Earlier this week I had lunch with my friend Bill Whitley. Bill works with property casualty companies like Nationwide and State Farm to equip their sale people with a stronger message – in the same way that I work with high-tech sales and marketing people.
If anyone’s product has commoditized, it’s property casualty insurance! You’ve heard the ads – “I saved money on my car insurance.” It’s all about price…and when it’s all about price, what if you just can’t beat your competition’s price?
What’s his strategy? Stories…
Stories can be compelling and powerful… everyone loves a great story. In fact, in my own business, the great speakers are really just great story tellers. I’ve said to my wife a number of times, I’d have a lot more business if I could experience a crash in the Himalayas and manage to crawl out of the mountains with just the shirt on my back…of course that might be a little extreme.
The same is true with your presentation. As Bill and I talked about presentations, he simply said, “You’ve got to start out with things they are already thinking about, hook them into your presentation with a short, grabbing opening, and then launch into a story…” The story creates the bridge between their busy day, and the information you’re about to give them. Open with a story and you’ll have a lot more of their attention.
Here are five reasons why you should master storytelling:
1) Stories create relationship. When it’s about you—be it about having kids, your early business challenges, a client you worked with to solve a problem, a challenging real-world experience, etc.… you create a bond with your audience on a whole new level. Your listener is drawn into your world suddenly…
2) Stories inspire people to action. Remember the movie Rocky? I often use this as an example in my sales workshops. When that movie first came out I lived across the river from the Philadelphia Art Museum. I can’t tell you how many people starting running the museum stairs – in fact they put a statue of Rocky right at the top (and I was one of those people running the stairs).
3) Stories are memorable. In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick (Which I recommend reading), they point out that, we remember some of the stories from highschool, but we don’t remember how to balance chemistry formulas – unless we still do this for a living or something. Stories stick with us because we picture them – and visual things just tend to “Stick” better than other things.
4) Stories generate discussion. A good story won’t explain everything, but will encourage your listener to ask questions, form thoughts, and create a launching pad for dialogue and idea sharing.
5) Stories can help you position yourself or pitch a new idea, product or service. When a speaker practices their speech – they don’t generally run through the entire hour-long keynote. They practice the stories to generate the greatest impact. Their story is the key to moving that audience to action. Often a speaker, in one single 60 minute keynote, will move an entire audience to action…what if you could do that with your next sales meeting?
So how do you become a great story teller?
Read good stories. Read biographies of people who have done great things and listen to speakers tell their stories (TED and YouTube are great for this). But don’t just listen to the story – listen to the way they tell it to get the greatest impact. My friend Bill shared with me a simple 5 point outline that goes like this: There’s a noble person, with a cause, who encounters an obstacle, which they somehow overcome (and if it’s with your help – you’re a hero). Finally there is a success story. Notice that Rocky fits perfectly into this outline.
Keep it simple. Don’t make your story too complicated or lengthy. In the speaker industry we say, “Tighten it up.” I recommend you record yourself telling your story to see if it’s working.
Concentrate on mastering the opening and closing. Use your strongest material at the beginning and at the end as this is often what the listener will remember. The close is the most important – without a strong close, people will be staring at each other wondering what’s next.
Pay attention to the details. Details like names and dates bring credibility to the story and make it more real to you listener. But not too many details – balance is important. At the end, ask yourself, is the amount of time the story takes, worth the point I am making?
Beware of tangents. If you find a section of your story that strays from your original topic, cut it. Wandering off topic will distract your audience and cause you to lose their attention.
Stick to the facts. The best stories come from real life. When the hero emerges from a fictional tragedy, everyone knows it’s a fairy tale. But when someone really does crawl out of a plane crash and help others survive, we sit up and listen!
Become a great story teller and you will always have an audience! Even with your kids!
© 2013, David Stelzl
PS. Learn more about this and other great presentation ideas in my Vendor to Adviser Series.
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