When your objective is to bring someone around to your way of thinking, tell that person a story. Effective storytelling allows us to communicate with listeners in both an emotional and intellectual way. As a result, barriers between people break down as they are brought together in a shared experience that strengthens relationships. A well-crafted and delivered story allows speaker and listener to understand and therefore trust one another.
Stories are used to build confidence in a person or agenda, motivate listeners to think in a certain way and perhaps do certain things. Storytelling is the original call to action. Those of us in business are advised to create good stories, narratives that can be used to persuade others of our integrity and expertise.
When putting together your story, think first of its ending. You can choose where in the arc of your professional development to begin your story, but the ending is the most important component. You must present a strong and memorable take-away anecdote, lesson, or triumph that listeners will remember, believe and act upon.
It is advisable to create a “portfolio” of business-themed stories. Your most basic story is your elevator pitch, the story that describes what you do, the goals you help clients achieve and the types of clients you work with. Another, more detailed, story will tell listeners about you and the development of your business. Other stories in your portfolio illustrate your expertise and professionalism.
The story of how you built your company will tend toward the inspirational. That story might describe what motivated you to go into business and give a brief behind-the-scenes look at an obstacle you had to overcome on your way to becoming successful. Don’t be afraid to reveal mistakes made along the way. Let your listener experience your humanity and authenticity.
To demonstrate your expertise, tell stories that show how you helped a client make money, save money, avoid disaster, or discover a niche market. Both types of stories build your credibility and are useful relationship builders and sales tools.
When developing and presenting a story, be clear about its purpose in your communication strategy. Know what you would like listeners to believe, understand or do after you’ve told the tale. For example, if you want to convince a prospective client that you offer superior service, perhaps write a story about how you worked through a holiday weekend, so that a critical deadline would be met.
When you tell that story, describe first why the goal of excellent service had to be met, its importance to the client. Then spell out the obstacles you overcame to achieve it. Add a little drama to your story to encourage listeners to identify with the client and picture themselves in his/her shoes. Remember to keep your story uncomplicated and easy to follow.
When writing your stories, be mindful that there will be a beginning, middle and end. A well-designed story also has a person who must do or confront something; a place, where the action will occur; a time frame, so that listeners can distinguish between “then” and “now”; and a hint of its direction, to allow listeners to anticipate the outcome.
Be sure to identify and describe the turning point in your story, the decision you made that made it possible to achieve the goal. Take special care not to confuse the turning point with the end of the story, however. The turning point triggers the successful outcome that makes the happy ending possible. The end of the story, the culmination, describes how that goal was achieved. Describing how the goal was achieved paints the picture of the take-away you want to leave listeners with, namely that you provide superior service every time, especially when the client needs it most.
Storytelling is a powerful business tool, one that enriches business conversations and presentations as we communicate with listeners in both an emotional and intellectual fashion. Stories help us to explain new ideas and concepts, win support for projects and convince prospects to become clients. Learn the art of building and relating stories and make clients know why they want to do business with you.
Kim L. Clark is a strategy and marketing consultant who works with for-profit and not-for-profit organization leaders who must achieve business goals. Kim is the founder and principal of the consulting firm Polished Professionals Boston and she teaches business plan writing to aspiring entrepreneurs. Learn how Kim’s expertise can benefit your organization when you visit polishedprofessionalsboston.com.
Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Holland [FLICKR]