The power of stories is invaluable; not just in sales but in everyday life and work. You’re telling stories every time you try and persuade someone to do something they may not be inclined to do. When it comes to retail, telling your audience about the benefits of your product, or how it will help them, is boring. When you get your child to bed, a command of “go to bed” may be met with resistance. What you need instead is an engaging story that will captivate emotions, engage imaginations, and make your listeners buy ideas, products and advice from you. Tell your stubborn child the Sandman will come to sprinkle magic sand on his eyes if he lies in bed, and note the response.
Here is a valuable lesson about storytelling. Imagine you are traveling in a mountainous Asian country and come to a town with an alley of souvenir shops. Figurines of the Buddha in various sizes are everywhere. They are made of everything from stone to worn-looking bronze, to plaster with a blinding golden lacquer. Some are showcased behind brightly lit glass windows. Others stand in dark corners of tiny, poorly-lit shops. They are all beautiful, and you have a hard time choosing. Then you come across a crudely-made one-inch bronze figurine of a seated Buddha, missing a nose and eyes. The statue rattles when you shake it. You turn it over and find a smear at the bottom as if it is sealed with molten metal. You ask the old man behind the counter about it.
He tells you there is a grain of rice sealed inside the statue. He says it is a tradition of Buddhist monks in this region to bless a figurine by filling it with something valuable. The grain of rice is the heart, or the internal essence of the Buddha. Without it, the figurine is an empty shell. Some people fill it with items like money, gold or silver. But for the poor farmers of this region, rice is more valuable than any precious metal. To them, it is the spirit of the Buddha.
This little figurine costs ten dollars, which is far more than you would have paid for a poorly made ornament that size. But you may still buy it because the story makes it more memorable than the fine-featured, well-crafted but impersonal figurines in the bigger shops. The elements of religion, local culture and humanity in the story makes it appealing.
Before you tell a story to sell, you need to know what to tell and how to tell it!
1. Tell a personal story
You’ll find the personal story is one of the most common landing page narratives by people and businesses selling something on the Internet. It usually starts with the writer (or narrator, if it’s a video) describing a painful problem they faced. It could be anything from Type II diabetes to the lack of a suitable onion slicer. The teller takes the audience step-by-step through their experience. They suck the audience in with a fluent recreation of all the mental and physical horrors they went through because of their problem.
In our examples above, the pain point could be that taking insulin daily was a nightmare, or that slicing onions was a red-eyed and terrifying chore. Then the storyteller talks about how they discovered a solution. It could be a new diet they found that lowered their dependence on insulin, or a new onion slicer they designed for tear-free slicing. This is the product. If the story is well-told, the audience is already sold. They are just one click away from buying the product.
2. Don’t undervalue the story to your audience
Never apologize for telling a story. Don’t start by saying, “I’m sorry, but I must tell you this story,” because this undervalues your tale. It sends a message that the story does not matter. You want to give the impression your narrative will be worth the time your audience gives it. Begin your story confidently, and take it all the way to the end with the conviction that your audience needs to hear it. Your conviction will be transmitted to them, and you will gain their trust.
3. Don’t call it a ‘story.’
People think stories are to be told around campfires, or to kids, and not by professionals. That’s where they are wrong, but you don’t have to correct them. Just play along. There is no need to start your story by saying, “Let me tell you a story”. Jump right into it without biasing listeners.
4. Be careful not to start with the ending
Unless you’re a literary writer trying to experiment with language, your stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Tell your tale in the right sequence of events. Don’t give away the ending in the middle, saying “So, what happens in the end, is such and such, but I’m coming to that.” Suspense regarding what happens in the end is often what carries a story. Give it away too soon, and you’ve ruined the tale!
If you’re not sure how to begin your story, you can always have a professional storyteller help you with it. You’ll find many writers on Freelancer.com who can get your story started.
5. The first line is crucial
Attention spans are as brief as ever. You have only the first line - possibly just the first few words - to hook your audience. Choose your words wisely. Make your opener a hook that instantly piques the listener’s interest. It should be a line that tells your audience why they should listen to your story.
For example, don’t start your story by saying, “Let’s begin this meeting. I want to tell you a story about something that happened to me yesterday.” Instead, start by saying, “Something happened yesterday that completely changed my perspective on how to get the team to work together.”
6. Tell stories of other people
You may not want to share your personal stories. Instead, talk about the stories of other people that you found inspiring. Tell the success stories of your customers or clients. Give an account of someone that inspires you, and indirectly, you’ll be talking about yourself. Your audience will never realize you’ve talked your way into their memories.
7. Anything can be a story
If told well, a dry scientific experiment can make an engaging story. Scientists observing a drop of pitch fall through a funnel doesn’t seem very attractive. But when you learn that the pitch drop experiment has been running for 86 years and that in that time, only eight drops of pitch have fallen, you’re bound to be intrigued.
That is a story. The interest lies in the details. You can turn anything into an engaging tale; an historical series of events in your personal or company life, an us-and-them story or a good versus evil story are all formats that work well.
Tell stories in your email, company newsletter, landing page, or in your thesis in college. Build narratives in your business meeting, during your conference speech, and in your elevator pitch. Just be sure to follow the tips above.
People are wired to recall stories. We like to make connections, look for patterns, find emotions with which we can identify. An example of a hook that may have worked is the story we tell in the beginning. If it drew you in, it worked!
Do you have any memorable stories to share about telling stories? Is there an incident where a story persuaded you? Or did you tell a compelling story? Share with us below!