by Lorraine Ball

I love a good story

If you hang around me for any length of time, you are going to hear a story. It may be about an adventure, my kids, a former boss, or a current client, but there is always a story. I rely on stories as a way to bring someone into a conversation, start a blog post, open a presentation, or explain a complex idea.

So I feel right at home as everyone these days is talking about using storytelling in marketing and sales conversations. But what does that really mean? When asked to tell their own story, their personal story or the story of their business, we all too often see individuals give a list or resume.

The problem? Human beings aren’t wired to listen to lists. The simple, unrelated inventory of facts in chronological order is not a story. Storytelling is not just listing random facts that are loosely connected. There is an art and a process to good storytelling.

A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The Opening

A good story opens with something to capture the attention of the listener. It may be the familiar “Once upon a time” format which drops the listener into a place in time:

It was a cold winter morning. I was on my way to a networking event, and I was late

Or it may open with a surprising statement that will need a bit of context.

  • I probably don’t look like the type of person who would jump out of a moving vehicle.
  • The neighborhood looks different when you are floating about 1,000 feet above it.

However you choose to open, the next few pieces of information shared should be key details that give context to the rest of the story. This is first place many novice storytellers get bogged down. They share too many details. Remember, you are not writing a novel in the style of James Michener, who can easily spend an entire page describing a chair. Your goal is to give enough detail for the story to make sense.

The opening portion of the story should end with the inciting incident. This is the spark, the event that made this day different. The moment where the adventure begins.

The Middle

This section is often called the narrative arc. This is a series of events typically told in chronological order that moves your story plot forward. Again, editing is critical. It may be true that five things happened in a particular time frame, but if two of those five things didn’t impact the outcome, you can omit those details.

As you build your story remember you are moving toward a climax so a bit of drama and a sense of motion is helpful.

The End

Eventually you come to the climax of the story. This is the moment all the pieces come together. A story is satisfying if there is a change at the end. Somewhere along the journey you did something or learned something that allows you to move forward in a different way.

Why tell stories?

Storytelling can help you establish trust and credibility. Instead of telling people you are good at something, you can use a story to demonstrate that skill. A success story about another client can help a prospect visualize what you might do for them.

Stories allow people to make a personal connection. And when you realize people do business with people, it is that connection, that can help you make the sale.

Good stories are everywhere

The most interesting stories come from things that went right or went terribly wrong, how the issue was resolved and what you learned along the way. Look back on your life and think about the following conversation starters. They may not all apply, but at least one will probably generate the beginnings of a great story.

  • A moment you will never forget …
  • A time you made a great escape from a bad habit, job, or relationship
  • A time that things changed for you.
  • If your life was a movie, what would be the most memorable scene?

The trick is to pay attention to events that happen every day. When an event changes how you think or feel, motivates you to action, or makes you smile, stop and think about the events that led you to that moment. Why do you feel differently and what will you do differently? We all have great stories, what’s yours?