For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
The power of a story makes it overcome time. Hemingway wrote this a century ago, and we still talk about it. Stories are everlasting – imagine what this could do for your brand.
What is Business Storytelling
We all know what Storytelling is, but we all have a different understanding of it. Most are correct in that understanding. It forms two-thirds of our daily verbal and visual communications.
However, when asked, most salespeople couldn’t agree on what is Storytelling and less so on how to apply it in their business meetings.
Business Storytelling is all about using narrative in business scenarios to compel the involved parts to engage and collaborate, to learn and remember more. The point is how we use stories in our business situations to increase performance.
For some, a line of charts make a story, for others, stories must follow a rigid script and are complicated to introduce in sales meetings, while for many more, Business Storytelling is using real-life stories to bring the message home.
Whichever the understanding, most would agree on something: the effects of Storytelling go to a deeper level than any other sales technique, and science has everything to do with it.
Business Storytelling is steadily becoming one of the most successful ways of selling. From featuring Smart Content to working with Sales Intelligence, Nonlinear Presenting has changed the way we share our ideas with stakeholders and partners.
High on Storytelling
Storytelling works the brain – it evokes a proven, strong neurological response. But how? According to Neuroeconomist Paul Zak‘s research, our brain goes through different chemical reactions according to how the story develops. From producing cortisol when something gets our attention and dopamine when the story makes us feel good, to oxytocin to promote an empathic behavior, to connect.
Storytelling goes beyond listening or watching: It allows us to understand, empathize, and learn.
Much has been said about the brain’s chemistry on storytelling; to our point, which is delivering truly engaging presentations that spark collaboration and trust, that chemistry lets us influence the behaviors of the people involved in the experience to gain buy-in and influence.
Though I haven’t found evidence or previous research on the topic, I believe that storytelling works by mimicking in the body and the brain the real experience told from the story to impress the teaching more organically and comprehensively; to create stronger memories.
The work The Neuroscience Behind Storytelling in Sales by Emma Brudner @ HubSpot seems to confirm my thinking: The brain uses a real-life-facsimile to better record the story’s teaching as much alike as a real experience as possible. In this way, the memory gets recorded through multiple channels and organically (like 3D vs. 2D), and not just as an abstract concept.
Watching a story unfold is the best next thing to experiencing in real life, and the chemical process is similar. As a result, we get an altered state of mind; we are hooked. As Doug Stevenson from Presentation Guru says, most people who have ever run a business meeting will affirm that “stories are more memorable than facts and data.“
This is how the power of storytelling works: It creates a strong neurological and physiological response that conditions the way we act and think, it comes naturally to use that to impact others’ lives as well as to influence them.
Storytelling is central to human evolution, now more than ever.
We use storytelling to transfer knowledge, to learn perils and opportunities, to learn from the past and build a better future on top of it, to rebuild what it takes to evolve. We have been doing it since the beginning of time, and it’s now necessary to keep on doing it in order to upgrade ourselves.
Never has there been so much information on every possible subject out there, and never has there been so much to catch up with if you intend to cover a topic. We can’t begin to study, or even read all the existing information, and this is what storytelling has been preparing for, to serve humanity fully – and why it is now, more than ever, crucial to humankind evolution.
Storytelling travels time and space
The reach of stories is fantastic. Some stories, first told thousands of years ago, are current today and reaching far across cultures and populations. Some stories have gone through so many transformations and traveled so far that are unrecognizable. Stories evolve and expand, adapting to different cultures and community organisms to reach the four corners of the world.
Because of its nature, storytelling has the ease in passing knowledge across space and time, allowing a higher chance to resonate deeply with the people interested in a given topic, ensuring the preservation and growth of Culture.
Business Storytelling is, indeed, an undeniably useful tool to communicate and empathize with others in any given context. So how can we create, carry, and share a story successfully in business?
Nail It! Walk the Story, make a Hero and build the Dream
Lilly the Hero by Catru
Lilly the Hero by Catru
A possible framework for applying storytelling to your business meetings.
Walk the Story
Our prospect (or stakeholder) is already immersed in her own story, and we only have to support that story toward success while helping her building the dream.
By asking questions and listening carefully, we can help in building every part of a Three-Act (or Five-Act, but seldom needed) story practically always. This is Exposition in a Three-Act play.
Make your Hero
Start by uncovering the problems; this is the Rising Action. Use mini-stories to relate to others’ similar problems and their solutions. Bring the story to Resolution by situating your prospect as the Hero of the story in the future.
Build the Dream
Connect Resolution and Success to Build the Dream.
What is the story in the future that we are building with our prospect, that will drive her behavior in that direction? Aliens gave you superpowers, and you became Gotham’s Hero, you have everyone’s admiration, and merchandising royalties are piling up. Okay, that’s you being the Hero, but what would your life really be like if humans of the future had given you superpowers?
If we can use the details that we collected during the conversation so far to create a complete picture of how would be her life (NOT about benefits for Acme Inc., or ROI, or…) once she becomes the Hero, then we will have a deep emotional commitment from her to get there.
Other Business Scenarios
Baby Shoes by Catru
Short Three-Act library-style stories are perfect for agile conversations in complex sales or when we have a variety of products and possible outcomes.
This is valid for sales conversations that span a variety of products or solutions that may need a library of stories (stories that you cherry-pick as you go to build a library to drive the message home about each different solution in your offerings).
Three and Five-Part Stories for Marketing
Business Storytelling in Marketing is often based on a niche concept. Instead of building the story with your specific prospects as for Sales meetings, in Marketing, we define our Hero based on a Persona or Buying Profile.
The winning combination here is STORY+NICHE where one story appeals to most in a given group.
Become the Hero in Funding conversations
Investors fund people with great stories. They’re not investing in a product or service, but in the people behind it.
In sales, the prospect is the Hero. However, in funding conversations, I am the Hero – and not the investor. Instead, the investor reaps the benefits from me being the Hero.
Your success is the investor’s ideal outcome; you are the Hero of your story and your investor, the successful assistant. Build your success as their Dream.
Your trainees are the Hero of their story
Most of the time, staff onboarding and training programs look to be inspirational. Storytelling in training is all about building a success story in your trainees’ mind, where they are the Hero of their own story. It is a Nail It!-like structure, where you assist them in their journey by selecting the right metaphor for the right situation instead of asking questions-toward-results.
Using storytelling in meetings that are flexible on its content by nature is slightly more complicated. Being fast on your feet is essential, but also creating a library of stories based on situations that you encounter today and you want to use in the future (harvest today’s experiences as stories to tell in the future.) The trick is carefully noting down stories worth using to create a library. “Stick” short stories to different parts of your business narrative or presentation, and build up your library of stories to use across the different sales stages.
Having a framework ready to use makes the creation of a story with your client as the Hero flow smoothly and naturally, especially in sales meetings with lots of moving parts.
A Silver Bullet
There is no silver bullet here and the information you gain from this article must be converted into knowledge through experience: Find what works for you!
Longer, more complex sales processes grant for putting more thought into creating different stories for each item or solution. Moreover; shorter, more transactional sales may grant for only a general approach.
A short and transactional sales process will use Business Storytelling in a very different way than a complex one. While the former can use short, abstracted stories to create a quick emotional connection, the latter will possibly involve assisting the Hero on a longer journey.
Pablo Povarchik is a Consultant and Public Speaker in Business Storytelling & Nonlinear Presentations for Sales Teams.
© Illustrations by Catru. Freelance Illustrator for hire.