In business, as in life, telling stories is a great way to engage people. Story telling is a great way to promote a product or service, allay any fears, demonstrate track record and build rapport with the customer. For business, however there are a few rules that I always tell people to follow, whether you’re in sales, procurement or any other part of the business. In my work I meet people from all roles and have seen everything from very good to downright awful.
First, be clear in your own mind what the objective is. Keep the story engaging but don’t make it too long. Make sure you know before you start where and when it takes place and who the people are. Make sure this resonates positively with the audience. Set out clearly what the challenge was but make sure it flows easily with the rest of the conversation or presentation.
Several years ago I worked with a chap who when presenting and wanted to put something into story form he would begin “Let me bring that to life for you….” – I can still hear the uncomfortable murmurings from the various audiences now!
You don’t need to introduce the story, just tell it. It should be a natural part of the conversation and not a complete detour away from the line you’re following. In effect the line between the presentation and a story should be indeterminate.
Be honest, be genuine. Made up stories don’t work. Embellish a bit if you must but try to stay true to the story. Don’t name drop unless its relevant and you know will work in your favour. So many times have I come across people really trying hard to impress. It does not work. It needs to be real and natural.
Have a clear objective. Make sure you deliver the punch-line well, and reinforce that later if you can. If you want to tell more than one story please do not begin with “Here’s another story for you”. And please, two is enough! With some practice you may even be able to split a single story into two parts, using the first to make a point and then coming back to it later to make a second point. Done well very effective but please be sure to practice first as it can sound like you’re scrabbling for ideas if not.
The story has to match not only the tone and nature of the overall message but also your values and it needs to align with what you stand for as a company and an individual. It also needs to reflect well in the values of the company or person you are talking to. All the time while still staying relevant and informative.
Stories create an emotional attachment if they are used well. You don’t need your customer to participate, but if they do, encourage it - unless they start telling long, rambling, irrelevant and boring stories that is!