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How to Become a Better Storyteller

Because everyone and every company needs a story

We all know the story of Nordstrom, the upscale department store with an iron-clad “customer is always right” return policy, refunding a customer for used tires when in fact Norstrom never did, nor ever will sell tires. This one story set in motion the narrative that many of us now associate with Nordstrom (besides expensive clothes). It’s the narrative that they have the best customer service in the world because they value their customers.

Whether it was two tires or four tires, fact or fiction, this story exemplifies the impact and longevity a good story can have on a company or brand.

Facts Fade...Stories Stick

As human beings, our brains automatically translate all of the product details, features, bullets and numbers into a narrative so that we can remember it, and even share it.

In Sales & in Business, stories help us tap into the emotional response of your customers. To quote Maya Angelou “People may forget about what you say or do, but they never forget how you make them feel.”

Stories should evoke emotion (aka Energy in Motion). They are the most important vehicle to use to teach, inspire, and enlighten. They help us make sense of events and complex ideas. Most tune out people who drone on and on, but we all lean in for a good story.

Stories connect you to your audience. We immediately try to relate to the character in the story. Surprise or emotion in your stories will make them more memorable. I’m sure we can all remember where we were or what we were doing when we found out that Trump won the election, but I’d also be willing to bet not many of us remember the “facts” that surrounded that night.

Stories provide a simple way of organizing information - beginning, middle, end - and the characters and their plots “characterize” the information in a way that humanizes the message to be memorable.

Tip: Make sure that the characters in your story align with your audience. BTW, companies make terrible characters. No one can relate to Cisco, but you can relate with Jane a Sr. Marketing Manager.

Stories, if done right, can be persuasive tools. Speak to facts and, by default, people will try to refute you. But most of the time they won’t argue with a story. Of course, they might think that you embellished too much, but are less likely to argue about it. The truth is, a good story actually makes you seem more credible because it includes experiences, rather than opinions. 

Tip: Don’t tell the audience everything. It can be more impactful to let them come to the conclusion.

Most people don’t tell as many stories, especially at work, because we have this preconceived notion that they are long diatribes. It doesn't have to be complicated. Put your narrative in a framework that people can easily follow and remember. Here are the main elements to frame a story.

  • Setting: Time and place of the story
  • Characters: Who was involved
  • Surprise Event: What happened 
  • Tipping Point: What changed
  • Conclusion: What was the business outcome or the resolution

    Hemingway proved that you can tell a story in 6 words or less. So I challenge you, how can you tell your founder's story, your customer stories, your personal story, your product story, your competitive stories in 6 words or less? 

    Btw, Hemingway’s story: For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn! 

    Other great examples: 

    • I loved her, she loved him.
    • Married the wrong girl, fixed it.
    • Getting old, ringtones piss me off.


    Stories in your company messaging:

    Most pitches and decks focus too much on the founder and too little on the customer. Instead, the founder needs to first conduct an audience analysis, clarify the objective (the main reason why one would engage), and then create content from the customer’s perspective. Below is a sample messaging framework for a customer-centric pitch deck:

    • Opening: Say something that provokes an emotion that could draw a connection between them and you. One example is Zoom — Building happiness. Make the audience go “oh, that is interesting, tell me more.”
    • Go UP (AKA: Unidentified Problems): Talk about what you have learned from your customers and what that means for your potential customer
    • Dig in: Use statistics and facts to elevate intensity, legitimacy and quantify the pain.
    • Connect: Share a story that draws an emotional connection to the problem. Use a real customer example that paints a picture of the problem.
    • Open their Mind: “Imagine if you can do x, y, and z.” Paint a picture of what is possible.
    • Solve: Share how your view of the world solves this, how your product makes the currently impossible, possible.

    A final thought. The best storytellers in the world were not born, they used tools like these to become great. It starts with empathy: listening and putting yourself in your audience's shoes.


    So what’s your story?
    What’s the narrative that you want people to remember you or your company by?

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