Sales Storyteller Status

Hello!

I wanted to put up a short note to anyone who happens upon my blog.  First, welcome!  I am truly happy you found your way here.

I have not posted in a while for a few different reasons.  I lost two family members earlier this year and took a break from my blog for a while.  Then, I actually began working in sales again, which has helped tremendously in generating material for my blog.  However, my clients’ projects come first.  Time is limited and while I am working in sales and taking on clients, my blog has fallen low on my list of priorities.  This is not intended to be forever, but will be for the foreseeable future.

If you have a copywriting project, please give me a call!  I take on new projects all the time.

If you are looking for sales storytelling advice, please check out my previous posts and follow me on twitter.  Once I am regularly posting again, I will make the announcement there.

Thank you for stopping by!

 

5 Exercises That Will Make You a Better Storyteller

5 Exercises That Will Make You a Better Storyteller image

– Part 3 of The Sales Storyteller Series

Not everyone is a born storyteller.  Putting together a compelling narrative or even a compelling sentence can be tough, especially if you’re channeling your creative energies into other activities.  Even the best storytellers run out of material or hit a wall and need to regroup.  But I have good news.  There are ways you can improve your storytelling skills and recharge your batteries even while you’re on the go.

We’ve gone over the elements of compelling storytelling, now let’s try these five simple exercises that you can incorporate into your everyday life that will help boost those creative juices and make you a better storyteller.

Describe Your Surroundings

Have you ever been reading a book or an article and a description so beautiful and accurate stopped you and made you go back to read it again?  Have you ever wondered how to describe a certain smell or color to someone who has never smelled it or seen it before?  Why not give it a try?

Great storytellers are conscious of their surroundings.  To become a better storyteller, make an effort to take in more detail, notice what’s going on around you just a little bit more.  Once you do, you’ll be able to practice describing your surroundings.  There are opportunities everywhere for exercising and expanding this skill set.

While you are waiting in line at the grocery store, walking your dog, putting on your makeup or brushing your hair, think about an object or feeling or smell and describe it to yourself.  Use words you’d never use, and try to see it from a new perspective.  You can be silly or serious.  It doesn’t matter what you come up with, good or bad, as long as you are thinking in new ways.

Do Something New

Doug Kurtz, a writing coach and very cool guy, recently put out a podcast on creative stagnation.  To free yourself from a creative rut, Doug advises you to go out into the world and try something new.

Storytellers are constantly mining their own experiences for material.  Sales rock stars will always have something fun and new to share as they build important customer relationships, the most popular people at a party are in demand because they entertain with exciting stories from their lives, and your friends might be sick of hearing the story about you busing the table for a movie star the hundredth time.

This exercise can be as simple as talking to a stranger while you are waiting in line at Starbucks or as complex as taking skydiving lessons.  It’s completely up to you.  But if you expand your horizons, you’ll be surprised at how energized you will get in other, seemingly unrelated, parts of your life.

Take a Breath…Try Meditation

meditation image

During meditation, focus on your breathing and keep your mind clear.

I don’t need to tell you that meditation can reduce stress and improve your health.  But did you know that clearing your mind can be beneficial to your creative side as well?  Studies have shown that meditative exercises can promote creative thinking, which is exactly what you need in order to be an effective storyteller.

Especially in times of high stress, try this easy, meditative exercise to restore your mental energies for the tasks ahead.  Find a comfortable place to sit (this can be at your desk) with your feet on the floor.  Allow your hands and arms to relax, put your head back or let it fall forward, and close your eyes.  Take deep breaths from your diaphragm, slowly, in and out, and let your mind wander.  Imagine all the tension in your body floating away.  Give yourself at least half a dozen repetitions before you come back to reality.

Use this technique whenever you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or even bored.  Sometimes all it takes is a few moments to let go to help you see the bigger picture.

