May 15, 2017
When you give a speech or presentation:
- Do people look forward to hearing you speak?
- Do you engage the complete and total attention of your audience?
- Do you inspire confidence in leadership?
You can lead, engage and inspire, all at the same time, when you learn the secrets to becoming a better storyteller.
Mistakes, Failures and Small Disasters
Finding stories to tell that are relevant and engaging is simple. Stories revolve around moments: big moments, small moments, and meaningful moments.
Garrison Keillor, the host of A Prairie Home Companion on NPR radio, says that “your best stories are about mistakes, failures and small disasters”. In the context of my Nine Steps of Story Structure, I call these “obstacles”. They can be big obstacles, like a life-threatening illness or a tragic event; or small obstacles, like a misunderstanding or getting stuck for two hours in traffic on the way to an important meeting.
Think about your life over the last six months. Did any challenges or obstacles cross your path? Were there things that didn’t go according to plan: big things, little things, important things?
The mistake, failure or small disaster is the obstacle that gives your story tension and infuses it with emotion. Think of “the moment” that you encounter the obstacle as the pivot point of your story. This moment causes you to make choices about what to do next. I call this the “The Iceberg Moment.” In the story of the Titanic, everything was going along fine, until the ship encountered the iceberg. If there hadn’t been an iceberg, we wouldn’t have a story worth telling – it would be a boring story about a big cruise ship that got where it intended to go.
The Event Doesn’t Have to Be Tragic
Iceberg aside, the moments that make for a great story don’t have to be profound or dramatic. Most of the stories my coaching clients bring to me to help them with are about everyday events and situations. They’re about things that go sideways at home, at work and everywhere in between.
The power of story lies not in the event, but in finding the meaning in the moment. Often, the story and the lesson-learned turn out to be metaphors. You don’t have to have an interaction between a leader and an employee to have a story about good leadership. The story could be about hiking, traveling, or coaching a little league team, as long as the lesson learned from overcoming the obstacle or crisis is relevant to the business at hand.
Here are a few examples of lessons from stories that are metaphors:
- “Get back on the bike,” is a metaphor for picking yourself up after a product launch doesn’t go as planned.
- “Run your own race,” is a metaphor for being authentic to who you are rather than trying to be someone else.
- “Take the stairs,” is a metaphor for not taking the easy path.
Find the Meaning in the Moment
Just last week I went into a store to purchase something. As I was standing in line at checkout, the person in front of me paid for his purchase and left the store. As I was checking out and paying for my purchase, the man came back into the store, walked up to the clerk and said, “You gave me too much change,” and handed him a dollar bill.
The clerk who had made the mistake was dumbfounded. The guy standing behind me said, “At least someone is still honest.”
It was a nice moment. What meaning can you find in this moment? How could you use that story in a business presentation? What lesson can be learned? What could the metaphor “Bring back the dollar bill” signify in your business environment?
Look for Turning Point Moments
I can vividly remember a moment in my life, from over 30 years ago. I was in rehearsal for a Shakespeare play, All’s Well That Ends Well. I was 33 years old and had been acting for 14 years at that point and had yet to make much headway in Hollywood. I was a typical young struggling actor. No one in the cast was being paid in this production.
As I looked across the stage, my eyes settled on a couple of men in their late 50’s who had small roles as dukes and magistrates. In that moment, I made a decision never to be a 50-year-old actor working for free.
That was a turning point moment in my life. From that moment forward, my life took on a new direction. A year later, I left Hollywood, relocated to Colorado Springs and became a realtor. During 11 years in real estate, I became successful, bought my first house, met my future wife and discovered the profession of speaking.
All’s Well That Ends Well, indeed!
Turning point moments happen to you and me all the time. What really counts, though, is more than the moment itself – it’s your ability to find the meaning in the moment. Stories are teaching tools. When told with elegance and craft, they bring meaning to life. They help people see new possibilities and alternative choices.
Stories have the ability to make sense of the seemingly random obstacles, pernicious pitfalls and happy coincidences that insert themselves into our daily lives. They teach us how to live.
All Stories Are About Change
In the end, all stories are about change of some sort: change that is forced upon us by outer circumstances, like car accidents, health challenges and hurricanes; or change that takes place within us, such as the decisions we make about how we want to live our lives.
Our lives pivot one way or the other at moments of change and choice. As leaders who tell stories, you simply have to find the meaning in these moments, if you want to serve the needs of your audience, employees and stakeholders.
