It’s the oldest trick in the book – so use it

[Image courtesy of Alan Levine at Flickr Creative Commons]

Have you heard the one about the man with a surgical glove trapped in the most embarrassing place you can think? Neither had I until this week.

It’s not a joke in dubious taste, by the way. It’s the story of a guy who found blood in his stools and went to the doctor. The examination didn’t go exactly according to plan – hence the latex crisis.

And the most remarkable thing is that he chose to share this experience standing on stage in front of an audience.

It’s all part of a storytelling craze that’s sweeping the world and encouraging ordinary people to share extraordinary stories. They’re sometimes funny, frequently embarrassing and always interesting. And it seems that anything goes in this world of confessional storytelling.

There are stories like the teenager who told her boyfriend she wanted to become a nun, a woman who falls in love with a man 10 years younger than her, and the chap who set out to cross the English Channel in a bathtub.

If you’re thinking TED, think again. There isn’t always that feel-good factor, the sense that anybody can do anything if they put their mind to it. Instead, there’s a sense of unburdening and finally revealing deepest, darkest secrets and connecting with the audience.

And all through the power of storytelling.

Permanently on transmit

Many years ago, I went to a nightmare networking event. It was like having a room full of people all doing elevator pitches to each other, all at the same time.

Nobody seemed to be listening, yet everybody was talking. And every so often, they’d abruptly end the conversations and move to somebody else. Clearly, they’d all read the same tip about ‘working the room’.

I was reflecting on this over a glass of cheap white wine with a fellow networker, and noticed that she was different from the rest. And then I saw why that was.

She was listening to me really intently, focusing on what I was saying, and weaving her comments in and out. She was also putting a lot of herself into what she said, with not an elevator pitch in sight. Instead, she drew on personal experience and shared her thoughts without any hesitation or embarrassment.

Then she moved on, and so did I. But of everybody I met that evening, she’s only one I remember after all these years.

Because she created a connection, shared her emotions – and told a story.

Tell me a story

Corporate storytelling is no different, and yet time and again, corporate storytellers fall back on the elevator-pitch approach.

They sanitise the story so it’s devoid of emotion. They throw out facts without organising them in a logical order. They get the message across, but it’s not memorable.

And that’s a big mistake. Because stories, especially stories with emotion, are hugely powerful. Why?

  • They tell the listener something about you and how you see life.
  • They pull the audience in, and keep them interested. Who doesn’t want to know how a story ends?
  • You can use them to get across messages in a subtle way.
  • Stories often bypass the rational brain – and most buying decisions (despite what we might say or think) are actually based on emotion.
  • They allow you to directly involve the reader or listener, by letting them identify with you or your story. If you know who they are and the sort of thing that will appeal to them (and you really should) you have an immediate way in.

If you’re thinking this is all a bit to touchy-feely, triumph-over-tragedy for marketing, think again. Stories are everywhere, from case studies to testimonials, from blog posts even to product and solution pages.

Everything is a story, and every story is an opportunity to connect with a reader.

And it doesn’t need to include latex gloves – unless you really want it to.