THIS STORYTELLING EXPERT SHARES HOW TO TRULY CONNECT WITH PROSPECTS.
I FELL IN LOVE with stories and storytelling when I was 12 years old on a road trip with my family. We were in the minivan. Traveling north down rural Minnesota roads on the way to our small lake cabin for the weekend, my younger brother started playing a cassette tape of incredible tales told live by different storytellers at the National Storytelling Festival. And though we varied in age and interests, the four of us listening on that drive were all equally captivated. We laughed until we cried for all of Side A and most of Side B until we arrived at the cabin. We were the most united I ever remember, and all it took were a few stories.
That was one of a handful of vivid memories from my childhood when I witnessed and experienced the grip a story can have on an individual, the glue it can become for a group. Pretty soon afterward, I started to tell stories myself. And several years later, won the opportunity to take the stage at the very festival where that road trip cassette tape was recorded. So I traveled with my mother to Jonesborough, Tennessee, where every October people from all over flood a no-stoplight town and gather under enormous tents to listen to master storytellers at what amounts to the Super Bowl of yarn-spinning.
The tellers aren’t there to sell a product or promote an agenda, but rather to connect the people who squeeze into those tents by the thousands. I watched and listened as the tellers’ stories mesmerized the crowd and had the distinct sense that the impact of storytelling went beyond what meets the eye.
When the festival concluded, my mother and I traveled back to the airport together. She looked at me and said, “You could do this, you know. You could be a professional storyteller.” I scoffed at her and rolled my eyes, as is teenage custom. “Oh yeah. I’m going to tell stories for the rest of my life. Sure.”
And though she now likely feels the urge to say, “I told you so” to me on a daily basis, I like to think we were both right because, yes, since that moment, stories have been my life; they are what I do, they are what I know, they are how I earn my income and how I make my difference.
Just as my family came together in the van during that drive to the cabin, so do stories unite far-flung teams, connect customers to brands, and close the gaps that divide us. I’ve even seen how a good story can solve for what may be the trickiest question of a direct seller’s career: How do you nail the dreaded elevator pitch?
As it happens, this story occurs on an actual elevator, when I stepped in and three people followed behind me—a young woman and two young men. We were on Floor 3 of the airport, they were going to Floor 4, and I was riding to Floor 5. The door closed, and the woman turned to her friends; “Do you know where my parents are right now?” They shook their heads. “They’re at a burial service for my grandfather’s friend who died at Pearl Harbor. They just found the body, and they’re going to pay their respects to Good Ol’ Mike.” With that, the doors opened, and the trio stepped off, leaving me alone in the elevator, my jaw on the floor. A Pearl Harbor body found only now!? I almost jumped out after them, but the heavy steel doors slammed shut; mocking both my curiosity and hesitation.
For decades, sales and marketing experts have been trying to perfect the elevator pitch. How does one deliver enough information and create enough intrigue for a prospect that if you had only a one-floor elevator journey together, they would want to learn more. Certainly, this traveler wasn’t trying to sell anything, but that’s exactly the point. Her elevator pitch wasn’t a pitch at all: It was a story.
Here are four simple steps to transform your 30-second pitch into a story they absolutely have to hear. Then they connected with their suppliers and challenged them to develop innovative plans so the changing needs of their customers would be met.
1 YOUR STORY MUST HAVE CHARACTERS
In the Pearl Harbor story, there were several actual people: the woman’s parents and Good Ol’ Mike, to name a few. Instantly I connected to the message. I have parents, I can relate. I can picture Good Ol’ Mike.
Who are the characters in your company’s story? Was there a friend who helped get it started? Who is a customer you served? Characters make the story interesting. Don’t leave them out of your pitch.
2 LEAVE OUT DETAILS (ALMOST ALL OF THEM)
It will be difficult to resist mentioning what year you launched, or the features of your product, or the year-over-year revenue growth,but resist you must. All of those facts and bits of information are utterly forgettable.
If you only have a few moments with someone, use it to engage their imagination and fall into your story.
3 DISCONNECT FROM THE OUTCOME
What if Martin Luther King Jr. told the world about the dream he had, and then asked people to please leave their business cards in a bowl at the back of the Mall? Spend time developing a compelling story that becomes the beginning of a relationship versus a death-by-poorly executed-pitch.
The next time you have to explain what you do in the amount of time it would take to ride from one floor to another in an elevator, use these simple steps and choose to tell a story that leaves your listener begging for more.
4 YOUR STORY NEEDS A SENSE OF WONDER, INTRIGUE, OR MYSTERY
World War II, Pearl Harbor, and finding the remains of a forgotten soldier decades later is heavy on intrigue. Your pitch can tap into this same element of disbelief. Did you stumble upon a solution you couldn’t believe actually existed and built a company?
Tell that story. Did you or someone you know encounter a problem you couldn’t believe didn’t have a solution? Tell that story. After 30 seconds, if it’s time to exit the elevator, at least you leave the listener with a mystery they’ll want to investigate. And when they do, they’ll find you.
When I arrived home from the airport that evening, I told my husband about the best elevator pitch ever. Together we Googled “Mike Pearl Harbor body found” and read about new DNA testing allowing families to finally lay their loved ones to rest.
Indeed, there had been a service that day.