Consider the moments of change and choice you have faced in the last six months. Were they challenging, painful or just plain frustrating? Regardless of how big or small the moments are, your job is to find the meaning in the moment, and share that story.
Find a New Perspective
My job, as a storytelling coach, is to help leaders become the wise men and women their employees expect them to be. I help them become the Yoda in their organization who challenges people to consider a new perspective in a compelling way. Together we identify and craft relevant stories that can change hearts and minds.
When I watch a CEO clicking through dense PowerPoint slides filled with bullet points, charts and graphs, I often turn my attention to the audience. I’m watching to see if they’re engaged or bored.
Far too often, the CEO has lost their audience. They’ve failed at the most important job of a leader – inspiration. If you know you can be more engaging and inspiring, let’s talk.
May 15, 2017
It’s been said that people buy on emotion and rationalize their decision with logic.
A study done at University of Florida revealed the following: “The national study of 23,168 people shows that no matter what people may presume, feelings and emotions, not Spock-like logic, drive consumers to make even big-ticket purchases,” said Jon Morris, an advertising professor in the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.
By their very nature, stories contain feelings and emotions. If you understand what kind of story to tell in the appropriate situation, you can use emotional triggers in the story to sell your product or service.
So, if it’s true that people buy on emotion, and stories are the best way to make an emotional connection with a buyer, perhaps you need to flip the script. You’ll get better results if you lead with a story, and follow with the data. If you want to engage your audience or customer, establish trust, and build relationships all at the same time, you have to become an effective storyteller. Storytelling is the magic ingredient for high-closing-ratio sales presentations.
The kind of story that I use to sell my speaking, training and coaching services is called a Credibility story. It’s a story that sells without selling. Think of it as referral selling, but the person doing the referring appears in the story, rather than in person.
We all feel more comfortable buying something on the recommendation of a friend. That’s the principle behind the Credibility story. Instead of trying to sell yourself, you let the story of a past client who has already bought your product or service, do the selling for you. The story is also like giving the prospect a “test-drive” to understand what it’s like to work with you or to use your product.
The unique twist is that Credibility stories are customer-interaction stories that include the customer’s point of view using the customer’s words. It’s the dialogue between the salesperson and the customer that makes this type of story work.
To find your credibility stories, first identify the three most common objections or challenges – the ones you hear on a regular basis. Here are a few that my clients tell me they hear often:
- Your price is too high.
- We’re happy with the company we’ve been using for years.
- We don’t have any money in our budget for this.
Do you have a current customer or client who initially had one of those objections or challenges? Did you find a creative way to get past the objection? Are they now one of your “happy camper” clients who sing your praises?
The story of one of your current customers who told you your price was too high, but ended up hiring you anyway, is a perfect Credibility story. However, it has to be carefully constructed in a way that triggers an emotional response. It’s not just a touch-feely story, however. It also contains facts, data and percentages.
For instance, one of my coaching clients came to me for help with his stories. He was making presentations to small groups of potential clients to get new business. He’d made five presentations to a total of 200 people. Out of the 200 prospects, he got 2 new clients. That’s a closing percentage of 1%. Pretty lousy, wouldn’t you say?
That’s what he said, too. And he admitted that he was telling stories, but they weren’t working. So, he came to my studio to work with me on his 30-minute sales presentation. We worked together for one hour.
I asked him to identify the three most common objections he hears from prospective clients. He answered immediately. Then we identified stories about “happy camper” clients that had released those objections and ended up working with him for a successful outcome. By the end of one hour, we had designed a new presentation with three new stories.
A couple of weeks later, he came back for another hour of coaching. Before we began, he was ecstatic to share with me that he had made one presentation to a small but important group of 10 prospective clients. Four of them are now his clients.
He went from a closing ratio of 1% to 40% after only one hour of coaching. He said, “Doug, you were right. It’s like you said: emotion is the fast lane to the brain. The difference was the emotion in the stories. I hooked them.”
With a “happy camper” client like that, I don’t have to sell myself. I let that client do it for me with that Credibility story.
Using stories to sell is even more important when your product is technical in nature. While salespeople love to talk about how their product works, going deep into the technical details and data often makes the customer get lost and slip into a content coma.
Bullet points and dense technical slide decks tend to serve the needs of the salesperson, more than the needs of the customer.
After you finish reading this article, take a minute to watch the Pill in the Peanut Butter video on my website. It’s a short story about trying to give my sick dog a pill. Every time I shoved the pill down her throat, she spit it back out. When I hid the pill in a scoop of peanut butter, she swallowed the pill very easily.
