just preparing for that moment. I had heard that very similar talk to that before that you had given. So I knew, and I just thought, this is just perfect for this room, but you got people of all faiths, all stripes. The president was glued to you. It was insane. I mean, how his eyes did not leave

Andy Stanley (15:55):
You. And you know what? And

Donald Miller (15:57):
There are no cameras watching him.

Andy Stanley (15:57):
No, that’s right. No reporters only one pool reporter in the room. This was like the real deal. And he wrote me, sent me a handwritten note after that and referenced specifically what I said. And wow, I’ll treasure that forever. But talk about intimidating, because in that moment, I know this is a little bit off the topic, everywhere else you and I go to speak, we’re speaking to a crowd in that occasion. I was invited to speak to one person while the crowd watched, and it just happened to be the president of the United States. Again.

Donald Miller (16:34):
When you talked about how he should, you addressed how he should use his power without coming off as condescending or sermon ear or any of that, it was just wisdom.

Andy Stanley (16:44):
Well, it was intimidating is what it was. Great. That was the longest, the longest 15 minutes of my life and one of the greatest honors of my life will

Donald Miller (16:53):
Just reiterate what you said. How can you put it for

Andy Stanley (16:56):
The Yeah. Well, again, it has to be simple. And it has. So the question was, what do you do when it dawns on you that you’re the most powerful person in the room? You leverage your power for the benefit of the other people in the room. And

Donald Miller (17:06):
You gave these beautiful examples of Jesus got when he realized as the most powerful person, it gets down on the knees and he washes somebody’s feet. He serves, he serves, he

Andy Stanley (17:13):
Serves. I wanted to fascinating. I wanted to use a New Testament narrative. Everybody goes Old Testament because it’s safer, Isaiah old Joshua, but I want it to be New Testament. I wanted it to be Jesus. And obviously I can’t tell the most powerful person in the room what to do, but who other than the President of the United States or a dignitary or a king from another nation walks into a room. And I mean, think of it. Every single room you walk into, you are the most powerful person in the room. And that passage where somehow John knew that it dawns on Jesus that all authority had been given, and the next thing he does is wash his feet. It’s just,

Donald Miller (17:53):
Whew. It’s powerful. Yeah, it’s mind blowing and it’s irrefutable the way that you said it. And you say you had a sermon for one person and you did. But I sat there looking at Eric Holder, I sat there looking at Joe Biden. And unless the president is in the room, they are the most powerful person in the room. And they know exactly what that feels like every time. And you could tell almost to a person in their eyes was this is extremely helpful. I haven’t known what to do. It was really, really a neat moment. So the one thing you want them to know for the president is that the second question that you ask, why do they need to know it? And from page 180 8 of your book answering Why provides an incentive for your audience to follow you to the next part of your message. If listeners are not convinced, they need to know what you’re about to tell them. They’ll consider your information irrelevant.

Andy Stanley (18:51):

Donald Miller (18:51):
Are the stakes. What’s at stake for you knowing or

Andy Stanley (18:53):
Not knowing this? And our tendency sometimes, and I struggle with this, I listen to all my messages I watch. I mean, if you’ll either, you’ll either get

Donald Miller (19:01):
Better. That sounds like a nightmare for me to have to

Andy Stanley (19:03):
Watch. Well, if we have a chance, I’ll tell you a funny story about that. But anyway, so yeah, I watch my messages and this is the part. Sometimes I skip because I get so excited about what that I forget to bring people along the journey with me. So I have to stop and say, okay, this is what I want ’em to know, but why is this? I’ve got to make them feel this. Or to the point of the book, nobody’s going to follow me on a journey that they don’t feel like this is something they need. And it’s easy to skip that part because it’s not new and it’s not information. It’s just kind of churning up. Or as I talk about in the book, creating the tension, there has to be a mystery to be solved or a question to be answered, or a problem to be solved. And so this is where you create incentive for people to go, wow, I wasn’t thinking about that when I walked in, but you’ve got me thinking about it now. I hope you can deliver on this promise. So super important part.

Donald Miller (19:55):
Okay, three, what do they need to do? Calling them to action.

Andy Stanley (20:01):
And the action can actually be a, do you need to walk out of here and do something specific? Or the do may be to think differently or to believe differently, or to imagine differently or to respond differently. But there has to be, in most messages, not every message, but in most messages, messages, there has to be a call to action. And again, the call to action in some cases for what I do, and even in talking to leaders, is sometimes just a think different or embrace a different perspective on something or see the world different or see people different. So again, the more practical, the better. But

Donald Miller (20:33):
It’s a practical application that I can walk out and make this sometimes physical change. Okay. Why do they need to do it? Question four.

