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The Art of Storytelling

31 Jul, 2006 By: Marvin Himel imageSource

The Art of Storytelling

I like a story well told. That’s the reason I am sometimes forced to tell
them myself.

-Mark Twain

is a natural form of communication and has been around since the beginning of
time. People trust persons who tell stories because they are using the most
innate form of communication possible. Stories are believable because we can
relate to the characters and we can picture ourselves in their shoes. This is
why people love movies, books and television shows as much as they do. Consider
this: even a two year old can tell stories though we don’t begin using logical
reasoning until we are eight years old!

A recent article in Forbes magazine revealed, "Eighty-five percent of all
companies rank the ability to effectively speak in public as critical criteria
when hiring a CEO." What does this have to do with sales you might ask? The
ability to speak effectively in front of groups can be the difference between
success and failure.

I was once asked to present a solution to Mastercraft Builders, a large
call-center customer in Jacksonville, Florida. We were told that each company’s
presentation would begin every hour on the hour and that we would each be
limited to thirty minutes. Our presentation was to begin at 2:00 p.m. At 2:30
p.m. the MIS director came out to tell us that our competition was still going
on after an hour and a half.

At 3:00 p.m. we were finally allowed in and were told that we would only have
ten minutes to set up. We began our presentation with a number of tools to
effectively capture the prospect’s attention because we knew they would be in a
mode of resistance. Twenty minutes later we walked out with a signed contract.
The president of the company told us, "Before the presentations began we had
almost decided to give the business to your long-winded competitor. However, our
frustration with their too-long presentation changed our minds."

Great storytellers are not born, they are made. It takes a lot of work to
become someone who is good at telling great stories. John Kennedy or Martin
Luther King, Jr didn’t just walk up to the podium and receive a standing ovation
after their first speech. They perfected their storytelling skills over time.
One way to help remember the most important aspects of storytelling is to use a
MAP to help guide you through the process.


Highlighting events and details move the story along. Give enough detail so that
the listener can picture it, but not so much that your story becomes bloated and
cumbersome. By putting a name with the story, you give people an opportunity to
actually picture someone. If you say, "John said" the listener will actually
picture someone they know or have known named John. If you just say "he said"
they don’t have as clear a visual image.


Know who your audience is and be sensitive to that. What stories are they going
to relate to? What is their educational, economical or geographical
classification? You need to know who your audience is and address them
accordingly. A few minutes of research on the Internet or a conversation with
the person in charge of the event can give you the demographics from their last
gathering. Do some research into what the issues and concerns are of the
audience you’re speaking to. What are their current issues, desires ,and
perhaps, hobbies? What challenges are they facing right now? When you speak and
the majority of the audience feels you are talking directly to them, then you
have done your homework and have prepared well. Every member of the audience
should feel as if you were looking through their particular crystal ball.
Connect with your audience and they will be inspired to make changes and take
positive action.


If I give you a call and tell you I just bought a new boat, your response may
be, "That’s nice." If I call you and tell you I just had an awesome weekend, you
will probably ask, "Why?" If I then respond with, "Well I went out Friday and
got an incredible deal on a new boat so Saturday decided to cook a fabulous meal
onboard. Donna brought three of her beautiful friends and we even went
waterskiing. At the end of the day we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I
have ever seen in my life." Most people will then ask me when I am planning on
going out again and whether or not they can come along next time!

Basically,I painted a picture for my customer. I let them imagine it and see
it in their mind’s eye. Don’t just make static statements but leave an indelible
impression by taking them on a journey.

One of the biggest reasons to use storytelling as your method for
persuasively presenting your product is because it involves people’s emotions,
inspiring them to take action. When people are emotionally involved they are
more motivated to make the changes your after.

Robert Keith Leavitt says it brilliantly, "Anytime you hear a great
description, whether it is in a movie or a song, pay close attention to how the
words are used. In the movie, A Knights Tale, the character Jeffrey Chaucer gave
an amazing introduction to the knight. He painted a word picture to get everyone
involved. One of his eloquent lines about the knight was, "he once spent a year
in silence just to learn to appreciate the sound of a whisper." Words to make
you stop and think.

To make your story memorable, remember to make it stick like TAR. It needs to
be something special that they’ll remember long after you have gone. Let’s see
if you can fill in the blanks of these companies whose slogan or short story had
the sticky factor:

McDonalds is your kind of ___________.

How do you spell relief? ____________.

  1. Trust-Your story needs to build a prospect’s trust in you. As an
    intuitive form of communication, becoming a great storyteller is going to
    greatly build your prospect’s trust.
  2. Action-Your story should inspire people to take action. Because
    stories involve one’s emotions, people are going to be inspired to take action
    and are going to be more motivated to consider a change.
  3. Remembrance-People remember stories better than lackluster details
    and facts.


Use storytelling to help a prospect imagine the pleasure of your solution or to
relive the pain of a past business problem. Once you master the art of
storytelling you will "paint a picture" that takes your prospects on a visual
journey. If you have been working with a prospect for some time, you may need to
take them back to that place of "pain" where you

first found them. Jog their memory of where they were or where they could end up
if they don’t do something different. Either way, make a lasting impression.

Example: "Mr. Prospect, last time we met we talked about how your most
important personal goal this year was to ultimately buy that new house in
Palencia. As a matter of fact, I picked up a brochure for you that shows just
how beautiful the homes are there. I also brought a spreadsheet showing how our
recommended solution is going to save your company five thousand dollars a month
which will put you in a great position to be able to afford that dream house.
It’s a win-win solution. How do you feel about that?"

Once the prospect answers those questions, he or she is almost ready to
contemplate a change. Here’s another example: the 1996 U.S. Olympic ski team
were asked to ski down one of the most difficult courses while each were
monitored by portable EKG sensors. These sensors monitored heart and respiratory
functions. The skiers were then placed in a classroom where they were asked to
close their eyes and relive the same experience. The results showed that the
bodily reaction was virtually the same. What the psychologist conducting the
experiment concluded was that the subconscious cannot always differentiate
between what has been visualized and what has been experienced. In other words,
to the subconscious mind there is no real difference between fantasy and
reality. Therefore, when you mentally take your prospect back to their pain, or
to the pleasure of your solution, they will begin to sense the same emotional
experience presently.

Here are some other ways to use storytelling in sales:

  1. Explain who your company is and what they do in a compelling and powerful
    way so that the customer wants to do business with you.
  2. Tell the prospect about a customer who implemented your solution and
    experienced incredible success because of it.
  3. Describe how someone who went with the cheapest vendor ended up regretting
    it so came back to your company to try and fix the disaster.

And, while storytelling is important to add interest to your presentations,
remember to enjoy the process while making it entertaining for all involved,
including you. That way, your new form of communicating is mutually rewarding
for everyone. Remember, anything you can do to improve your speaking and
presentation skills in order to better communicate with customers and prospects
is an investment in your future, and theirs.

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