Mind Mapping

Have you heard of mind mapping?  There are lots of tools online to help with strategic mind mapping and outlining, but for our purposes mind mapping is simply a way to brain storm new ideas.  I first learned about mind mapping from other writers.  Writers use mind mapping as a problem solving tool for when they are stuck with a character or a scene or any number of other issues they run into, and you can too.

Try this exercise when you are stuck on a problem, and it will help you break through to potential solutions you weren’t able to connect with in more traditional ways.

Write a word at the center of a piece of paper (or whatever is handy, like a napkin) that embodies the issue you are facing.  Then, without focusing on any one thing, allow your mind to travel a meandering path as you write the next word that comes to mind, then the next word, then the next, all over the page.  The trick is to let go and allow your brain to come up with anything it wants, whether it makes sense or not, without stopping to think on any one concept.  Once you’ve filled the page, go back and look it over.  Circle the words that make the most sense and see if you find new connections between them that lead to potential solutions.

Practice Being a Storyteller

Practice makes perfect, or so they say.  The best exercise you can do to become a fantastic storyteller and keep your creative energies flowing is to practice the skill itself.  Don’t worry, it’s easy.

As you are walking down the street (or at your office, in a parking lot, anywhere really), pick a stranger out of the crowd and tell yourself their story.  Be as wild as you want.  Tap into the storyline of the television show you watched last night and make them a character in it.  Is that woman wearing cowboy boots because she is on her way to save her ranch from an unscrupulous CEO?  Maybe the man jogging around the corner is a spy doing surveillance on the building, or that couple holding hands met in an elevator when it got stuck for a few hours during a blackout.

Mine your own memories for ideas or just go crazy.  It’s always fun to make up stories, even in small ways.  The best part is you can do this exercise anytime, anywhere.  Get in the habit, and you’ll be a world class storyteller in no time.

Photo Credit: MorgueFile and Unsplash

The 7 Essential Elements of Compelling Storytelling

compelling storytelling

There are seven basic elements of compelling storytelling that you should use when crafting a narrative. Using the classic fairy tale, “Cinderella” as an example, we explore each element and the role it plays in building an effective story.

– Part 2 of The Sales Storyteller Series

Now that we’ve talked about why storytelling is important in our everyday lives, let’s take a look at the essential elements of compelling storytelling.  A story by definition is a narration of a series of events told with a specific purpose in mind.  The purpose could be to interest, amuse, engage, instruct, or to convince.  How you build that narrative and what you include will determine how effective your story will be at accomplishing its purpose.

The elements of effective storytelling can be broken down in numerous ways.  Copyblogger, for example, breaks the building of a compelling marketing story into three simple parts – the hero, the helper, and “the gap.”  Any good writer will tell you that there are countless facets and angles from which to work a story as you craft it into an enthralling narrative.  Every storyteller’s toolbox is different, but these seven basic elements are always present in truly compelling storytelling.

Using one of the most well-known fairy tales of all time, “Cinderella,” let’s investigate each element and see how they function to support this timeless tale. 

1.  Set the Scene 

Establishing the characters and context by describing the scene of your story is the first action you should take to establish your narrative.  By describing the situation, you build the solid ground upon which your story will stand.

Once upon a time, there lived a young girl with her doting father.  One day, her father brings home a new bride and her two daughters to join their family.  The new stepmother spoils her own children and treats the girl somewhat poorly…

 We first set the scene with characters and context, answering the question, where am I in the story?

Imagine if you began telling Cinderella’s story without context.  Jumping in with a mean stepmother who won’t allow Cinderella to go to the ball robs your audience of the experience of losing themselves in your story.

2.  Use Descriptions to Build an Emotional Connection

You don’t need to be a poet to highlight the essential details in your story.  Simple descriptors can do wonders for building that crucial emotional connection between your audience and your narrative.

