How to Use Storytelling in Communicating or Selling
A couple of years ago I was in New York, pitching a deal. It was in one of those fancy New York private equity offices—you get the picture. It’s about a three-hour meeting. Two hours in, there kind of needs to be that bio break, and everyone stands up. The partner running the meeting starts looking really embarrassed. And I realized: he doesn’t know where the women’s room is in his office. So I start looking around for moving boxes, figuring they just moved in, but I don’t see any, so I said:
“So, did you just move into this office?”
He said, “No, we’ve been here about a year.”
And I said, “Are you telling me that I’m the only woman to have pitched a deal in this office in a year?”
And he looked at me, and he said, “Yeah…or maybe you’re the only one who had to go to the bathroom.”
Nearly 5.5 million people have viewed Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk from 2010. While she provides plenty of statistics and data to back up her arguments about why we have too few women leaders, it’s the stories that people remember. It’s the stories that have the live audience (and probably those watching the video) cheering and laughing, breaking into applause. It’s the stories she tells that illustrate the issue and make an impact with the listener—and make the listener want to share those stories with others, too.
This isn’t just an isolated example. Research has shown that we’re 22 times more likely to remember and internalize a story than a series of facts or bullet points. That’s because stories get your whole brain working, not just the language processing parts. As your brain works through the story, it’s almost as if you’re experiencing those events yourself.
Not only that, when you tell a story, your brain and the brain of your listener can actually get into sync.
We talk about the importance of congruence in our sales training and other programs, and there isn’t a better example of congruence than what happens with storytelling. Not only do stories engage, inspire and make the point in a way that data dumps and endless Powerpoint presentations simply don’t, they bring you and your audience into alignment.
What a powerful concept to put into practice, especially when you think about how you communicate with customers, employees or anyone else that you need to connect with and find a mutual point of value.
So whether you’re in a sales role or you just want to be more effective communicator—someone who powerfully demonstrates the value you create and the solution you are proposing—here are 4 tips for structuring and delivering your story:
1. Have a Goal.
- What is your audience’s behavioral style?
- What are my listener’s needs, desires, or challenges?
- What solution do you want to demonstrate?
- How does the story reinforce the company’s or your personal brand?
2. Grab Attention.
- How can I trigger that ‘aha’ moment? Through humor? Building empathy?
- What emotions can and should I evoke?
- How can my “once upon a time” and setting be relevant for my customer?
- How can I hinge my listener’s needs to the “plot”?
- How can I make my customer the “main character” of the story?
- What can I ask to “embellish the plot” – understand and incorporate the details?
- What kinds of reactions, feelings or opinions do I want to elicit?
- Who are the other characters, i.e., stakeholders, and what are their needs?
- What can I do or say to ensure my listener wants to hear more?
- How will I ask for that engagement?
- How does my solution address the customer’s needs, solve problems and create value?
- How can I validate that my solution addresses my customer’s needs?
- How can I be sure that the solution I offer provides a happy ending for my customer?
- What do I want my listener to do/feel/think next?
- How can I get my customer to commit to action? (or read on)
What’s Your Story?
Try it out! Sketch out a powerful, true story, using the steps above as your guide.
How might you use the story in a sales process? How might you use it with internal “customers” or employees?