How to tell a story

Want to hear a great story? Of course you do. Human beings are wired for stories. We love stories. We hunger for stories almost as much as for food.

Last year we spent 40 billion at the box office alone. Why do we love stories so much? Because stories help us make sense of information and of our world. They stimulate brain activity, cultivate empathy and facilitate comprehension. If you need to explain a complicated concept to someone – tell a story about it.

Good stories clarify things for people. Robert McKee, a recognized expert on story, goes so far as to say that story calibrates a moral compass in our brains. “It’s from story,” he says, “that we learn what to value in life and what to live for and what to die for.” In the noisy world we live in, where thousands of messages compete for our attention, clarity wins.

“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”

Willa Cather

Those who can tell good stories foster stronger connections with others, in less time. So how do they do it? Turns out that all good stories follow a similar path. There is a common framework that the world’s best storytellers have been using for thousands of years. Good stories, it turns out, are formulaic. More recently the formula was codified and given a name. Google “The Hero’s Journey” to learn more. You’ll never watch a movie the same way again.

What’s interesting for us is that this story telling formula is not just for Hollywood writers and blockbuster producers. Leaders of all sorts do well to learn this basic storytelling framework to become more effective communicators. The world of marketing in particular is full of rubbish, noise, confusing language and babble. Our mission is to redeem the stories we tell in the marketplace, and one of the ways we do that is to hone our craft of storytelling.

What follows is a simple formula, an even simpler version of “The Hero’s Journey,” that will help you tell better stories – stories that get heard; stories that are understood; stories that call people to action. We learned this seven-step story-telling formula from Donald Miller of Storybrand. Donald is a great storyteller, a best selling author and now a marketing expert who helps business leaders clarify their message so they can grow their business. His work aligns closely with ours, particularly this model for storytelling.

HOW TO TELL A STORY

  1. Introduce a character
  2. Who has a problem.
  3. Have the character meet a guide
  4. Who gives them a plan
  5. And calls them to action
  6. Which will either fail
  7. or succeed.
How to tell a story

To put it another way:

  1. Describe your ideal customer. What do they look like? Where do they live? What is it they want? What do they dream of?

  2. Ask. What is standing in their way of realizing those dreams? What problems do they face. What pain might they be experiencing?

  3. Introduce yourself. What qualifies you to help? Have you overcome a similar barrier? Travelled a similar road? Developed a solution? Do you have knowledge, expertise or capabilities they don’t have?

  4. Plan. What plan can you offer them? What advice can you give? How will you remove the barrier(s) for them?

  5. Call them to act. What is it you think they should do? Sign up? Attend? Call? Reserve an appointment? Purchase a product? Learn more?

  6. Cast a vision. Describe what it will be like when they take action.

  7. Remind them of what things will be like when no action is taken.

Notice who the hero in the story is? It’s not you. It’s your customer!

“You are not the hero in your story. Your customer is!”

So many marketing messages fail because we end talking too much about ourselves. “We have the best quality products”, “We have the best service”, “We love our jobs”, “We’re passionate about such and such…” “We’ve been here since nineteen-whatever…” etc.

Effective story tellers on the other hand make their audience the hero of their stories while they play the guide.

You, however, are the hero of our story.

Because you might be a lot like Dave. Dave is a hardworking guy. He’s awesome at working with his hands and can build most anything. He loves being outdoors. He’s tough and yet has a keen eye for great design. It’s a combination of skills and passions that led him to start his own landscape construction company when he was only 21 years old – an age when most of his friends were still getting drunk with their parent’s money at university.

Dave started small but the demand for his services grew quickly on account of Dave’s workmanship and his friendly personality. To meet that demand Dave decided to hire some help. And that’s where his problems started.

You see, Dave is an accomplished craftsman. But he was not the greatest communicator. He started noticing issues with the work first. Then he started getting the feeling that his team was not aligned - they didn't value the same things. He also found he was having a harder time finding the right kind of work.

When he had started out Dave was content to take anything that came his way, but after a while Dave realized that not every job was a good fit. Having more guys to keep busy kept Dave busy chasing after more work. When he failed to line up enough jobs he decided to build a website to generate some leads.

Dave hired a guy who assured him that he had taken some web design classes in college. Things went downhill from there. When, after paying much more money than he agreed to, Dave finally got his website launched, it didn’t reflect the quality of his work or the type of company he wanted to be known as. To make matters worse, he still had trouble generating the right kind of interest in his business. Dave found himself working harder but making less money. He was rarely satisfied with his guys’ work. He stressed and fretted but seemed to make little progress.

It turns out that Dave’s problem wasn’t his capacity to work or the quality of his work. Rather it was his ability to communicate with clarity about what he did for people and what he expected of his team. If you can relate to Dave we have good news. Because we’ve helped hundreds of guys like Dave tell their story and grow their businesses. Heck, we used to be in Dave’s shoes ourselves. We’ve refined a process over the years that helps business owners like Dave get a deeper understanding of who they really are, what they really do and why it really matters.

“Dave’s problem wasn’t his capacity to work or the quality of his work. Rather it was his ability to communicate with clarity about what he did for people and what he expected of his team.”

All you have to do is request a phone call with one of us. We guarantee you won’t be spoken to in jargon. We guarantee you’ll be completely satisfied with our recommendations. We even guarantee a fresh cup of coffee any time you visit us at our office. You’ll love working with us. Try it. The result of our process is a story, a messaging system if you will, that attracts ideal clients, converts them into loyal customers, improves word of mouth referrals and even attracts talented recruits to your team.

In short, our process moves companies like Dave’s (and maybe yours too) from a bland “me-too” company to a powerful brand. And that’s when the fun really starts. With a clear understanding of what is expected from them, Dave’s team will improve both productivity and the quality of their work. And by targeting specific audiences with clear messages, Dave can enjoy a steady stream of ideal job prospects, which gives him more control over price, timing and conditions so that he can ensure that his team will be able to do their absolute best and exceed their clients expectations. Dave might finally be able to take a little more time off every now and then as well.

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