…Then one day tragedy strikes.  The girl’s loving father suffers a fall from his horse and dies, leaving his devastated daughter in the hands of her stepfamily.  The stepmother becomes very cruel, forcing the girl to labor as a servant in her family home for years…

Not to be overused, planting small details into the story can help paint a picture for your audience and draw on their emotions.  She doesn’t just lose her father, but her loving father.  The stepmother isn’t just making the girl work, she’s being especially cruel about it.

3.   Tell Me Who this Story is About

A story is nothing without central characters.  Compelling storytelling is built on the conflict happening between the protagonist(s) and the antagonist(s).  You have to tell your audience who they are.

…While her stepsisters are treated like princesses, the girl toils away doing all the household chores at the command of her evil stepmother.  When a royal ball is announced, all eligible young ladies are invited to attend to meet the Prince…

Now we know all the characters central to the main plot, and we know how we are supposed to feel about them.  Your story might only have one character, your customer for example, but that’s ok.  As long as we know who they are and that they are important, you’ve included this basic element.

4.    Establish Conflict for Your Characters

Conflict drives your story forward.  It is the momentum behind your characters’ actions, the reason you’re telling a story in the first place.  There has to be a problem to solve, an obstacle to overcome, a challenge to meet.

…the girl dreams of going to the ball, but her stepmother gives her extra work to do, taking up all her time to prepare.  By evening, the stepsisters leave for the party without her, as she had nothing to wear and no time to get ready for the lavish event…

Will Cinderella make it to the ball?  Even if you didn’t already know the story, you would suspect that she will.  Why?  Because the story would be pointless otherwise.

Overcoming conflict is the whole point.

5.  Evolve Your Characters

Just like in the Copyblogger example above, every story has “the gap” or the evolution of the characters as they move through the narrative and towards reaching their goals.

…In misery, the girl begins to cry as she watches her stepfamily leave for the ball without her.  But as her tears fall, a bright light appears and her fairy godmother stands before her.  After a pep talk, a song, and a magic spell, the girl gains her confidence back.  With her magic dress, pumpkin carriage, and horsemen mice, she leaves for the ball…

Maybe your characters aren’t likely to rely on a fairy godmother and magic to get them over the hump and off to the ball, but something has to change in order for them to overcome the conflict in your story.  It usually won’t be as easy as it was for Cinderella, but your character’s transformation is essential to the moral of your story.

What did your hero learn that gave them the strength to fight that proverbial dragon?  How will they proceed in the future now that they’ve learned this lesson?

6.  Give Your Audience a Resolution

The final point of your story ties everything together.  The resolution to the conflict, how the characters solved the problem at hand, is a basic component of compelling storytelling.  Your resolution is the main action of your story.  How did your hero slay the dragon?

…At the ball, the girl becomes the center of attention.  No one knows who she is, but she catches the Prince’s eye and he dances with her all night.  They fall in love, but, as the clock strikes midnight, the fairy godmother’s magic begins to wear off.  The girl must flee, leaving behind a glass slipper.  The Prince uses the glass slipper to search the kingdom for the girl to whom it belongs.  When he arrives at the girl’s home, her stepmother locks her away so the Prince will not see her.  The determined girl escapes and proves to the Prince that the glass slipper belongs to her.  They marry and live happily ever after.

 A combination of luck and willpower help Cinderella overcome her final conflict, and the audience gets the happy ending they’ve been hoping for.

7.  Reveal Your Story’s Relevance

We all know that person, a friend or a coworker maybe, who will jump into a conversation with a story of their own.  But by the time they’ve finished telling it, you have absolutely no idea what their story had to do with the topic at hand.  Don’t be that person.  Tie the meaning of your story back to its purpose; make it relevant to your audience.

The tale of “Cinderella” demonstrates all of the essential elements of compelling storytelling.  When you find yourself telling a story, think back to this example and you’re sure to remember everything you need to craft a compelling story.

Like what you read?  Please help spread the word of The Sales Storyteller by sharing this post using the below links and follow my blog for notifications of new updates via email.  Thanks for reading!

