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How to Tell a Story that Sells

by | Aug 4, 2020

Halfway up a 3-story vertical ladder just south of the Botswana/South Africa border I halt.

My husband Jim and I had said “yes” to climbing this tower to observe warthogs from a high platform. Jim is on this platform already.

“What’s the matter, Karen?”, whispered my one-armed guide on the ground below.

“What’s the matter,” I grumbled to myself. “Everything. I do not want to do this! I don’t have to do this. This is not fun. I’ll just wait at the bottom.”

I make an Executive Decision – I go down a few rungs.

Our guide looks up at me and shares, “Karen – we sent the vehicle away. If you come down the animals will smell you.”

I make a second Executive Decision – “Got it,” and UP I climb.

I use this true story to teach audiences HOW to tell a story. I stop here to unpack what I’ve done…. so far. The “rest of the story” still needs to be told.

First – why use stories? A compelling conversation (in a speech or a meeting or even around your kitchen table talking to your “bubble” on its 134th pandemic day) is NEVER just about the data. Stories create visual pictures that make your message stick.

Elements of a good story:

  • Context: set the stage. Halfway up a 3-story vertical ladder just south of the Botswana/South Africa border
  • Characters: Make your characters vivid, not plain, in your initial description. Keep the number of characters minimal. Use dialog to shape your characters. One-armed guide who talks to my husband and me
  • Conflict: What’s challenging your characters? You must have emotion here. I do NOT want to climb this ladder

Done. Done. Done. But wait. There is one more MUST HAVE in story telling …

  • Conclusion: Resolution I climb up the ladder and RELEVANCE.

What’s the relevance? IF your story has no relevance then you do NOT tell the story! Your story has to relate to your buyers, team, and managers.

Here is where I stop and ask my audiences (that’s you), “What are the various applications/relevance of this story?”

You could make a point about how to make decisions, or how to persuade others, or how to lead your team. Pick the one that resonates for you and your organization’s need.

Today the relevance to you decision makers during Covid, economic craziness and boring zoom family chats is … sometimes you will change your course of action. It depends on the most current data you have. That’s what makes you an effective leader.

© 2020 Karen Cortell Reisman, MS, Executive Communication Author & Speaker. All rights reserved.

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