This metaphorical story explains what I teach salespeople to do. The pill is your content, data and product knowledge. When you overload your sales conversation with too much “pill”, your customer can’t swallow it. They get bored and check out on you. But when you embed just the right amount of “pill” in a story, it sticks like peanut butter.
Storytelling is a learnable skill. It’s a craft. My Story Theater Method is storytelling technology. Like the iPad, that is capable of doing amazing things, storytelling is likewise capable of doing amazing things. But you need to know how to work a story, just like you learn how to work an iPad.
In conclusion, Story Selling is an effective way to conduct a sales conversation that balances the need to make an emotional connection while effectively communicating product value. Rather than leading with facts and data, the script is flipped. Now, your salespeople lead with a story, follow with facts and data, and close more sales.
May 15, 2017
Have you ever watched a movie that was too long, lost your interest or just didn’t work? How about a movie that was three hours long, but you were so engaged that you didn’t want it to end? What’s the difference between a movie that works and one that doesn’t? Great storytelling structure.
That’s what Star Wars, Sleepless in Seattle, The Bourne Supremacy, Bridesmaids, La La Land, Harry Potter, Titanic and the Matrix movies all have in common: great story structure. They’re basically all the same story told in different ways. Practically every movie you’ve ever seen follows a similar pattern or story structure.
When you understand the basics of story structure, you can tell a great story. Why is that important? People remember your stories. When they remember your story, they remember your point and they remember you. If you want to be memorable, tell a story. If you want to be forgettable, do a data dump.
Story Structure, Simplified
Basically, you’ve got a main character that sets out on a journey to accomplish something. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a love story, a thriller or an action adventure flick – the story structure is the same. The lead character has a goal or task to accomplish. He or she sets out to accomplish it, meets interesting characters along the way, and encounters a number of obstacles that have to be overcome. In the end, the obstacles are overcome and the story is resolved in a way that makes us feel good, and occasionally, teaches us a life lesson.
In the context of business, you’re the main character and you set off on a journey to accomplish something. You have a job to do, a trip to take or a task to be accomplished. If all goes well, you don’t have a story. If there are glitches and challenges along the way, you have what I call obstacles to be overcome. Now you have a story.
HOW you overcome those obstacles and challenges, is where the lesson of your story lies. All stories have the ability to influence, inspire and inform. You just need to know the rules of the road, and to follow them.
My Nine Steps of Story Structure are the simple building blocks of a compelling story. Follow this storytelling architecture to craft a really good story. If you want to take it to the next level, call me. I’ll get on a plane and do what I do best: teach you and your team how to tell a story that makes a point, teaches a lesson, or sells a product or service.
Stories Are About People
The best stories are about something that happened to you. You are the main character. However, even when the story is about something that happened to someone else, you still were the observer or it affected you in some way. The story is still about what YOU learned from the situation.
Business stories are not about products, services or companies. They’re about the people that need and use products and services, or they’re about the people who created the companies or work in them.
Though the situations and characters change, the constant in good storytelling is story structure. When you understand solid story structure, you can use it to your advantage in crafting your stories for any audience.
What’s your story? In business, the ability to choose, craft and share a personal or business- related story will make you a more persuasive and influential leader. The right story can help you sell your idea, product or service. If you want and need to make an emotional connection, while ensuring that you make your message stick, tell a story. In a broader context, stories can inspire people to change their behavior, change their thinking, and improve their lives – both personally and professionally.
Whether I’m working with a sales team at Microsoft, a marketing team at Amgen Biotech or an HR team at Caterpillar, I quickly discover that the people in my audience already recognize that story is the most effective communication vehicle available. I help them choose, craft and deliver those stories to get better results.
People remember your stories. Facts fade, data gets dumped, but stories stick. Think about it. What do you recall from the last presentation you attended? Do you remember what was on slide 24? Probably not. If you do remember any slides, it’s most likely because the slide had a picture on it. We remember pictures and scenes, especially if they are connected to an emotionally- charged event. When you tell a story, you create pictures and scenes, in the imaginations of your listeners. And if the story is structured well, you create emotion, as well.
But you can’t be a lousy storyteller and expect your story to work! Story structure is essential.
Start with the Point in Mind
Here’s a common problem: If you don’t know where you’re going, you can end up anywhere. It’s the same with a story. If you don’t know what the point is – what you want the story to teach – you can go off on tangents that lead to tangents that end up in a cul-de-sac of confusion and lost attention. When you sit down to develop your story, you need to start with the point in mind.
