John Livesay: Selling Through Stories

For The Curious,

People often ask about the hardest part of my reinvention.

Three years ago, I turned from magazine writing to keynote speaking. Soon after, I met Tim Ferriss and he guided me into podcasting. So I speak. I podcast. And then people asked if I’d do workshops. So I’m now giving workshops for companies on how to tell their stories.

Creatively, I don’t see much difference. I write stories in my speeches. I write out my workshops. I’m writing the words you’re reading. I’m asking questions on my podcast. I’m listening to the answers to form my next questions. So I’m still an interviewer and a writer – and always will be.

Performing on stage was new – but that felt natural from the start.

The biggest difference for me was in selling myself to the world. That was the hardest part.

When I entered journalism school at the University of Missouri back in the 70s, I was taught about The Wall between editorial and sales. It was like the separation of Church and State.

The sales side was there to provide for me. It would allow me to do what I love. But if I ventured to the other side of The Wall, I was told, my life would never be the same. I’d be compromised, my reputation would be ruined and I’d never be able to do what I love again.

So I kept far away from sales over the years -- even as the Internet developed and all the old rules changed. Writers started tweeting out links to their own stories. But I never did. To me, it was all about the craft, and it was somebody else’s job to sell and market my work.

Once I started speaking, though, that all changed. I needed to let people know what I was doing. But I had a hard time with it. I’d find myself at a conference seated next to a CEO of a large company that threw events for its employees. We had a great conversation. He saw me as a magazine writer, and I never mentioned the fact that I’d become a speaker so that he could envision me as a nice fit for one of those events. I’d been trained that it was someone else’s job to do that for me.

The Wall might have come down for everyone else. But it was still up in my mind.

That’s why I was so glad to become friendly with John Livesay. While I was writing for magazines, he was selling ads for magazines. In fact, he was a Salesman of the Year at Conde Nast. We’re yin and yang. That’s why John is my perfect guide into the world of sales.

Listening to him, I realized how much the sales process was tied to everything I was skilled at: questioning, listening and storytelling.

I was in a different place by the end of this talk. I hope you will be, too.



Kevin Hekmat