A while back, I met with an entrepreneur who was understandably excited about his new business.
Eager to tell me about it, he launched into an impromptu presentation, complete with historical background—including timelines and important dates, background research, details about his process, and so much more.
His “drinking from a firehose” presentation nearly put me into a coma.
I didn’t want to be rude and say “Enough!” or “Yeah…I get it” when he would belabor a point or root around in the weeds. Instead, I politely listened, while trying to indicate I understood and was ready to move on by using vigorous head nods and quiet “Yup…got it…” acknowledgements.
Oblivious to my signals — or perhaps because he had no Plan B — he plowed on, slide by slide, detail by detail.
At one point, he said something like “I don’t want to bore you with all the details” and then continued to do so.
It was excruciating.
I bet you know the feeling all too well, whether in a one-on-one meeting or sales conversation or at networking events. You find yourself talking to — or rather, listening to — someone who talks at you, in excruciating detail about their product or service, replete with unfamiliar terms and technologies.
As they barrage you with unnecessary details, you feel like the human equivalent of the trapped coyote willing to chew its foot off to escape the leg trap.
Maybe…without knowing it…you’ve been on the other side of the interaction.
Maybe you’ve been “that guy.”
Maybe you’ve found yourself excitedly talking about your business or business idea, knowing you’re saying too much, but you just can’t seem to hold yourself back.
What can you do differently in that situation?
What could the gentleman who talked at me have done differently?
Tell short stories and give examples.
Why Should You Use Stories and Examples in Your Sales or Networking Conversations?
- We all love interesting stories. Ever notice how you perk up when a speaker tells a story rather than talks about concepts and ideas at an abstract, 30,000 foot level?
- They involve people at a visceral, emotional level, and are therefore more engaging. If you use only facts, numbers, and logic to educate or persuade, you will only affect people at the intellectual level. Because stories impact at the visceral, emotional level, they give your message more punch.
- They make you and your message FAR more interesting. Because of the two points just mentioned, using stories makes you a far more interesting — and therefore welcome — communicator.
- They enable you to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question going on in your prospect’s head in a far more fascinating and powerful way. This enables you to grab their attention and hold their interest.
- Stories enable you to challenge someone’s objections or perspective in a respectful, non-confrontational way. Storytelling really shines as a medium for challenging people without being confrontational, and therefore inviting new perspectives without triggering defensiveness.
- Stories and examples enable you to make complicated, difficult-to-understand, or industry-specific concepts and practices understandable to someone not in your field. Here are two phrases you want to use when explaining something that is outside the listener’s field of expertise: “So for instance followed by an example or short story” and “Here’s an example of what I mean….”
- When you tell the right story and tell it the right way, you can establish credibility in a subtle non-bragging way. Rather than saying “I’m brilliant” or “Our software is so far superior to our competitor’s,” you can share a story of a client struggling with their current software and how you were able to help them. When done in a humble, yet still enthusiastic, way it paints a vivid picture of how good your product is and what it can do.
Two Stories You Must Master
While there are a number of story genres you can use to become a more compelling and influential communicator, let’s get you started with two.
Whether you are talking one-on-one, presenting to an audience, or writing, you want to use Pain Stories and Pain and Promise Stories.
I started this post off with a Pain Story.
Rather than open with an admonition that you need to tell stories if you want to engage prospects, clients, and audiences more effectively, I shared a story of what happens when we don’t.
I shared that story because I wanted you to recall how you feel in those situations and therefore understand at a visceral level why it’s critical to “not be that guy.”
Pain Stories are also a great way to start off a presentation.
They immediately hook your audience into the pain that would motivate them to listen to your ideas and proposition.
The Pain and Promise Story starts out with the pain caused by the problem your product or service addresses, and then describes what happened once you helped that person or business with their source of pain. It communicates in a non-salesy way “Here’s what can happen to you if you work with me or buy my product.”
If you are serious about being a more fascinating, persuasive, and clear communicator, you can start by doing the following:
- List the problems that your product or service solves, and then think of examples of these and the cost to the person or business. This information will be the raw material for your Pain Stories.
- Do the same with examples of how your product or service helped your customers or clients. This information will be the raw material for your Pain and Promise Stories.
- To learn more about how to create and use these stories, check out StoriesThatChange.
In future posts, we’ll go into more depth about specific story genres and how to use them, as well as how to find stories you can use in your presentations.