Karl Pontau – Storytelling in Human-to-Human Business | Conversations with Coaches | Boxer Media

Share on:

Karl Pontau - Storytelling in Human-to-Human Business | Conversations with Coaches | Boxer Media

Karl is the owner of Squash and Stretch Productions. He helps purpose-driven entrepreneurs attract more of their best clients with engaging, empathetic stories. He beat two brain tumors when he was 15, thanks to the help of his friends, family, community, and medical team. It’s why he’s so committed to helping others.

In today’s episode, Karl shares more about his experience with brain tumors at such a young age, how he found his way to coaching as an ideal way to share his storytelling gifts, and the importance of vulnerability and empathy in today’s world.

He also shares the meaning of my new favorite word: Flawesome! 🙂

To learn more about Karl:



Other links:

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

The Brand Growth Accelerator

Share on:


Kevin Stafford 0:02
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the conversations with coaches podcast. I’m your host, Kevin and today I have the pleasure of talking with Carl ponto. I’ve already had the pleasure of talking with Carl, it’s I can, I can already tell this might, it’ll be it’ll be tempting for this one to go long, but we’ll try to keep it as tight and concise as possible. Carl is the owner of squash and stretch productions, he helps purpose driven entrepreneurs attract more of their best clients with engaging, empathetic stories. He beat two brain tumors when he was 15. Thanks to the help of his friends, family, community and medical team to why he’s so committed to helping others. Carl, welcome to the podcast. I’m I’m glad that you’re here in a general sense, and I’m glad that you’re here today with me right now.

Karl Pontau 0:44
Yes, thank you so much for coming on the show. And I am happy to be here.

Kevin Stafford 0:48
Excellent. Well, let’s, I mean, let’s begin at the beginning where I like to sometimes think of or call your superhero origin story, as a coach, how did you first realize discover maybe that you already were or realized that you wanted to be a coach? And then how did you go from that realization in your life to the business that you have today? And obviously, I’m sure your your triumphing with help over a you know, a serious medical condition in your in your early years is a part of that. So you can speak on that if you’d like but yeah, I’m always very curious about how Coaches find themselves and find their power and purpose.

Karl Pontau 1:24
Sure. So I have a I can tell you, my origin, my wife story, and then that kind of leads into the coaching part. I’m going to tell you that story.

Kevin Stafford 1:33
Yeah, absolutely.

Karl Pontau 1:34
Cool. So I’ve been an artist my entire life. I grew up drawing, painting, sculpting big Legos kid, and I got my passion for storytelling from my dad. He’s a really good storyteller. And I knew I wanted to study animation. When I saw the first Toy Story film, I was like, Oh, that I gotta do that. That’s cool. And then beginning in 2002, I started to feel like something wasn’t quite right with me physically. I had been a competitive swimmer, my whole life. They knew they’re supposed to feel like, and it wasn’t like, Oh, my shoulder kind of hurts. It’s like a general love feeling. But by August, they still hadn’t figured out what was wrong with me and I lost 50 pounds and sunken cheeks and eyes, I was really pale, started to get really bad headaches. And so my parents took me for an MRI up in Walnut Creek. And we were waiting around for another appointment when my pediatrician called and said he’s going to drive up from Pleasanton to come talk with us. And we saw him walking up with this big envelope in his hands. You can tell I’ve been crying. He brought us into a little sign meeting room. And remember I was sitting knee to knee with him this big U shaped chair with really high armrests kind of leaning forward towards him. When he pulled out the results MRI and told me that Carl, you have two brain tumors. And it felt like I got punched in the chest actually move backwards in my chair. For the next two weeks. Everything sounded like the adults from Peanuts going to what because never had the flu never broken any major bones never been stung by a bee. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been bitten by a mosquito. So to get brain tumor diagnosis at 15 years old was a complete Sucker Punch Out of nowhere. But I got so much help from friends and family and my high school adjusted my schedule got me a tutor so I can still graduate on time. And people I barely knew were giving me food and gifts and other support. So really inspired me to want to give back and help as many people as I could, because I’d probably be dead wasn’t for all the help that I got. And then an undergraduate school is studying animation. There’s a big student digital art and design competition and participant in the big screening at the end of like 1000 people in this big auditorium, and then maybe 10 people in the room. But when everyone laughed at the joke in my animation, I was like, Oh my gosh, it’s so cool and connect with people and have a bigger impact with animation and storytelling. So for grad school, I started my company. And we tell exceptional stories for exceptional impact, empowering tech, biotech, healthcare professional services companies to build stronger connections with our best clients using storytelling and animation. Because no matter whether businesses b2c b2b, even B to G, they’re all really h two h, which is human to human. And humans tell stories. And so by helping those sort of companies, more people in the world to get their lives improved, or clients businesses better, we’re going to happy client, everyone wins as a way for me to have a bigger positive impact on the world around me. And that’s why I do what I do. And I slowly started doing the animations. And I realized after talking with so many professionals that were interested in animation, but it’s such a big investment to do right for a lot of companies. And so I realized that they still didn’t help telling the story. The real value from the animation is not the animation itself, but it’s the way it can tell a story clearly and concisely and really in an engaging way with the visuals. So I realized that I could still deliver value by coaching people on how to help be better storytellers. And so I basically extended off from the animation services to also include coaching, and I kind of had been pivoting to that more and more because there’s just such a huge gap in what works when it comes to messaging. marketing and branding and business communications and what it takes to build strong relationships with people. And what most people actually do or what they use for their businesses. And I focus on businesses for Smith storytelling has a more tangible ROI with want to get more clients. But the real goal is that people in general become better at connecting with people in the business sense of public and better at connect with people in a personal sense. And those make more human to human connections in the world in general, I think that’s something that, like the world is sorely lacking in empathy this these days. So the more of that I can produce into the framework of helping people’s businesses, then I can have the sort of impact it will have on the world with my life. And so it’s really what drives my business and the coaching and the animation parts.

