Sometimes business inspirations can fall out of the sky. Recently, everything I have been privy to in a business sense is telling me that stories are what resonate most with consumers. Why stories? Because nothing illustrates a point better than an example of what you’re talking about.
If you really think about it, the most effective TV commercials are stories. My God — how many people are riveted on the many story lines being woven in PBS’ Downton Abbey? The most riveting articles you read contain stories. Religions reach people through parables, (stories) – whether they were crafted to help the reader understand a point or they were real life tales that inspire readers to take action. The most engaging public speakers hold their audiences spellbound through storytelling to make their most salient points.
This reminded me of my days as a real estate trainer, when I used story after personal story about my own experiences in new home sales to illustrate whatever part of my class’s training was supposed to take place that day. The moment I began to tell a story, I found myself relaxing. Funny thing is, my students could sense it too. And when your audience sees and hears you “owning” a moment, they can easily join you there. The key to making storytelling work for business, however, is learning to tie the story to something important you are trying to communicate.
A business speaking presentation I did last year was my reminder that stories rule. I had been speaking in front of a group of about 100 people for a while, fairly certain I was being heard by my audience, but not at all confident I was a hit. The topic: the importance of a well-written online profile. Everyone has to have one, and many small business people can’t hire a PR firm to do it, so I often give away some of my freelance writing secrets. And since we are all represented both online and in print by our bios or profiles, I knew it was a topic of interest. I could tell my audience was interested, but I knew I could do better.
So instead of giving attendees all the writing tips I had planned to give them, I abandoned my tutorial tone and opted for storytelling. I told them a story about my non-college-educated daughter, who built an empire by making her eCommerce company sound larger than life — how she never sold herself short, how she constantly used the word “we” instead of “I” and how, when she got up on a stage with pedigreed, educated entrepreneurs holding charts and spouting statistics, her biggest piece of advice was to “fake it ‘till you make it.” .
Think about why we gravitate toward sites like Yelp.com or TripAdvisor before we make important spending decisions. We go there to read stories about other people’s experiences. How do we learn, as children, to behave? Our parents tell us stories about themselves or others that show us that we don’t have to make every mistake in the book in order to learn something (even though some of us do have to learn the hard way).
At one point I began to realize that I had been a storyteller all my life, whether it was in school when I was called upon to write an essay, as a salesperson trying to close a sale, or as a parent, trying to teach my daughter about what to expect as she reached adulthood. We are all storytellers, but some of us don’t always embrace that part of our character. Like anything else, storytelling takes practice.
Once you learn to use this effective way to communicate with, soft-sell to, and engage your clientele and business associates, you will see heads nod, eyes open wide and people hanging around you as if they never really knew you before. Stories seem to bind us, making us realize that we are all in this together, and that we can learn from other people’s successes and failures.
We need the power of storytelling to gain trust, rapport and authenticity, so above all, make your intent to use it a genuine one –because people can see right through a sham artist.
I know this because what I just wrote here was – a story.