What skill can put you at ease in social situations, make your business memorable and keep your curiosity on high alert?
You probably grew up with it and are still drawn to it. It is, quite simply, a universal connector that helps us understand each other and ourselves, makes us desire things, gives us a sense of possibility.
This magical tool is storytelling and it belongs in every entrepreneur’s toolkit.
So what does it take to be a great storyteller? The fundamentals are pretty simple.
° Curiosity. Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, who not only wrote innovative ad copy, but also trained many successful copywriters, wrote, “I have never known anyone who bounced out of bed in the morning, delighted and astonished by the world in which he found himself, who was not a success. A vibrantly alive curiosity and a perceptive awareness will put you right up there with the best of them. This intense interest in people and things—this sense of wonder—can be acquired.”
Without curiosity, you’ll miss all the good stories happening around you that might be put to work on your behalf.
° Attention. TV journalist Steve Hartman created a popular feature on CBS called “Everyone Has a Story.” He looked for his subject by throwing a dart at a map and then headed to wherever the dart landed. Once there, Hartman began calling people at random from the phone book until he found someone who agreed to talk to him.
Some of Hartman’s stories were funny, some were poignant, some were buried deep, but he never came away empty-handed.
Hartman’s premise is that stories exist everywhere, but only storytellers seem to be paying attention. Follow their lead. Listen for inspiration. Listen for evidence. Listen for material.
When someone says, “Your teleclass was so exciting that I was awake until 3 AM with all these new ideas,” weave it into your marketing.
° Edit. Editing is critical in all forms of storytelling. The difference between a boring and an enthralling storyteller is in the editing. We all know people who start telling a story and then wander off to side stories about the characters or unrelated events or random thoughts.
So what does an editor really do? According to Sarah Tieck, the job of an editor is to ruthlessly look for what’s relevant and then eliminate the rest.
In many ways, editing uses the same skills as are needed to identify priorities in the goal-setting process. It’s also a bit easier to do in writing than in speaking where you don’t have the benefit of reviewing your words.
° Bring it alive. Don’t you just marvel at all the ways chef Jamie Oliver describes food? That’s what a great storyteller does. Passion and a good vocabulary are the fuel.
Except for Prairie Home Companion, there’s not much storytelling in radio anymore. If you listen to Garrison Keillor—a master storyteller—you’ll hear how he adds just enough detail so we can imagine the scene.
In marketing, part of the storyteller’s job is to help the audience of potential customers imagine how your products or services will be useful to them.
Storytelling can do that more vividly than just listing benefits.
° Watch your audience. Bores do not notice their listeners fidgeting in their seats or gazing around the room looking for an escape. Alas, the self-absorbed among us are oblivious to this.
There’s a woman I know who is the personification of this. She’s not particularly creative and I suspect even Steven Hartman would have a hard time finding a story to tell about her, but that doesn’t stop her from talking about the only subject she cares about: herself. She doesn’t notice that people can barely stay awake during her monologues.
A good storyteller, on the other hand, understands body language and looks for clues. After all, storytelling always involves at least two people: the teller and the listener. Both are important. Connecting with your audience is a basic function.
In Funky Business, the authors make this observation: “True leaders are CSO’s – Chief Storytelling Officers. They provide the focus, inspiration and meaning that the organization has been crying out for…. Funky leaders give rise to and spread stories.”
Polishing your storytelling skills can be as good for your business as it is for your social life. Even better, it’s a fun and creative way to approach your marketing and promotion.