Kevin Stafford 5:51
Yeah, I love it. It’s obviously a little bit more, a little bit more of a dramatic turn given given what you went through as at such a young age with the brain numbers, but like, it’s, it’s such a, it’s such a common transition for all these uncommon coaches, they get to talk to and meet, where there’s just like this, this moment or series of moments, and a moment can be, you know, a fraction of a second it can be, you know, 10 years, sometimes moment moments lasts as long as a moment needs to last but they have this moment in their lives, where they realize that they have this very unique and personal to them experience and a passion that goes along with it in some way that maybe at that point where they first get first gets discovered a little unformed. But there’s definitely a clear intention, like I want to give back, I want to help in the way that I’ve been helped, I want to serve in the way that I’ve been served. And I wanted to keep growing in that direction. And then you begin to apply the things you love the things you care about, that inspire you that you either triumph with, or triumph over through. And then I just love how that in your story just turns like, I just want to help ultimately, you boil your very unique personal experiences and skills and passions down to something that can help. In my opinion, everyone can help everyone be not just better professionally or like more productive companies, but like you’re saying better humans to other humans into themselves. And then that can then be translated in their way they give them the tools to do that same thing that you were able to do take their own unique personal experiences and passions, and then learn to tell stories themselves that can they can connect to other people. And you get this really exponential radiating effect where the pebble that you throw in the water ends up rippling out and you know, hopefully, ideally, in our intention touching everyone in a good way in a positive way.

Unknown Speaker 7:32
Yeah, it’s a it’s something that a lot of people think that oh, my story is not that interesting, there’s not really been dramatic or traumatic is like a brain tumor, some of those, it’s those stories that are not necessarily super outliers, that the more common experiences that are often the most powerful because people empathize and connect with those who’ve had shared experiences we can they can wrap I can understand what you’ve been through. And so everyone has a compelling story about why they do what they do, if they’re doing something that they enjoy, they’re in some kind of dead end job or democrat just for the money than the others the issue bigger issues that are with our life. But if you’re doing something you enjoy that you you find joy in doing, then there’s, you have a powerful story behind what got you into that. And it’s usually way deeper than do I like to help people there’s like an underlying why that if you really dig down and find what it is, and share it with people, then you’re going to connect on a much deeper level with the people you want to spend your time with are going to be your best clients are going to be the best employees. And it makes everything else about running a business or trying to grow a business way way easier. Because you’re you’re connecting with people on a much deeper level than you otherwise would be able to. And so it’s on my own the main things I work with people on with my coaching programs is to get more of that why more of them themselves. Instead of trying to be this perfect, like Instagram perfect, like everything’s fine with my life. I’ve no problems. I’m always I’m great at what I do and there’s nothing wrong with me. Going for what I’ve learned is called flotsam, where you still talk about your flaws and insecurities and your problems. And you own those but he also saw that and because of those items awesome at what I do, I’m a great person I’d bring value to my clients and my connections and stuff. But I still worry about like my kids future and my ailing my parents ailing health at all. Like you still have these real human emotions and experiences that everyone else experiences that’s really connects us as the shared challenges we’ve overcome even if it’s like to individual circumstance, oh, I went through that sort of thing. I have a similar issue when I was growing up. I totally get where you’re coming from and why you believe what you believe in That’s what builds the connections. That’s not the, I’m awesome. I’m awesome. I’m awesome. I’m awesome. I’m awesome. There’s what most businesses most entrepreneurs put out there, when the in their marketing or their like social media, they try and this comes across as authentic and fake. And so people that turns me away, but if you talk about what, like times, you’ve messed up a thing and how what you learn from it and the things that you worry about and why you’re, that’s why you’re so committed to making a difference in the world, people are drawn to that, this makes you appear more human. And people are drawn to that, because they want to have authentic human connections with pandemic, one of the things that showed us is just the importance of having these strong human human connections. And that requires being vulnerable. I’m a huge fan of Brene Brown, and she has a couple of great TED talks about how just you got to be vulnerable, you got to put yourself out there and unfortunately, society and social media has kind of trained people to put up these armor and walls and not be authentic and it’s got to basically unlearn all that or kind of break through all those that armor that people have put up because it’s it’s there’s definitely we can see from this mental health issues and societal issues and political issues that we need to reconnect as human beings because we’re social creatures, and we don’t do well alone and we need each other.