The Nine Steps formula that I have created is an easy-to-use and effective way of crafting your story. Rather than spending twelve hours creating a PowerPoint deck that no one will remember, take two of those hours and craft the one thing they will remember: your story.
The Nine Steps of Story Structure, below, are explained in greater detail in my book, Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method. You can buy the book from my website or on Amazon (Kindle or hard copy). I’ve also created a You Tube video in which each of the Nine Steps is identified while I’m telling one of my signature stories about leadership. The link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ3BDkMN1LY
The Nine Steps of Story Structure
1. Set the Scene
Think back to when the event actually took place. Create the context within which this event took place. Consider which of the following is relevant to setting the scene for your story:
- Time: year, month, day, time, season, holiday…
- Place: city, state, country, home, school, office, bedroom, market, beach…
- Atmosphere: sunny, rainy, gloomy, tense, joyous, comfortable, uncomfortable…
- Event: board meeting, wedding, vacation, dinner, soccer game, seminar, movie…
- Relationship: sister, boss, spouse, son, supervisor, teacher, friend, tour guide…
- Data/Statistics: relevant trends and facts…
2. Introduce the Characters (Not necessarily Step 2)
Describe the main characters visually. Start with physical characteristics, age and clothing. Next, describe their personality and style. Describe anything pertinent about your relationship with that person. Introduce characters in the natural sequence that they arrive in your story.
Wendy was a middle-aged woman with long black hair that she wore pulled back in a braid. She had a smile that would light up a room, and when she spoke, everyone listened.
3. Begin the Journey
The journey is the task, objective or activity to be accomplished. It is what you are attempting to do before something goes wrong or you encounter an obstacle. Example: Going on vacation; running in a road race; meeting a friend for lunch; negotiating a contract; planning the annual meeting; working on a product launch…
4. Encounter the Obstacle
The obstacle is the challenge. It is a problem, dilemma or question. It may be a person, something to be overcome, or something to be learned. It’s who or what gets in the way of achieving your goals. Define the obstacle in your story.
Example: A delayed flight; a pulled muscle; getting lost in traffic and being late; hearing an unexpected objection; cost overruns…
5. Overcome the Obstacle: Using Step Five to Teach
This is the “how-to” step in the Nine Steps of Story Structure. It is the most critical step because it teaches the lesson on a subliminal level.
Two ways the story can teach:
- A: You overcame the obstacle correctly, thereby teaching the correct behavior.
- B: You overcame the obstacle incorrectly – made mistakes. You can show people
through your thoughts and behavior what you don’t want them to do. Then, use the story as a spring board to discuss the correct or desired behavior.
In crafting this step, describe, in a linear sequence, each step in overcoming the obstacle. Think incrementally in little steps, not broad strokes. What came first: a thought or an emotion? Then what? Did you go into avoidance mode or take immediate action? Tell the truth. The magic is in the details.
Because this step is so critical to the lesson of the story, do not take shortcuts and leave out important details. Each action, reaction and decision is critical to the lesson you want to teach. Share your thought process as well as the actions you took.
Write it out. By writing it you will be forced to recall, in a logical and linear sequence, exactly what you did. Later you can then edit it down to the most important steps.
6. Resolve the Story
This step is relatively easy. Go back through your story script and look for details that need to be resolved. Ask yourself, “What will my audience be wondering about if I don’t tell them? How did things work out in the end?”
7. Make the Point
- A. Bridge Statement leading into the Point After resolving the story, say, “What I learned from that experience was…” or “What that experience taught me was…”
- B. Make the Point What is the ONE point that your story makes above all other possible points? (Each story should have only one point.) State the point as a Phrase That Pays call to action.
8. Ask “The Question”
The question formally transfers the learning point to each audience member. It asks them to take personal accountability in relation to a specific question. It is a YOU question that forces them to consider how the lesson of the story applies to them. Example: “How about you? What do you need to do to lead by example?”
9. Repeat the Point / The Phrase That Pays
Re-state or repeat the point verbatim. Use the exact same words you used the first time you made the point. Memorize the sentence or Phrase That Pays.
Crafting your story using The Nine Steps of Story Structure will give you the foundational architecture of a great story. Your audience will be better able to follow the sequence of your story, and remember your profound message! With the Nine Steps as your “bones”, you can now flesh out your story with acting and comedic techniques to make it amazing.