Book Summary

Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story

by Peter Guber

Summary by Jeff Dunn-Rankin

Peter Guber is a hotshot in Hollywood who took way too long to discover the power of telling a good story. 

Guber is the head of Mandalay Entertainment. He’s the producer behind “Rain Man,” “Batman,” and “Soul Surfer.” He knows that if your movie doesn’t have an engaging hero, dramatic tension, and a surprising resolution, you’ll lose your audience. 

But Guber was in his 40s – with a history of hit and miss business pitches behind him – before he realized that the formula that made his movies great could make his studio great, too. Like a lot of good lessons, Guber learned this one by dissecting a major failure. He had just lost a no-brainer proposal to Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. (Think of the mayor as a stand-in for the “senior pastor” in our own stories.) 

“The numbers were so good, how could Mayor Goodman fail to be wowed?” Guber wondered. He felt robbed and disrespected. What would it take to get this guy’s attention?  

“And that’s when the light bulb turned on: you forgot to tell a story, stupid. I’d thrown a powerful barrage of raw facts at Goodman – data, statistics, records, forecasts – but I hadn’t organized them in any way that would engage his emotions. … You have to reach their hearts as well as their minds. And this is exactly what storytelling does.”

A lot of pastors are in the same boat. We know the power of telling a good story when we’re teaching and motivating others. But we often set that powerful tool aside when we try to raise money, recruit volunteers, or ask a board of deacons for permission to update the building.

Guber says people are trained since before they were toddlers to love stories. The people on your board of trustees, just like everyone else in the world, are predisposed to lean in when you say, “Let me tell you story.”  

For example, if you’re a youth minister who wants to remodel your youth room, don’t complain – tell a story. If you want more volunteers, don’t beg – tell a story. 

“Anyone can tell a story. In fact, everyone does,” Guber says. But to make sure the story is going to grab the audience, we should use the following four tools: Hero, Challenge, Struggle, and Resolution. 

  • Hero:  “Great stories have characters we can picture in our minds. Otherwise, no one will care what happens next.” The hero can be a kid, a volunteer, or the listener – but it’s not usually you. 
  • Challenge: “First, get your listener’s attention with an unexpected challenge or question.” Be careful – the challenge isn’t that you need a bigger budget. Instead, your story should focus on a more compelling problem that the bigger budget would help solve – like lonely teens, a hungry child or a soul in jeopardy.
  • Struggle: “Next, give your listeners an emotional experience by narrating the struggle to overcome that challenge or to find the answer to the opening question.”
  • Resolution: “Finally, galvanize your listener’s response with an eye opening resolution that calls them to action.”

“The story doesn’t have to be long,” Guber says, “but it needs to be compelling.”

You will eventually share the facts and figures, too, but now they are in an emotional context. They won’t just sit there like they do in a PowerPoint or report.

If you’re a leader who often feels like the underdog when asking for a fair share of the church’s attention and resources, this book can help.  Maybe the associate pastor has more respect; maybe the music director has more seniority or the quilting circle has more clout. “Tell to Win” teaches how to tell a story that will move a person’s heart – and eventually their feet and resources. 

(See what I did there?  Challenge-Struggle-Resolution and you.)

This column originally appeared in Group Magazine. Visit them at