Kevin Stafford 11:26
We do and I it’s first of all, I’m a sucker for a good portmanteau. And FL awesome. I am, I am absolutely permanently borrowing that term I love

Karl Pontau 11:38
from but I happy to have people pass it along. Because it’s just, it’s so much better than trying to be perfect because

Kevin Stafford 11:47
yeah, it gets it gets right to the heart of the matter. Like you were saying, like with, uh, with this, push this urge or this, this this presentation of a flawless surface, there’s just, it’s just shiny, and there’s no there’s nowhere to connect, there’s nowhere to dock there’s nothing to grab onto you try to latch on you slide right off. But like the things that we we think of as quote unquote, flaws. These imperfections, there are vulnerabilities they’re there they are where people can come in, they are where people can find us and actually connect and attach to us, which is scary. And I can get why there would be a temptation to protect yourself from that kind of vulnerability because we’re we have some wires crossed. societally and individually. It’s just it’s I love, vulnerability and love, love, love Brene Brown check. And I can honestly say that like listening to her and reading her and I love, the way that she speaks is even somehow better than the way that she writes. And she writes some of the most beautiful words and I’ve ever read about being human. But yeah, it’s just that vulnerability how necessary it is to not just be you know, to just open yourself and be like, okay, world do what you will with me like there’s a, a will and an intention behind true vulnerability that allows you to just connect with so many more people on such deeper ways. Gosh, I can talk about that for for hours.

Unknown Speaker 13:06
And then there’s like you mentioned, there’s we have this, especially in the US, we have this misconception of the vulnerability is a sign of weakness. But if you see people like if you see someone like on stage, like opening up on or being vulnerable, you go, wow, they have so much strength, but do you think about doing yourself? No, no, no, I’m gonna I’m gonna be showing weakness. And there’s like this cognitive dissonance between when you see other people doing it, you think it’s great when you think about yourself doing it, you freak out. And it isn’t, I think, that whole idea of just gonna leaning into that discomfort and doing it anyway and taking the risk. And it’s absolutely worth it. If you’re gonna tell any story worth telling about yourself or your business, it requires being vulnerable. And it’s something that I go, the whole mindset of understanding how people like the make decisions, how the brain works on people that actually connect with each other, how relate like the sort of relationship dynamics, how you what it takes to build trust, what it takes to hold people’s attention, those are all things that kind of work the whole behavioral neurology, I’m going to work into my coaching because if you’re trying to tell the right story, you have to start by understanding who your audience is. So you know what is going to resonate with them, you’re gonna start talking about things you care about. You’re gonna miss all these opportunities, because it’s not what other people understand or care about this. There’s all this stuff that leads that’s basically the core of it is empathy. Like if I could snap my fingers and make everyone in the world as empathetic as humanly possible, but, like casting that spell would kill me. I’d still do it, because it solves so many problems. But since magic isn’t real use stories instead.

