Whether you're leading a sales pitch, writing a persuasive email, writing landing page copy or simply chatting in the pub, storytelling sits at the centre. But how do we become a person that’s great at telling stories? How do we captivate our audience? And even encourage them to take action? Today we have the master of storytelling, communications expert Richard Newman. He’ll answer those three questions and give us an insight into the winning structure guaranteed to captivate any audience - whether it be investors or your mates.
Defining a story
OK let’s start with thinking about what makes a great story. It might be a movie, you might have a friend that always tells the best stories or the plot of your favourite book. What three elements do they all have in common? Was your first thought, beginning, middle and end? Think again. All of them have characters, a challenge and take you on their journey to overcome that challenge.
Let’s think about how this plays out in our everyday lives. Despite being glued to our screens all day and suffering from screen fatigue, many of us unwind by bingeing a show or reading a book. “What is it that Netflix has that PowerPoints don’t? Characters. Suddenly we’re captivated by their stories. The second thing you’ve got to have is a challenge. No matter how hard your day is, nobody wants to read a book or watch or watch a movie where life is good at the beginning and good at the end. Boring. Nobody wants that. Even if it’s a romantic comedy, things go up and down. There are challenges happening. And then finally they go on a journey to overcome that challenge.”, says Richard on this magical trifecta.
So now we can see how it plays out in the most literal sense of storytelling, but what about in the business world? Let’s take a look.
First up we have characters. And here we want to think about the classic roles of a good story. There is always a protagonist - a hero which takes centre stage in the story. The tendency of many people is to take the position of the hero. To make sure they’re centre stage and holding the attention of the audience. But it’s not the hero that has the influence. They’re often the ones being led by someone else. Dumbledore & Harry Potter. Yoda & Obi-Wan Kenobi. M & James Bond
Each protagonist has a mentor that helps them to overcome challenges and grow.
It is the mentor role you need to take on in almost every business situation. Richard elaborates, “If you go into every meeting with the mentor mindset you can greatly influence everybody. Your job in every meeting; with your client, boss, and suppliers is to go in thinking about what are their challenges and what are their goals? If you can help them get from their challenges towards their goals, you become a key person of influence in every situation.”
Much like all of the mentors above, the key is empathising and building a level of trust with whoever you’re speaking or writing to. They are the hero of the story, and you need to make them feel like it.
Now we’ve got the right headspace going into telling a story, how do you engage with their challenges? Remember, as the mentor it’s about focusing on their challenges. So the beginning should be an interaction and asking about their concerns or summarising from a previous meeting (if you’ve already had one). Richard suggests framing as follows, “Go into the meeting and say, ‘Hey thanks for the meeting, I understand from when we last met that you’ve got some major concerns in this area.” This starting point engages with them, asking for responses rather than just talking to them.
From there, Richard highlights three major areas that a lot of businesses get concerned about - money, time and values. Highlight the concerns in the context of money and/or time and then finish with a point on something they really care about. This might be work-life balance, quality of work, reputation, people in a team not feeling supported - the list could go on. Essentially you’re looking for something else that they can connect to that sits outside of money and time.
Now you’ve highlighted the problem, the natural next step is often to offer a solution, right? Not necessarily. Often whoever you’re talking or writing to isn’t in the right frame of mind to receive the solution straight off the bat.
We’ve all been there where we offer up a killer idea in a meeting for it to be rejected. But, the same idea is suggested later in a meeting by someone else and it's commended. This wasn’t a reflection on your idea but more the timing. Think about that mentor role. Dumbledore didn’t give Harry the 4-11 on everything he’d need to know about Horcruxes the first day he stepped into Hogwarts. M didn’t give away all the info Bond needed to complete a mission in the first scene. Not only would it be dull to watch, but it highlights the role of a mentor. Neither Harry nor Bond would be ready or know what to do with all of that information. They had to uncover more themselves to be devoted to each of their respective missions.
With this in mind, Richard suggests switching up the order of your story here, “Don’t sell your solutions. Don’t sell your products. Don’t sell your services. Sell them a better future and then tell them how your solution delivers that better future." Better future comes first, solutions come second.” The key here is positioning the future as a question, asking “What would it look like if…you had more time on your hands, more resources, a better repulation." Whatever aspects matter to them. Once you have them hooked on this potential future, you can then introduce how your proposed solution will deliver on it.
To further keep the attention of your audience, it’s key to make this delivery part is simple. Break it down to a few simple steps or components. Group key features, services or benefits into three core statements which you can run through succinctly. No one wants to sit through a pitch, presentation or even read an email where every feature or benefit is detailed. We just want to know the most important parts of the story.
Finally, we have how to encourage someone to take action. Again this comes down to stepping into the shoes of your hero. What is the first step they can take on the journey with you? It might be a short call in two weeks, booking a follow-up meeting or offering a partial commitment. Pushing the person you’re with to make a big commitment is not only off-putting but takes them out of the spotlight. It no longer becomes about them but about what you want. Not a very mentor-like state of mind, now is it? So think of the lowest possible entry to a yes. And take that first step with them there and then.
Telling stories, especially in business, is tricky. But we hope that Richard’s structure has given you some food for thought, a different perspective on how to tell an effective story and some insight on how to drive the receivers of your story toward action. These are just some of the brilliant insights from Richards PepTalk which you can watch in full on our subscription service. Alternatively, if you want to book Richard for a PepTalk for your team, get in touch today.