Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
I’m Rob Biesenbach and I work with leaders who want to be more persuasive and authoritative in everything they do. I use principles from the world of performance to help them break free of Death by PowerPoint, tell their story and communicate like humans. I’m an in-demand speaker and trainer, an award-winning consultant, an Amazon bestselling author and a Second City–trained actor.
I’ve written three fun, popular books that use lessons from show business to help people succeed in their business. The first was on communication skills in general, the second focused specifically on presentation skills and the most recent, Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results, is (as the name implies) about using stories to get ahead in the world.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
For most of my life I pursued a conventional career, doing corporate communications and public relations in a variety of settings — nonprofit, government, corporate. In the early 2000s I scratched a longtime creative itch and started taking classes at Chicago’s famed Second City, the epicenter of improv comedy. I was immediately hooked.
For years I pursued acting as a second career, doing sketch comedy, theater, small films and commercials. I thought my two worlds — business and performing — were entirely separate. But it slowly dawned on me that everything I was learning on stage and in front of the camera can be directly applied to business. Both business and acting require you to connect with your audience, express yourself creatively, tell stories and much, much more.
That became the idea for my first book and it also completely changed the trajectory of my career. I began working as a professional speaker and trainer and now I travel the country (and sometimes the world), helping business people become more powerful, persuasive communicators. The books have been instrumental in launching my speaking business.
What inspires your creativity?
I’m inspired by a lot of things. Literature, for one — especially by masterful prose. I’m in awe of writers who can make their words dance and sing, and am always furiously highlighting passages that speak to me.
Scrolling through my Kindle app, here’s an example from All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr:
“Doors soar away from their frames. Bricks transmute into powder. Great distending clouds of chalk and earth and granite spout into the sky … Flames scamper up walls … The fires pool and strut … they splash into alleys …”
There’s not an ordinary verb in there!
And great stories, of course. I was blown away by Springsteen on Broadway, which I highly recommend to anyone. He plays some of his greatest hits, but he weaves them all into a larger spoken narrative that is nothing short of astounding. By turns funny, heartbreaking, and joyous. Whether you like his music or not, I highly recommend it.
How do you deal with creative block?
I’ve found the people who complain about writer’s block are usually less experienced at it. Maybe they think creativity should come easily and suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, when really it’s about sitting down and plowing through.
The artist Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” Put another way by one of my instructors at Second City: “Craft liberates genius.”
That said, there are times when it comes harder than others and I have found that when the words aren’t flowing or I’m a bit stuck, 99 times out of 100 doing something physical — working out, walking, even taking a shower — will break the logjam. There’s even some science behind this idea.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
The #1 mistake I see is authors posting on a message board or Facebook group, “My book is coming out tomorrow — any ideas for how to promote it?” If people are just hearing about your book for the first time when it’s released then you’re probably a year behind where you should be. The promotion and marketing has to start at least six months in advance, and earlier for the planning of it.
The second mistake is failure to hire proper editors and proofreaders. I’m shocked sometimes by the condition of some of the manuscripts that come my way from other writers. I’ve found especially that the smaller publishers and some of the “one-stop-shop” outfits don’t really do much editing or proofing. They’ll help you string together a bunch of your blog posts, for instance, and it will end up sounding like exactly that — a bunch of blog posts — as opposed to a cohesive book.
And the typos! Oh, God, the typos. It’s criminal.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I’ve twisted myself in knots getting feedback from friends and contacts on social media. If you want opinions on your title and cover, you have to talk to your potential buyers/readers, not random friends. All you’ll get from them is a collection of opinions — informed and otherwise.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Fortunately I haven’t gotten any one- or two-star reviews, but even the “fours” can contain criticism. And it’s sometimes painful. But here’s the thing: I always learn something — whether it’s to do something a little differently next time or to think more about different audiences and their preferences.
Negative reviews can also serve to reinforce my thinking. For instance, a couple of readers of my last book complained that it wasn’t long enough — it should have had more detail or depth, they thought. I thought hard about that, but then I was reminded that from the very start my approach has been to write the kind of business books I’d want to read. That means straightforward and practical — not some footnote-heavy academic tome. And short! Something you can read in a few hours. Most of my business clients are not going to read a 500-page book. They don’t have the time. Someone called my second books a “great airplane read,” which I consider a compliment.
What were the most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
The most surprising thing was something an author friend warned me about: people are really interested when you’re writing a book — less so once you’ve written it. I found that to be true.
The other surprising thing is people asking you, just hours after the launch, “When are going to write another one?” I always say that’s like asking a brand new mother as she’s being wheeled out of the delivery room if she’s ready to have another child.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
First, just as I’m inspired by great storytelling, my creativity is sparked by emotional moments I’ll see in a film or hear in a song, for instance. Sometimes I’ll even “prime the pump” by seeking out those moments to trigger my creativity.
But these days I write non-fiction business books, so that’s less relevant. When I was writing fiction, like short plays and stories, it was more useful.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
No real tricks other than showering or working out!
What are your plans for future books?
I never thought I’d write a book, and then I did. I never thought I’d write another, but I’ve written two others. So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will be more books. But not dozens, like full-time authors do. I’m fine with waiting a few years between books. So right now I think my next one will have to do with persuasion, or perhaps an extended or advanced treatment of presentation skills.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I’ve been to 49 of the 50 states. I make huge life-changing decisions fairly easily, but will fret for hours over little ones, like whether to book a 7:45 or 8:55 flight. I’m the third most easily annoyed person on the planet, after my mother and my sister. I’ve had the same lunch six days a week for almost 20 years. I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, while most of my high school friends are now having grandchildren.