With the current buzz about storytelling, you might feel pressured by the advice to, “Tell your story.” But what most people won’t tell you is, how do you find the one story that will help you sell yourself — the difference-maker?
Here’s what a no-sell story looks like:
An author had just published a book on loneliness. Back in those days, authors gave book talks. Then they answered questions.
One of the author’s first questions was, “Why did you choose to write about this topic?”
“My agent thought it would be a good topic,” she said, “because there’s a lot of buzz around the topic and we could find a publisher.”
This story has the ring of truth to it. But will it sell? No way.
Professionals need the one story that communicates competence rather than emotional connection.
I met an emergency room physician when we were both walking our dogs. When I asked why he chose this specialty, he didn’t have a story of saving lives and restoring hope. He didn’t even refer to the adrenaline rush of a fast-paced week. He said, “I like doing procedures. I like using my hands. I don’t like reminding people to take their blood pressure meds.”
Not an emotional story, is it? But to someone who’s about to be sewn up after an accident, this story will be very reassuring.
Choose a story to add credibility.
In his book, The End of Average, author Todd Rose describes how test scores identified him as a slow learner with personality problems — someone who’d struggle to graduate from college, if he could even pass the courses. Today, with graduate degrees from Harvard, Rose studies how aggregated scores can send many smart people down the wrong path. His story does more than explain his passion for the topic: he explains the concept with a memorable story.
Closer to home, I wrote a website for a lawyer who specialized in debt collection and landlord-tenant disputes, where she usually sided with the landlord. Her personal story involved family members who’d experienced severe hardship when business partners reneged on their debts. Her story emphasized that enforcing obligations isn’t just mean: it’s a lifeline to individuals who count on that income.
Truly awesome content begins with a success story.
Success stories will be the most powerful for almost any business. They’re also the most useful for prospective clients.
You might have been sleeping on a bare mattress in somebody’s basement two years ago and now you’re enjoying a 4-bedroom house. But that story doesn’t show you can coach someone to make the same journey. And these days, readers are (rightly) getting more cynical. They’ve heard too many motivational speakers. So they wonder if you conveniently left out a crucial detail, like that winning lottery ticket.
Your audience relates to stories of people you helped, especially if you add specifics of your program. You do have to be careful to make disclaimers, such as, “These success stories should not be considered typical.” In some fields (such as law or finance) you face legal restrictions on what you can claim.
Move from message to story.
So back to the author facing an unexpected question, “Why write a book about loneliness?” Her message is, “Authors get loneliness — it goes with the territory.”
So she says, “As a writer, I spend lots of time alone. Sometimes being a writer can be a lonely business. I realized I had developed strategies to deal with loneliness, and as a writer I have access to experts who can provide additional insight.”
She’s not distorting the truth. She’s digging deeper into her own motivation.
Ultimately, it’s not about finding reasons to tell a story. It’s about finding a story that fits your reasons.
Discover how strategic storytelling can boost your business – read my best-selling kindle book, Grow Your Business One Story At A Time.