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The Steps of Storytelling to Influence in

Business

· by Jeff Tan

Centuries ago, I wanted to impress a date with a home-cooked Italian meal. I love Italian food, and being an absolute novice in the kitchen, Italian seemed much easier than other types of cuisine.  

I emphasize “seemed much easier” from the last sentence. In reality, it was a nightmare!  

This being the pre-internet days, I glanced through a cookbook at the bookstore (I was too cheap to buy it), chose an appetiser to impress, a soup to dazzle, a main dish to wow, and a dessert to sweep her off her feet. Being a weekday, I took half a day’s leave and settled into an afternoon of cooking.  

By 5 pm, I was rushing out of the house to buy food from a restaurant. I failed as I forgot what went into the recipes. I thought I could remember it all but… Yes, recipes have a purpose as it outlines a process for success!

We know we should be telling stories. Storytelling to influence also uses a process like a recipe, and before a story bursts from our lips, the recipe calls for: 

Step 1: Finding true stories.

Where do stories come from? 

True stories from your life

True stories from other people’s lives

A combination of true stories from your life and someone else’s.

What’s with the emphasis on true stories?

Making up a story as you go is not only lying, but it also confuses you as the story goes on. You may have begun with a woman in London and ended up talking about a man in South Africa, confusing both you and your audience, and resulting in no influence at all.

Step 2: Build a library of stories

The best way to have stories every time you need them is to constantly build your personal library of stories that you can any time you need to. Useful stories don’t appear out of thin air, so prepare them in advance. It’s like having dried pasta in your cabinet just in case you need it suddenly.

Step 3: Writing the story and linking it to your speech or pitch

There are five steps to this process:

1. Begin with the end in mind.

Identify what you want your customers to do - this is your purpose for telling the story. Is it to set up an appointment? Or to move the decision-maker further down the buying process, or to push them to take the final leap to buy from you?

2. Emotional engagement.

Decide what emotion you want your audience to feel.  Based on neuroscience research, it should fall into one of these categories:

  • Status/recognition: 
  • A feeling that their standing in life or business is enhanced when using your product.
  • Certainty: 
  • Feeling more sure about your product and what it does.
  • Autonomy: 

A sense of control and a feeling that they have a choice between choosing your product over another (even though you want them to buy yours!). 

  • Relatedness: 

Feeling part of a special group when they use your product.

  • Fairness: 

A feeling of being treated fairly that your offer is fair.

Activating these emotions makes the customer view your product as a reward, helping them trust you and buy from you regardless of if you’re selling an idea or a product or service.

3. Think of a story from your life or someone else’s.

The story does not need a business angle but must capture the emotion you want your customer to feel. Here are some examples on stories used to influence.

4. Assemble your story. 

As your story is between about 30 - 90 seconds, you don't need to follow lengthy and often complex storytelling frameworks. Instead, just use a simple old-fashioned beginning — middle — end format. Here's an example to make the person feel more that their status is enhanced when they buy from us.

  • Beginning: 
  • Set the scene of what is. This means describing the situation now, e.g.,“I felt so lost when I started my own business, and all the stretch goals my business coaches kept asking me to aim for became more and more impossible.”
  • Middle: 

Talk about what could be instead of what is, e.g., “But I realised that I didn’t need to hit all my goals tomorrow but must keep making small steps towards it."

  • End: 

Share a bliss-filled happy ending, e.g., “I didn’t hit all my goals when I wanted to, but taking daily small steps moved me powerfully in the right direction with more certainty.  I guess it’s all about just making consistent progress.  Believe it or not, a few clients singled me out as my habit of taking simple small steps showed results leading to something bigger!" (Avoid fairy tale solutions that magically solve all the problems - instead, be realistic about what really happened.)

5. Keep it short and simple.

Test your story by saying it out loud to yourself. Make sure it’s between 30-90 seconds or 80-190 words.

It may seem tough to begin storytelling to influence, but once you get the hang of it, following the step-by-step process is straightforward. You’ll be telling stories like a pro!

Rather than wait until you have an important presentation or pitch to make, start building your library of stories NOW. 

Stay tuned for the next post on how to tell your story! Read some tips on including stories in your presentation here

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