Ages ago, when we still used candles to light up a room, I was preparing a sales pitch to a specific customer for one of my new products.
I carefully and deliberately prepared the presentation material – checked my slides about 15,379 times, re-calculated all the numbers 653 times, even prepared answers to every single objection they could think of. I particularly loved my answer in case they asked, “Will your product still work if we find proof the Earth is flat?”
Then came the morning of the meeting. I confidently began and excitedly and purposefully started my sales pitch. I knew all the facts and figures and could answer all the questions they threw at me. Pity they didn’t ask about the product working if we discovered the Earth was indeed flat. I was so prepared for that!
I could sense my delivery lacked soul, lacked empathy, lacked humanness! Naturally, my potential customer wasn’t impressed.
In hindsight, I realised HOW I told all my stories sucked! The stories I used were probably fine but how I told it was the problem.
We’ll break this process into four steps:
1: Build rapport:
Use rapport to create an unconscious connection with your customer. How? Before you start the business part of the meeting, ask them simple questions, e.g., “how was your weekend?” or “enjoying the weather?” When they answer, ask a follow-up question to the first one. If your customer replies, “my weekend was so-so (or great or bad),” your follow-up question would be, “oh, how come?” Then wait for the response and ask another follow-up question. The key is to ask simple questions, let them answer, listen attentively, then ask a follow-up question based on the answer they just gave. Then repeat, repeat, and repeat again! Why do this? People love talking about themselves, so give them a chance, and they’ll love you, making your influence attempts easier.
2: Transition smoothly into the story:
Instead of letting them know you’re going to tell a story, segue into it sneakily by using a transition sentence. For example, say “this reminds me of a time when…” before launching your story. Why? With some people, the announcement that you’re about to launch into a story brings their guard up and switches on their critical and rational mind to full alert! Why would you want to do that?!!
3: Tell your story:
Don’t recite your story word for word from memory, as this transforms you into a mindless robot, just like me in my early attempts at storytelling. Instead, just remember the main points, and become an “actor” in your story as if you were there. Image the sights, sounds, feelings, smells and tastes (yes, tastes too) as if you were there. Immerse yourself into your short story to influence.
4: End with a transition sentence:
Just as you had to segue into the story smoothly, don’t jar your audience back into reality by saying “the end.” Instead, use an ending transition sentence to guide them back to the main point, e.g., "back to the point we were talking about…”
And that’s it! We’ve covered the entire storytelling process, from finding stories and collecting them, to creating them around your narrative and finally, how to deliver it to your audience.
As with every other skill, the only way to get good at storytelling to influence is to constantly practice telling stories. Same goes with how to tell your story.
How can you do this? Rehearse or practice in front of your bathroom mirror in private by talking out loud to yourself. Be sure to lock your door when you practice, as your partner may think you’ve gone mad talking to yourself in the bathroom. And keep practising this way until the transition sentences in and out of the story are second nature, and telling a story feels more natural.
Can do? Of course you can!