Build Your Business With Storytelling
By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE
Everybody loves a good story. No matter what our culture, we grow up knowing that hearing a story is somehow a reward. Stories are how we learn values and our family’s legacy. When we go to school we discover that stories are a way to make history come alive. In business we realize stories help us explain complex ideas and provide the best way to train our associates.
Wise leaders, managers, and sales professionals are well served by developing an arsenal of great stories and good examples. Good stories help differentiate us from our competition. You can harness this power and learn to tell stories about your business to promote its growth.
Steve Ball of Microsoft was in charge of finding the right music to be the boot-up sound for the Vista computer operating system. He brought in three professionals from the worlds of music and Hollywood – all for six seconds of sound! Steve explained the importance, saying, “Part of the sound was also used in our e-mail program. That translated into this sound being heard more than any other music ever--including the Beatles.”
The professional that was chosen to create the piece was Robert Fripp, guitarist and founder of King Crimson. Steve explains his decision, “All the artists created a sound that would have worked. However, Robert told the best story of how his music represented Vista.”
Sometimes, the most unlikely people tell great stories. Often, over lunch, a team member will have you in stitches as he regales you with tales of what happened while driving to work. Then the project manager walks up and, halfway through his story, everyone says, “It’s time to get back to work!”
Why is it so few have the storytelling skill? How often have you heard someone tell a rambling story that seemed to go nowhere, or left you wondering “What was the point?” These three techniques will help you turn simple stories into examples that will be remembered and frequently repeated—and if used for marketing purposes--will hopefully boost your business.
1. Think chronologically.
As kids most of our stories started with “Once upon a time….” Take that advice. When did your story happen? Where is your story set? From whose eyes is the audience going to see the story? Stories work best when told in the order it actually happened; it is easier for you and the audience to remember it. While you develop your example, add as many details as you can remember. After you have your outline, take the advice of Alfred Hitchcock: “A movie is like life with all the dull parts left out.” Meaning cut anything that is irrelevant or boring. When telling stories about your coating contracting business, you must inform and entertain your audience. For example, don’t bore them with the minutia of your battle with the permit office. Talk about the challenge of coming down to the wire and succeeding.
Classic movie formulas that can help you are: “A day in the life,” “Something happened…” “And the result of that is…”
2. Use shorter sentences or phrases.
Ron Arden, the speech coach and stage director, told me “The written word is for the eye, the spoken word is for the rhythm.” When we read it is easy to look back and read over a paragraph again. When we speak we need to keep the audience with us. Present information in shorter segments than you would write. And don’t bog your audience down with unfamiliar industry terms. For example, if your audience doesn’t know anything about tanks or the coatings industry, and you are describing a recent tank job, consider describing the manway as a “door.”
3. Consider each sentence a “scene.”
Speakers need to present information in the way the audience “sees” the message. When putting together a story, consider each sentence a “scene” as it would be in a screen play. Try writing your notes down the page, line-by-line, rather than in paragraphs; it will be much easier for you to internalize. The audience will be transported to a different time and place and be able to emotionally connect that much more. Don’t tell your audience about climbing inside a tank—show them with your words. Make them feel the confined space. Guide them through the story—and the job—presenting yourself as the expert you are.
4. Putting It Together
A recent example of a sales professional who impressed his managers and peers as he incorporated these three ideas is Mark, a district sales manager from a biotech company. He was preparing to moderate a panel at the Las Vegas National Sales Meeting and was nervous with his new role in front of a 100-person audience. He had been moving fast to understand new products, clients, and projects, and his mission in the speech was to encourage the audience to embrace new jobs in different areas and to appreciate they would have to “move fast” to get up to speed. He had even included a quote about “moving fast” in his email signature line. But Mark did not have any idea how to set the tone for the meeting.
He remembered a story from the prior year’s sales meeting, when his wife came in for the weekend. They went to see David Copperfield, and he made her disappear. Using the three principle advice, it was easy for Mark to create a short, meaningful story that set the right tone for the panel and earned rave reviews:
“After last year’s sales meeting, (Gives the timeframe) my wife, Tammy, came to Las Vegas for the weekend. We went to see David Copperfield’s magic show. Three quarters of the way through his performance, (Gives the timeframe) Copperfield threw two dozen balls into the audience. (Creating the visual scene) Tammy caught one. (Using shorter sentences) David said, ‘If you touched a ball, please come on the stage.’ He sat 24 people on bleachers and covered them with a tarp. Whoosh! Five seconds later, they were gone! Suddenly, they appeared at the back of the room. On the way out, I asked Tammy, ‘How did he do it?’ She said, ‘We are sworn to secrecy. However, we did have to move really fast!’”
Mark reports, “The panel was a wild success, and everyone raved about my opening story!”
Everyone loves a good story. If you follow these three helpful tips and integrate storytelling into your marketing strategy, the next popular story could be a success story—the story of your business.
Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, is a Hall of Fame speaker, executive speech coach, sales presentation skills trainer, and keynote speaker on sales, memorable presentation skills, and executive communication skills. She is Past President of the National Speakers Association. To learn more about Patricia, contact her at www.Fripp.com, (415) 753-6556, twitter@PFripp, or PFripp@ix.netcom.com.
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