Why your stories sometimes fall flat… and how to fix that
Story telling has been a big theme in our client work here at Milan Partners in the last few weeks. From senior executives, perhaps delivering a keynote speech, to sales reps, who may use storytelling in product-based conversations with customers, being able to tell a story has the power to engage, connect, influence and motivate. But what separates the great storytellers from everyone else?
It comes down to two things great storytellers know: How to tell a story, and when to tell a story. For now, let’s focus on the how (and stay posted for part 2 another day).
You can’t half tell a story. This is the most common mistake people make when using stories in professional contexts. They hint at the story (“things went wrong for a while there but it turned out fine”), or skim the surface and leave out the key elements which make it more than just a chronological relaying of events. So what are the key elements, I hear you ask?
Key element 1 – Characters: it’s not a story without the people. Give us some carefully selected details about the people you refer to. It could be something about their voice or a distinguishing facial characteristic. The point here is that it means we can visualize an actual human being. For an example, click here to learn from Don Draper who frames his Kodak Carousel product pitch with a story about ‘an old pro, Greek, named Teddy’. Another way to inject humanity into your stories is the include direct speech, or reveal what you (or someone else) thought or felt is response to events.
Key element 2 – Tension: what is at stake? What is the burning question which triggers events and elevates the suspense as they unfold? Even stories in business contexts revolve around emotion. If your listens feel nothing, your story has failed. They must care about the outcome. Stories you lose interest in half way through (i.e. that unfinished book on the bedside table) lack tension. The key to creating tension is to understand what question triggers the events in your story. Every single thing that happens must relate to that question.
Watch one thing: make it this sharp parody of every TED talk ever. Also learn some tricks to use in your next presentation. This guy has it nailed.
That’s all for now. As always, share this around with people who will like the ideas and recommendations.
Til next time, so long and thanks for reading.