Photo Credit: MorgueFile

Why Sales Storytelling Matters to You

 – Part 1 of The Sales Storyteller Series

Sales Storytelling image

Whether you are talking to a friend or a customer, we use sales storytelling to interact and engage every day.

I am a storyteller from way back.  As a kid, I would make up invisible friends and far-off magical kingdoms (which I ruled, of course) and then tell all these crazy stories about them to anyone who would listen.  I would put on shows for my parents, direct my unfortunate siblings in holiday plays, and write nonsense narratives down on pages stapled together to look like books.  In short, storytelling is part of who I am.

But do you want to know a secret?

Storytelling is part of who you are too.  Every day we tell stories to engage with others, using this vital skill to reach out and ask the people around us to like and accept us.  It is how we communicate, build relationships, and yes, sell, in our everyday lives.

In this new digitized age, stories are more important than ever before.  Connecting, as we all know, is a click away, but storytelling is what makes connecting worthwhile.  The value we derive from those connections and what making those connections says about who we are as individuals is how we define ourselves.  This is how we tell our story to the world.

In her book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing, marketing expert Shama Kabani argues that the main reason we throngs of people flock to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook is to show the world who we are as individuals.  Like a bumper sticker on our car or the t-shirt showcasing our favorite cause, we fundamentally crave the ability to share our identity, who we are and what we believe in, with the world.  If you look at anyone’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Pintrest board, you can quickly see how right she is.

The challenge we now face is in telling our stories consciously and purposefully so that our voices are heard.  I don’t mean standing out in a crowd of millions, though that is certainly a goal you can have; I mean adequately conveying your message even to the person standing right in front of you or on the other end of an email or tweet.  After all, we are selling with every story we tell.  In essence, I am talking about engaging with an audience, any audience, through sales storytelling.

In sales, the best professionals don’t simply tell customers about a product or service, touting its wonderful features, explaining why it is so great.  The truly knowledgeable sales person will tell the customer a story about themselves that resonates with a real problem they are experiencing and demonstrates how the problem could be solved with their product or service.  Telling the customer their own story, making that connection with them on a deeper, personal level, and using that connection to make the customer’s life easier, is the very heart of sales storytelling.  And, whether you are in sales or not, we do it every day.

Let’s say you’re a teenager who gets caught trying to sneak the car out past curfew.  What do you tell your angry parent?  Maybe you confess.  You really wanted to go to that party tonight, even though it’s a school night, because your crush will be there.  Maybe you lie.  Maybe you tell a story about needing to put gas in the car so that you aren’t late for school the next morning.  Either way, you’re using storytelling to make your case.

Now, I’m not advocating for teenaged joy riding, but I think many of us have found ourselves in a situation like that from time to time.  It is an extreme example of how storytelling elevates our exchanges.  Without it, every conversation would be flat, two-dimensional, and boring.

How important would this same interaction be if it were not with your parents but a key client?  In this scenario you weren’t being sneaky, of course, but there has been a miscommunication and the customer feels cheated in some way.  Or, you are in the middle of navigating a tricky close and you are challenged by the customer on some detail they don’t understand.

We will do a deep dive into using sales storytelling for objection handling later on in this series, but you can see the benefit of being able to use this skill to communicate more effectively and strengthen the bond you have with your customers more and more with every interaction, whether it starts out good or bad.

So, now that we’ve defined sales storytelling and why it matters, are you ready to dig in and discover what it takes to be a great storyteller?  Join me on February 18th for part two of the sales storyteller series on the basic elements of a good story.

Please help spread the word of The Sales Storyteller by sharing on Facebook or Twitter using the below links and follow my blog for notifications of new updates via email.

Sales Storytelling in Your Website Design

Sales storytelling with your website design image

Check back on January 27th for part one of the sales storytelling post series.