Kevin Stafford 14:52
I don’t know you say magic. You say stories. I hear I hear the same word. Honestly, I mean, I know I know magic from a certain perspective where But I mean, stories stories do the work that magic provides, you know, I know we’re just basically playing with words. And I like to think about that. But I often, often let myself forget how the effects of a well told story that connects with people is insufficiently different from what the power of magic would look like. If I didn’t, if I didn’t know about stories, you know, it’s like, they’re the way that people’s minds and hearts and lives can be changed by you know, a, a weld hold five minutes story sometimes, or however long it takes that someone just connects with and they they see something about themselves in such a different way, like you have, and you may never get to see it, you may never see the effects of that magic, you may never see like where that where that spell landed on someone. But you might have by telling a story that just absolutely kind of by making yourself vulnerable and connecting with someone, or letting them connect with you, you might not even know that it happened. But their lives have been completely changed and set on a new path. And I don’t know I, I it sounds like magic to me.

Unknown Speaker 16:02
If you’re trying to influence and change people’s behavior and lives and make an impact at scale, then stories are the best way to do that. If you can do some stuff, one on one, like directly connected with people and your actions, if you have enough, an audience will have an impact. But if you’re a smaller kind of like entrepreneurs, solopreneur doing a startup, something where you don’t have a huge, like, following already and you want to build one, then it’s storytelling that’s going to reach the most people have the biggest impact and at scale and as the most efficient way to influence other people’s lives and have in a positive way that there’s a great book, I highly recommend basically anyone in business read it. It’s called a predictably irrational by Dan Ariely. Read it with a dustpan and a broom. So you can pick up pieces of your blown mind off the floor a couple times. So there’s it’s he prefaces the book saying, please use this for good because this is the sort of things that people use to start cult to manipulate people, but it basically revealing the kind of programming the the wiring of our brain, how we make decisions, how we behave, what and how all these things that you influence you every day. And most people have no idea that’s how things are going when they’re making decisions or like and reacting to things. And if you’re in a business of trying to persuade people to buy something, or sign up, or do anything, knowing this is basically like the almost like a cheat sheet. Because it’s the one the biggest takeaways is that as much as we’d like to think of ourselves as thinking beings that feel we’re very much feeling beings that occasionally think all of our decisions, all of them are made with emotion, the lower brain limbic system makes the decisions and pushes them up to the upper brain says, Okay, come up with logic and reason why this is a good decision. And then people think they made the decision. But really, it’s all emotion. And so, so often I see companies throw a bunch of facts and figures and data and information, and their marketing and the audience and they wonder why it’s not working. It’s because you’re not talking to the right part of the brain that’s making decisions. And if you want to connect with people and influence the behavior, emotional, powerful stories, talk to the part of the brain that was like this threat assessment and makes decisions and basically keeps you alive. And so there’s all these things that if you’re not, including these sorts of things in your marketing, messaging, you’re not getting, you’re not talking to the right part of the brain. And so there’s all these things, a lot of it from that book, are a little bit more involved. And it’s just, it’s one of those really go, Holy crap, I’ve done that twice. And I know that that was going on. And then you got to pause the sweep up your brain and stick it back in your head because it’s a great book. And it’s something that I basically incorporate that in a lot of my like workshops, and like webinars and stuff, because it’s something that once you understand it, it makes everything else you’re trying to deal with it when it comes to influencing people way easier to understand. And that kind of, again, I just also continue this preface of just please use it for good though, because is, like the sort of people most people have no idea why they make the decisions they do or what’s going on. And so it is kind of a cheat code in some ways.

Kevin Stafford 19:23
Powers of influence, you know, it’s like there’s a, it’s a couple of short steps from understanding how people think and how they’re influenced into manipulating them and then how you manipulate them. That’s where your intention come in. And yes, you use these powers for good because they can, they can and will change lives.

Unknown Speaker 19:41
Yeah, it’s not surprised to hear from after the brain tumor story that I’m very interested in how the brain works and all that sort of stuff. So I’ve been learning a lot about that. And so I love how I’m able to combine that with the storytelling because sometimes it’s often people that are storytelling is like soft skill and people think like, empathy and having high EQ is a soft skill. And more and more people are saying that this is like foundational to success to relationships to being a good leader to be like, you’re trying to be a good human, you need these sorts of skills, and it’s no matter what you’re doing, whether you’re employee or like the owner, or your partner, or like an executive, whatever it is, being better at storytelling just makes you a better human. And if you’re trying to do anything like with growing yourself, this is a skill that you need to work on.

