|How to Use the Power of Storytelling to Get What You Want and Need.|
By David Goldsmith
Tuesday, 22nd February 2011
One day back in the 1990s while reading my local newspaper, I ran across a public invitation to attend a presentation by the CEO and Founder of the Discovery Channel; he would be speaking only a few miles from me at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications.
I thought to myself, I could learn a lot from listening to his story. A few hours later, I found myself arriving early enough to take the seat of my choosing, second row and dead center of the speaker's podium. I didn't want to miss a thing.
Little did I know that what I was about to learn had nothing to do with the Discovery Channel.
The host of the event gave an impressive introduction of the speaker, one containing a list of accomplishments that could make many people envious. Then the CEO walked to the podium, clicked open his slide-show type presentation, and proceeded to read from his notes.
I was floored.
This was a guy who had traveled the world and had built a multi-billion-dollar organization with a vast digital reach. I'd watched the Discovery Channel's top-notch programming in my home. Yet here he was in front of an audience, where he had to read from his notes! Even worse, his words were boring me to death. The information was flat. If this was how he operated, how could this man have sold himself and his ideas in such a way as to build such a huge empire?
Moments later, I learned how, as the CEO stepped away from the podium, away from his notes, and to center stage to face his audience. As if a surge of energy pumped through his veins, he embarked on an exciting story about a new technology that he had been working on and that he was about to present to the world. He was only a few feet from me, and his energy was contagious. I was jolted awake by this sudden shift in his presentation. Now he was telling fun, engaging, persuasive, and fascinating stories about the development and launch of this new product. During the 12-minute "revival" the audience was all his...but then he slipped back behind the podium, gathered up his notes, and proceeded to read from them for the remainder of the hour.
I remember thinking that the person who came alive for those 12 amazing minutes must have been the guy who built the Discovery Channel. HE was the CEO who connected with his board and staff to pursue this recent technology, not the man who read from his notes. The experience highlighted and reinforced my belief that the more engaged you are in an endeavor and the better your ability to speak about it from your heart, the greater chance you have of connecting with others and gaining their following. In essence, that's what selling is, and leaders who can sell well, can win big.
Selling Your Ideas
Select any great leader, either from history or from today, and the one asset that they all share is their ability to sell. Yes, whether you consider yourself to "be in sales" or not, if you're a decision maker, you sell all day every day.
Today, you might have to sell a new line of products to a lucrative account, tomorrow you might find yourself selling an expansion plan to a venture capitalist, and next week you might have to gain buy in on a new procedural process from your management team. You may even find yourself having to sell the financial benefits of a new promotion to your family when you catch heat for working longer hours. While it's true that we don't usually call our leaders salespeople, they are in fact, the quintessential salespeople.
Furthermore, although every leader's individual style comes into play during the sales process, there's one tool that all leaders can acquire and perfect, even if it doesn't come naturally to them - storytelling.
Everyone Loves a Great Story
Winners understand that even the best ideas mean nothing if they go nowhere. You can have a great idea, but if you can't sell it to the people who can help it materialize into a reality, success will elude you. This is true whether you're a movie producer who's pitching an idea to a production house, a PTA club that's pushing for curriculum changes from its school board, or a department head who's vying for budget dollars to make operational improvements. Even in the best scenarios, statistics and substantiation may only take you so far. Oftentimes, you need the human connection to sell your ideas, and that's where storytelling can give you a huge advantage.
I recently had the opportunity to interview my friend, executive, entrepreneur, producer, and UCLA professor Peter Guber, who knows a thing or two about storytelling. Peter is the CEO of Mandalay Entertainment and was the producer/executive producer of films including Batman, Rain Man, Flashdance, and the Color Purple. I believe that his long list of successes, from his former post as chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures to his current co-executive chairmanship of the NBA's Golden State Warriors, can be attributed to more than his work ethic and intelligence; Peter knows how to connect with people.
During our interview, Peter shared some practical advice from his soon-to-be-released book, Tell to Win, which shows readers how to "connect, persuade, and triumph with the hidden power of story." (Copies are available for preorder by following the link below.) Here are five tips from Peter that can help you become a better storyteller:
You must be motivated yourself. If you don't believe in your own idea, others won't buy in to it, either.
Know your audience. Think of "audience" as the person or people with whom you're having conversation, not necessarily a large group in the common sense of the word. Peter says you should know you listener well enough that you select and formulate the best and right story to drive emotion and facilitate a connection with them.
Know your goals. Do you want the other party/parties to purchase product, erect a new building, lend you money? You want to be sure that your story elicits the action you desire.
Understand that you are in a dialogue, not a monologue. Although you're telling a story, you need to anticipate a give-and-take transaction, even if the other person's âtalkingâ only occurs in their own mind. Peter says that in storytelling, you "pitch and catch."
Make the story an engaging one. Good stories aren't always the most artfully told, but they have some element that causes others to take notice and engage.
I believe that you can turn even the most mundane situations into great stories. I'll bet that over the past week, say while eating a meal with your family or driving to work with your carpooling partners, you've told a story about something that you have experienced. The successful stories were the ones, no matter how common the topic, that garnered laughs, questions, or other reactionary feedback that showed interest and a desire to hear more.
Think about ways in which you can transfer the successful elements of your casual storytelling to your career-related interactions. For example, if you find that you get great responses from people when you're in the break room, but you are uneasy about others' reactions in the board room, take elements from the stories you tell casually and incorporate them into your work-related conversations. The first step is to see yourself as a storyteller in all walks of life.
In one such instance, I was working with a client who had recently been promoted to a senior-management position. On the eve of an important meeting, I asked him how he planned to engage his new staff and gain buy in from them...perhaps a sharp opening story could set the tone for a great meeting. He showed to me the material that he had prepared for the meeting, and by most standards, you would say that he had done his homework, complete with stats and facts. However, it was dry, and I knew instantly that he would not engage them with that material alone. I suggested that he open the meeting with a story, and he surprised me with his immediate response, which was, "That's not me." Was he kidding me? He'd been sharing stories with me all day!
Luckily, he was open to improving himself and was willing to try something new. To help him see the power of storytelling, I asked him questions, collected pieces of his presentation with him, and crafted a rough first-draft that he could use to open his meeting. He wasn't entirely convinced, but promised to consider the idea over the night. His meeting was the next morning.
Morning came. He, I, and ten members of his team filed into the small conference room and took seats around a table. When it was my client's turn to start the meeting, he began to veer in the direction of his original plan, but I guess he decided that the story was worth a try. He told a brief story of how he had lived in almost a dozen countries around the world, and how his story mirrored what his staffers needed to accomplish that day. The story was well told and well received. Throughout the three to four minute exchange, it was evident by the smiles and nods of his staffers that they had connected to him, and bought in to his ideas. Through storytelling, both the manager and his staff had won.
Keep in mind that your stories should be credible and relevant, and tell them always with the purpose of making the human connection with others. Find a topic that is interesting to you and that will motivate others, then incorporate it into your presentation. You'll find that selling is easier, more fun, and will give you greater returns when you do.
The Strategic Alchemist , David Goldsmith is President and co-founder of MetaMatrix Consulting Group LLC. Over the past 24 years David has founded or co-founded nine businesses ranging from distribution to manufacturing to advertising.
In 1999, David sold his 14-year-old Syracuse, NY based Image Promoters, Inc. which he co-founded in 1986 to Proforma Associates, a 400-location franchise. He has been a consultant to various industries including telemarketing, high tech, logistics, retailing, hospitality, tourism, and manufacturing. Working with business owners, and corporate and mid-level management, David rapidly creates strategies that win in the marketplace.