This is going to be a short post this week as I’m working on an exciting new series of posts on sales storytelling that will break the basics down into easily digestible parts.  This is a big project, so, in the meantime, please check out my guest post on the IADT blog, Buzz, How to Tell a Story With Your Website Design, for things to keep in mind as you build out your website.

Every website is an ongoing project, constantly evolving and changing as you learn and grow.  My advice shares a few things for you to keep in mind as you build out your story using this vital business tool.

I will be back with part one of my series on sales storytelling later this month.  Check back on January 27th for the start of this exciting post series.  Don’t forget to follow my blog so you know when new posts are up, and feel free to email me with questions anytime at DanyelleCOverbo@gmail.com.

In Defense of Black Friday: A Holiday Sales Story

Holiday Sales ImageNow that it’s almost Christmas, I am looking back on the last two months of holiday sales frenzy with mixed feelings.  Despite the economic growth we’ve experienced and the role our retail sales industry plays in it, I have been hearing a lot of negative comments regarding Black Friday and holiday shopping activities.  Even South Park has satirized the supposed insanity of the crowds during this season with a Game of Thrones parody.

I have a confession to make, I am a Black Friday veteran.  I’m proud of the good old days of how holiday sales used to be.  My mother trained me from the tender age of eleven on how to participate in the biggest holiday shopping day of the year.  I was the oldest of three kids, so I got to be Santa’s helper, dodging through the crowds to pick up the sales items on Santa’s shopping list.  I do believe that the holiday has gone downhill in the last few years, and opening stores a day early spoils much of what I used to love about Black Friday.  But I don’t agree with all the naysayers and negative talk about insane shoppers ruining the spirit of the holiday season.  I feel the need to defend those who brave the crowds in the freezing cold to go out during this time of year, even as early as Thanksgiving evening, to get deals on special items and gifts for the people they love.

Here are the top ten reasons to stop the negative talk and support shopping during the holiday season.

  1. There is a sense of community – When my mother and I used to get up at 5am to stand outside the doors of a department store with a hot cup of coffee to keep us warm, we weren’t alone.  Other shoppers waited with us, and we would happily pass the time chatting with them.  The perception that shoppers lay in wait so they can claw each other’s eyes out the moment the doors open comes from a few bad incidences over the years and is certainly not the norm.
  2. Strategizing is fun – We used to get all the ads out of the newspaper and lay them out all over the living room floor on Thanksgiving evening to plan out our Black Friday route.  Which stores would price match?  Which had the best door gift?  What did we need from the holidays sales this year?  It was so much fun.
  3. There actually are real deals to be had – Sure, bait-and-switch happens a LOT.  And yes, most “sales” are a pricing ruse.  But if you are strategic (see above) and get to the right doorbuster deal, then you can get great deals.
  4. You get up early (and you aren’t grumpy about it) – This was the one day a year where waking up when it was still dark outside wasn’t a nuisance, it was exhilarating.  When you get your coffee and stand outside with strangers in the cold, you wake up real quick.
  5. You can infect others with the shopping bug – Great holiday sales are sure to attract some newbies to the fun, and there is no better way to cement a friendship than to bring them along for the biggest shopping ride of the year.  I will never forget the first time I took my husband Black Friday shopping.  He finally understood what I’d been talking about all those years, and we had a blast!
  6. It officially begins the holiday season – These days you might see holiday/Christmas decorations out before Halloween.  But the really good stuff, the lights on the trees, the wreaths on the doors, the real holiday cheer, doesn’t come out till after Thanksgiving is officially over.  There isn’t much that can compare to the lights and decorations of the holiday season.
  7. Bonding with the family – I never felt closer to my mother than when we were out Christmas shopping for the family every year.  Not only on Black Friday, but checking off the gift list through December was, and still is, a special treat.
  8. Yes, you can stock up for yourself – This goes against my Santa’s helper training, but I do believe that holiday sales make this a really good time of year to stock up on things you need for yourself too.  Back in college, I didn’t always have the funds to go out and buy the new laptop I needed for school on a whim.  Nope, I did it on Black Friday, grabbing up a doorbuster deal and saving myself much needed money for college in the process.
  9. It creates special memories – When all was said and done, around 10am in the morning, after hours of jumping store to store for the right holiday sales and shopping our brains out, my mother and I would go out to breakfast together.  Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of these special breakfast times together celebrating the victories of the day.
  10. Saving money allows for more Christmas joy – Sure, sure, you shouldn’t spoil your kids rotten with too many toys, we all know that.  But find me a parent that doesn’t look forward to the moment their kid’s eyes light up on Christmas morning as they spot the presents under the Christmas tree, magically transported there overnight from Santa’s sleigh.