Kevin Stafford 20:37
As predicted, I’ve like I’ve done a decent job of looking up at the time I started, we’ve already been chatting for like 25 minutes. This has been fantastic. I kind of like I kind of want to grab you again, at some point in the future and just like have a much more far, far ranging conversation, because it’s fantastic. But before I let you go, I want to get a chance to like talk a little bit about like, where people can Well, I kind of I kind of two part this question, Where can people just find out more about what you do, why you do it, how you do it, just like all the things that squash and stretch and you can can provide to someone personally, professionally, and whatever role they’re in, and then also where they can best connect with you. If you have a place online, where you like start relationships with people you’ve never met before, if there’s a social media that you prefer to be on, what do you like, connect to people? So yeah, how can people find out more and get to know you better?

Unknown Speaker 21:24
Sure, yes, I’m on LinkedIn a lot. It’s just Carl ponto KRKRL, p o n t. Au, I think I’m the only one with that name on LinkedIn. Like, send me a follow or send me a connection request, I’m in the middle of launching a whole new, like offers and pipeline steps, I’ll be posting some about that. And then there’s, um, I have a storytelling workshop, that’s going to be basically an on demand thing coming up soon. It’s helping to tell the four types of stories that every entrepreneur needs to be able to tell to build those sort of strong human human connections, and create and convert them to different sorts of content for their business. And I’m gonna be launching a whole new program in January, the big collaborative program, helping growth minded entrepreneurs want to basically align their brand messaging, and scale their business in 2023, no matter what’s going on with the economy. If you know if you’re like that, reach out to me on LinkedIn, I can send you a link to basically to the application page for that, because I’m being very selective about who gets into that program. But it’s these are sort of skills that in the messaging that it takes to grow your business and in the modern 21/21 century, and so often, it’s overlooked, and the person who does overlooking this hurts them more than helps.

Kevin Stafford 22:50
It spread, they dismiss it, they they treat it as forgettable when really I love that you use the word foundational, because that’s what it is. It is foundational, it is where you’ll plant your feet and take your next step. Yes, it’s these kinds of skills, and they are, they are anything but soft. And they are very necessary if you want to, if you want to be the kind of person you want to be in this world, and you want to get to the places you want to go. It’s just necessary. I’m, I’m glad it’s one of the reasons why I love having this podcast, I’m glad that so many more people are realizing that that’s something that coaching I feel like serves very well is just realizing how foundational how necessary these kinds of skills, empathy, vulnerability, storytelling connecting are. And it starts with understanding yourself, figuring out your own story, how to be vulnerable, and how to connect, and then being able to replicate that in others. It’s, it’s, I try to be a relentless optimist. And I think of it as a as one of the one of the key virtuous cycles that we get to be a part of right now. So, Carl, thank you for chatting with me. I’m like, my, my brain is going like 12 different directions. And I’m just like, I’m having to like really like pull back and not ask like follow up questions, because you’re really fun to explore it. And to the surprise of no one I mean, you’re essentially a professional storyteller. So it works, works great. But like, it’s been great to talk with you. I’m probably going to like slide into your LinkedIn DMS at some point in the not too distant future and have you back on maybe early next year as more things have launched. And we’ll live another conversation like this because I had a great time. And I just I love the way that you express ideas that I find to be so so so important to everyone. So thank you. I think

Unknown Speaker 24:25
the time has flown by thank you so much for having me on the show. I look I will definitely welcome another invite beyond a guest on your show.

Kevin Stafford 24:34
All right. Well, thank you, Carl, thank you to the audience for listening. Reach out find out more about Carl, you definitely want to do this. Connect with them on LinkedIn. So you know what’s coming up next, what’s happening now what’s coming in the future. And we will talk to you again very soon.

Think you'd be a great fit for the podcast?

Apply now to be our next guest!

Check Out Boxer Services

Be different

Enhance Your Brand

Most coaches struggle to explain what differentiates them from the next guy, let alone why your hot new prospect should pay you $10k more than your competitor who is seriously undercutting you.
Establish Your Authority

Establish Your Authority

Social Omnipresence allows you to meet your ideal prospects where they’re at by amplifying your authority across the same social media platforms where your clients are already spending their time.


Expand Your Network

What would you do with 300 new leads connected with you on LinkedIn each month? You’d probably build relationships with those prospects a lot faster, turn those relationships into clients, and make a lot more money!

Leverage Your Website

Elevate Your Website

You’ve established your brand and your authority. You’ve grown your social following and your LinkedIn following exponentially. People look up to you, they know you have answers, and they want to visit your website to learn more.

Before you go...

…how about another newsletter? 😉

In all seriousness, you’ll love this one. Five minutes each week with illuminating insights & amplifying spotlights from the world of business, branding, coaching, and marketing.

If that sounds like your speed, we’re more than happy to have you.