With a severe case of dyslexia, traditional school was always a struggle for young Richard Branson. At the age of 16, he made the decision to drop out. However, rather than wallow in his difficulties and assume the posture of defeat, he dove headlong into entrepreneurship, launching his first of many business entities.
The Virgin story is one of trial and error, but despite moments of failure, Richard has managed to keep it in an ever-ascending line of success. How is this possible? Because he believes in the power of storytelling to inspire, motivate, educate, engage, persuade, and sell.
“I have always loved stories…. Ever since I started in business with Student Magazine, I have been fascinated by the intersection between storytelling and entrepreneurship,” he writes. “Entrepreneurs who make a difference are, in effect, professional storytellers…. Storytelling is a great way to get your views across, highlight how you and your company are different to your competitors, and also to work out new ideas." - Richard Branson
Our ancestors’ discovery of fire did more for humanity than to simply provide light, heat, and a way of cooking our food. It brought us together as a community and carved a nitch into our schedules for storytelling. Richard often ends his days on his home estate with this same ritual with family, friends, and Virgin team members meeting around a fire on the beach to exchange stories.
Effective storytelling can take you far in this age of "infobesity" – a term coined by Intrigue Expert, Sam Horn. With the magic of technology, empty facts are literally at our fingertips. People crave a personal connection – a story that makes them feel.
Telling connective stories takes skill and practice. Below are some formulas and examples that you may find helpful.
Three Easy & Effective Storytelling Methods
This method is probably the easiest, especially when trying to sell your product or service. It presents someone who had a problem that you were able to solve through the providence of your product or service.
You could simply state that Mrs. Smith had a coffee stain on her rug that no other company was able to remove, but you came in and cleaned it in the snap of a finger. But that feels more like a bragging statement than a story. You want your potential client/investor to somehow relate to Mrs. Smith.
Consider starting with a personal question that leads to your story.
“Have you ever spilled coffee or tea on your carpet by accident? Yes? So you know how hard it is to remove the residual stain. I had a client once who faced this same frustration. She accidentally spilled her coffee in the middle of her white carpet just days before she was expecting holiday company. She hired two different companies to come out and remove it, but the spot came back after a couple hours each time. She called our company as a last resort. We were able to remove it completely and have her carpet dry before her company arrived, and the spot never came back.”
This problem/solution method also works well at networking events when people ask “What do you do?” Start with your connection question. “Have you ever had a spot on your carpet that you were unable to remove or a pet who had soiled your rug leaving behind an odor?” Wait for an answer. “I own and operate Referral Cleaning & Restoration, where our specialty is helping clients with problem spots and odors.”
This method is similar to the problem/solution, but it’s more hypothetical. It presents a current state, the desired state of “what if things could be different”, and the bridge of action it would take to get there.
Compassion International uses this story method in their 2010 solicitation video.They presented the effects of poverty on the body and the mind. Then they gave hope to the “what if” vision of being rescued from poverty. Finally, they bridge the two together with you as the hero. I highly suggest you take two minutes to watch it. It is the perfect example of using the Before/After/Bridge method with a persuasive personal connection.
Simon Sinek, who presents his Golden Circle model in a TED talk, explains it this way: “Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it…. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do…. The way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations - regardless of their size, regardless of their industry - all think, act and communicate from the inside out.”
In his talk, he explains the biological reasons for starting with the emotional why and moving outward to the tangible rationalization of the why. “What it proves to us is that people don't buy what you do; people buy why you do it.”
Jessica Alba, the founder of the Honest Company, does this well. She clearly presents her why on her website, connecting with all those who value the same principles she does. “I founded The Honest Company because I wanted safe, effective products that perform. After all, you shouldn't have to choose between what works and what's good for you.” She doesn’t even need to tell you anything else. If you’re a parent who values quality and health, you will want to browse her online store and purchase her products.
It is this why?/how?/what? method that I used in my “about” page. I tell my personal story of failing health due to stress at work and how it inspired me to help others find joy in the workplace. This is my why. It’s what gets me out of bed each day. It’s what drives me to action. This is where I connect with you on a personal level. It’s where you say, “Being happy in my career without the debilitating stress is important to me too.” I then move on to tell you how I help others and what I can offer you.
Really, the gist of this method is to simply say, “This is important to me. If it’s important to you too, I have a product or service that you will want.”
The three story formulas above should provide you with a few easy to remember strategies that will serve you well in networking, marketing, interviewing, presentations, and just about any human interaction in business.
But, as Richard Branson concludes: “And one more: ‘Storytelling is as old as the campfire, and as young as a tweet. What moves people is someone who is credible.’ People can see straight through storytelling that is false, staged or cynical. It has to come from the heart, not just the head.”
Above all, be genuine and be caring. Keep your why always in the forefront of your mind so your stories are personal and inspiring for maximum connectivity.