Andy Stanley (20:44):
Yeah. This forces me to cycle back around to the second question little bit. So here’s what you need to know and here’s why it’s important. Here’s what you need to do, and here’s what’s at stake. If you don’t do this, here’s what you have to lose. Here’s what’s going to happen with your family. Here’s what potentially could happen with your career, with your finances. So here’s what you need to do. Here’s why you need to do it. Again, it goes back to incentive, back to motivation, and a bit of vision casting as well.

Donald Miller (21:09):
And number five, how can I help them remember? And this is where I think you’ve leveled up beyond any other speaker. Well,

Andy Stanley (21:16):
You’re kind to say that, and this takes a lot of thought, and it’s so easy to skip this. And when I listen to our other communicators, and again, when I listen to myself, you’ve put in all this work, all this hours of preparation, you’ve delivered the message. You’ve been interesting. People have leaned in, nobody’s fallen asleep, but 15 minutes later, nobody can say it back. It wasn’t succinct. You didn’t give me something that was portable and memorable. And that portable, memorable part,

Donald Miller (21:45):
Junk food in a sense, sugary. I mean, I don’t want to throw anybody into words, but

Andy Stanley (21:48):
Yeah. Well, I felt great. Boy, I really liked that. What was it about? I don’t know. But I liked it. And all of that’s important. But again, for me, and I don’t know this is true for everybody, or even if it should be, but for me, again, I want things to come to people’s minds when they’re making big decisions. And the only way to do that is to make it bite-size and memorable and portable. And to say it enough times that people can remember it. And for me, I’ve been speaking or preaching at North Point for 23 years. There are things that I drop into messages the same way, say it the same way, over and over and over. Every 5, 6, 8 messages. Not to repeat myself, but there are some big life concepts overall theme. I want the people in our congregation to get, not just because, because they remembered it from a sermon, but hey, this is bigger than that.

I mean, one for me is when it comes to money, it’s give, save, live, give, save, live. You give first, you save second, you live on the rest you give first, you save second. Live on the rest I drop. That’s something that because it’s memorable and portable, I can drop that in every time I talk to students, your friends determine the direction and quality of your life. Your friends determine the direction and quality of your life. So there’s a lot of these big life principles that once they’re condensed to something memorable and portable, they become part of the conversation. And so that’s one of the great things about, again, being able to pastor in the same city with the same congregation for years. You create those kinds of things. But as you know, that’s important in business, in business there to be language. I

Donald Miller (23:21):
Was similar. Yeah, it’s a similar, in fact, I was just with some people on your team who do media and those sorts of things. And I use, if you can imagine just a little bitty hoop, imagine a little hoop, and there’s a big brain on the other side of that hoop. And here’s the message, the giant message that somebody’s trying to get into somebody’s brain, but if it won’t fit through that hoop, it’s not getting into that brain. So you actually have to simplify it so it fits through the hoop in order to get to the brain. And I think that’s what you’re talking about. And when I meet with businesses about marketing and selling products, like all this is really sweet, all this giant stuff that you’re trying to communicate about your brand, nobody will remember any of it, which is not going to lead to a buying decision. We’re really just talking about messaging, communication, what the brain can handle and what it can’t handle, and what actually translates into action. It’s very, well,

Andy Stanley (24:08):
One of the great things about StoryBrand, and I want to talk about that in a minute, is this whole idea that the picture or the word picture you use of using up brain cells, or not brains, how do you say it? Or energy or,

Donald Miller (24:20):
Yeah, you burn calories. Yeah,

Andy Stanley (24:22):
There it is. Yeah. Burning calories, trying to remember something or trying to decipher the message. Just process information to process information. That’s just, I guess in some ways, a different way of saying the same thing. But that again, that’s as today as you walk through some of our elevator pitches was some of our staff, and it was, Hey, what? There’s too many commas. It’s too long, it’s too complex. The message is in here somewhere. Chip off some more rough edges so I can see it.

Donald Miller (24:51):
That’s fascinating. I want to go through the five points again. What do they need to know? Why do they need to know it? What do they need to do? Why do they need to do it, and how can I help them? Remember, those are five questions, man. Write those down, and next time you have to communicate much of anything that’s going to help an awful lot.

Andy Stanley (25:09):
And when you get stuck, you just come back to those five questions.

Donald Miller (25:12):
You just come back to those

Andy Stanley (25:13):
Five I do all the time.

Donald Miller (25:14):
Yeah, I think I’m going to start using them. I think they’re just absolutely fantastic.

Andy Stanley (25:18):
Hey, as always, thanks for joining us on this episode. To learn more about Donald Miller and StoryBrand, you can visit That’s And as always, we invite you to check out Andy where you can find our leadership podcast application guide to go with today’s conversation. We’ll see you next month.


Comments are closed.