When I arrived for a training course with the name, "Powerful storytelling for tech," I was surprised to discover that most of the attendees worked in sales, rather than the marketing and communications crowd I'd been expecting. They were all there to learn how best to engage prospects – how to first establish common ground or shared experiences before going on to tackle specific business concerns and how they could help provide a solution. Most importantly, they were there to get tips on doing all of that in a really compelling way through a storytelling approach.
When you think about it, it’s not really surprising that there were so many sales people in the room. Many of you will be familiar with the statistic that around two-thirds of a buyer’s journey is initially done via their own online research, before they even speak to someone in sales. So it’s vital that the content they find tells a powerful story – drawing on skills from those in marketing, but also those with skills in sales.
Even though sales are absent from the process initially, they need to contribute remotely to these earlier stages of the buyer’s journey. They also need to complete the storytelling process in the final third of that journey.
So what did this course from Tech UK reveal about good storytelling? Aristotle identified that any good story needs a structure – simply put, ‘a beginning, a middle and an end’.
You need to establish some common ground early on, that has relevance to what you want to go on to talk about. Rather than talking about anything too specific (e.g. advanced analytics!) you should share something topical, non-technical, of concern to many people. You need to connect. You need to get your audience to communicate their thoughts back to you on this topic. This can also inform what you include in your story – even if it’s the occasional reference back to whatever the common ground was.
It’s important to introduce a human element and personalise a story. We were shown how most Hollywood films follow the same basic script – a ‘hero’s journey,’ where an individual leading a normal life is suddenly thrown into an unexpected situation and overcomes various trials and tribulations to ultimately succeed in making the world a better place. This can be achieved by involving your audience in your story – i.e. your tale should involve the CIO if that’s who you’re talking to.
People feel losses more powerfully than gains. The example was given of an energy company ringing up a customer to say they’d be getting $10 off their next monthly bill. The customer is happy. But a call to say that they’re going to be charged an additional $10 due to late payment will trigger a more powerful emotional response. So the story needs to play on fears. Like any good Hollywood Blockbuster, the story needs to introduce tension and conflict.
It should focus on a series of worries or concerns (what do I do with all this data, where do I start, how do I keep my data secure? etc.) and then provide a solution to each of these in turn. It’s a series of points that fall under “this is how it is” and “this is how it could be.” The bridge to “how it could be” needs to feel natural, not contrived. Real-life examples are important here to build up the tension, and reinforce the dangers associated with “staying how it is”.
You need to use specific, anecdotal real-life examples to support your claims. People turn off when it’s high-level talk about retailers. But tell them a story about a particular supermarket chain (better still if it’s the one they shop at) and they'll sit up and take notice.
Use facts initially, and build on these to appeal to people’s emotions. For example, “your business has had 10 security alerts in the last fortnight” (fact). This could be followed by “what does this mean for your business, what can you do to survive these continual attacks?” (emotion). Tapping into these emotional drivers are important. We were told about the ‘Chimp Paradox’, an acclaimed book by Professor Steve Peters, which introduced the concept that basic animal instincts felt by chimps apply also to humans. The need for ‘security’, ‘power’, ‘ego’, ‘troop’ (being part of the crowd), ‘shelter’ etc. Each of these ‘needs’ can be targeted in your story, to reinforce the messages you want to get across.
You need to end your story with a ‘wow’ factor. For example, “And what if I told you that you could overcome all these challenges with ...” Try to leave them inspired, with a call to action or clear next steps, so there’s something to follow-up about, rather than a very general “have you thought any more about what we discussed last week?”
If you're interested in more storytelling tips check out this white paper: Data Storytelling Confidential -- 7 Secrets for Storytelling Newbies.