Give yourself a competitive edge - using stories

Give yourself a competitive edge - using stories

Stories are powerful.  Christopher Hirsch, from Toastmasters International, reminds us how to embrace their power to help our businesses.

Stories can help us understand the world around us, influence our feelings, making us laugh or cry, and they can inspire us to achieve our goals.  If you read business magazines or watch Undercover Boss you are consuming business stories. And case studies are stories by another name! 

What makes a good story?

Is it all about being interesting, exciting or amusing? I don’t think so. What makes a compelling story is not the content.  The power is created by the structure.

In your business story a clear structure will engage your audience and encourage your clients to take action. To be effective your story must be authentic and based on truth and reality. If it turns into a straight sales pitch it won’t work.

How a good story is structured

All stories, whatever the content, follow the same simple structure:

  • You start by setting the scene (Once upon a time there was……)
  • You then have a problem (… Scar has seized the throne in Pride Land…)
  • Then there is rising tension as the problem can’t be solved (…Simba has a choice – keep his happy life or taking huge risk to fight against Scar …)
  • Then you have the climax or tipping point (…Simba finds out Scar killed his father…)
  • Then there is the resolution (…they fight…Simba reclaims the kingdom)
  • And finally you have a new status quo (… The new lion king rules wisely and well…)

Constructing your own compelling business stories

My suggestion is that you start by clearly expressing the ‘why’ of your business. In fact, while you are at it you can answer “why Is my business here, what problems do we solve, how do we solve them and for whom”. This will help you to understand the kind of stories your clients need to hear.

For example, my organisation is in financial services.  We are helping clients deal with complexity and uncertainty.  The place they want to get to is security and peace of mind.

Now, for your own business, think of a client who you are most proud of helping – their story is the one to tell.

Always construct the end of the story FIRST – it’s easier to start a journey if you know the destination. Paint a picture of how the client felt after you had helped them (the ‘…and they all lived happily ever after’ line).  You can then go back to the beginning, set the scene and follow through the problem and resolution. Ending with how wonderful the client felt at the end of the adventure and the improved situation he or she is in.

There are some important points to remember to make your story really effective

  • Make the client (or someone like them) the hero of the story
  • If the story is about another client, make sure the person you are telling will think “they are just like me”
  • Never make yourself the hero – it is their story, you are just the guide
  • You must include a pivot point, a moment of tension, without this you will not have a story

Stories mirror how we think

Storytelling is a highly effective means of communicating with others. But it goes further than that because we, ourselves, also think in stories.

If you want to solve a problem, construct a narrative around it – turn it into a story. Most problems involve other people so I challenge you to make them the hero of the story and make yourself the guide. Use the same method of construction as above and think of a happy ending first.

By doing this you are automatically looking at the situation from the other person’s point of view and trying to think how you can solve their problem. This can be a really refreshing and enlightening process.

Improve your case studies

Many of us in business realise that case studies are an excellent way to explain our services. It will be time well spent if you review your website and edit your case studies to reflect the above lessons.

Stories make a difference

Storytelling has been with us throughout the ages. It fulfils a human need which is what makes it so powerful and effective.

Not all stories have to follow the exact structure outlined here, but they all need tension and a final resolution.  Hard information can be persuasive but it rarely gets people feeling inspired and leaping into action.  Used well stories will definitely give you a competitive edge and have a positive effect on your business and client relationships.