Any experienced sales person knows the importance of storytelling to engage customers and encourage action. But what few still realise is that it's a skill that's about more than being able to share a good story.
What makes a great storyteller?
A great storyteller is one that creates mindshare - a strong emotional connection or positive affinity for ideas which, in turn, builds commitment.
They do this by being great story developers and presenters. They profile their audience and understand their context and specific needs. Using the confidence of this insight, they choose relevant business stories that tap into customers' emotions, memories and value systems, whilst also sharing ideas and demonstrating capabilities. These tailored stories act as a defining moment for customers, where they can visualise their own situation; provoking a feeling or prompting them to take action.
The elements of an effective story
Once you've done your homework on your audience, pick a business focus to ensure that your story is relevant to the listener, for example, do you need to allay feelings of uncertainty or complexity, build trust or explain the company? Then craft your story to ensure that it has a clear purpose, linked to the wider goal of the communication.
Choose situations that tap into the individual's imagination, emotions and are meaningful to them. Stories of what others have done in the past in similar circumstances puts them in abstract concepts can help customers visual the outcome. Also, getting the customer to imagine the consequences and payoffs of either taking or not taking action can help them move forward in their decision making.
An effective story is also one that connects with its audience in a way that encourages them to think and feel differently, altering their beliefs and mind-set. You can do this by creating a new level of understanding about the topic by either reframing an issue or inserting a “surprise” or novel idea into the story.
Common story types
There are four common story types to choose from which you can tailor and apply to engage with the specific needs of your audience.
The Bridging the Gap story is used to paint a picture about the difference between the current situation and what it could be to show how a problem can be solved. Your story should move back and forth between the two states to create energy and to encourage action whist showing how your solution can solve the issue.
Then there is the analogy - a similarity between two different things, like a bird and a plane - which is used to explain complex or new ideas. Analogies are how human beings learn; we naturally make generalisations from one thing and apply them to another.
If your audience is sceptical then use an evidence story to prove that you can deliver to your promise. This is one occasion where you can use a “just the facts” type of story, as such customers tend not to like or need embellishment.
Finally there's the Hero’s Journey to show progress over time and how challenges can be overcome. These stories really appeal to the emotions to describe how the particular situation was resolved using a real-life or theoretical example. Describe how the experience unfolded over time and focus on the specific elements of the story key to your audience such as the barriers that were overcome, the level of risk, how the hero made a difference, and the lessons that were learnt.
Facts alone cannot compel an audience's imagination but if you want to be a great storyteller that forges a connection through the power of narration then know who you're speaking to and how you're going to tell your tale. Only then will your story put power behind your ideas.
By Russ Becker, President of The Forum Corporation, global leaders in leadership and sales performance development. Russ has over 20 years’ experience working with global companies and has a proven track record working with Fortune 1000 companies in leadership development, organisational development, talent management & assessment, employee selection and learning, and business transformation, together with a strong business acumen and strategic vision.