At the risk of sounding cliché, that is what the holiday season is really all about, bringing magic and joy to kids and adults alike all around the world.  I personally love buying other people presents and seeing them open them on Christmas morning.  Holiday sales like Black Friday make more of that possible, so, in my opinion, they really can’t be all that bad.  Can they?

Sales Storytelling: Is Your Story a Rabbit or a Duck?

sales storytelling ducks image

Be a storytelling duck by keeping your points in a row.

Sales storytelling is a wonderful and, some might say, vital tool to use to engage your customers.  But how do you know if the story you are telling is actually catching on with your audience?  In the hit show, How I Met Your Mother, there is an episode called “Rabbit or Duck?”  In it, the characters use Ludwig Wittgenstein’s rabbit-duck illusion to describe the ambiguous nature of love and hate.  Depending on how you look at Wittgenstein’s drawing, you can either say that you see a rabbit or a duck, and you’d be right both ways.  After some debate, the characters on the show deem ducks to be considered “good” or, in this case, “love,” and rabbits to be considered “bad” or “hate.”  We can take this metaphor a step further and apply it to the art of storytelling itself.  Some stories will be good until an error jars you, akin to running your hand over cloth and catching the prick of a needle, and some will run smooth as silk.  Storytelling can be very ambiguous by nature, but there are some rules you can follow to land your story closer to duck territory than rabbit.  So let me ask you, is your story a rabbit or a duck?

The Storytelling Rabbit

Whether or not you agree with the gang on How I Met Your Mother and think that rabbits are worse than ducks, for our purposes we’ll stick with the idea that being a rabbit is bad.  And indeed, when you are trying to build an understandable narrative, you do not want to be like a rabbit.  A storytelling rabbit does not engage with the audience.  It hops around, point to point, with no regard for timing or cohesiveness.  Have you ever had someone telling you a joke but they have to keep going back to the start to give you vital details they forgot to include so that you can understand the punch line?  By the time they got to the end, did you remember enough to find their joke funny?  They are the rabbit, constantly jumping back and forth in the story till you can’t follow them anymore.

In the classic Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, the rabbit is a fast-talking speed junkie who turns out to be fatally overconfident to boot.  That storytelling rabbit is too fast for his own good, rushing to the end of the story so quickly that you don’t have enough grounding details to follow what they are saying.  They may not be losing a race to a tortoise, but they certainly lose you, the all-important audience, by focusing on the finish line above all else.

You can tell if your story is a rabbit by examining it point by point, making sure each concept flows logically into the next till you reach your conclusion.  Making an outline for your story can help.  This process will also enable you to determine if you have enough concrete details throughout to keep everyone engaged, and that you aren’t flying through the narrative, getting to the ending too quickly.

Telling Your Story like a Duck

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Getting your ducks in a row.”  That’s because ducks are great at getting into line and following one after another in an orderly fashion.  This is how a good story is laid out.  One point follows another in a nice, logical manner.  Even good stories that purposefully tell the tale out of order will still follow a logical layout.  How I Met Your Mother is infamous for this type of storytelling.  The viewer is given a small piece of the puzzle at first then gradually the story flows back and forth in time till the viewer has all the puzzle pieces and a complete picture.  Notice I said “flow” and not “hop” for these changes in time.  If the story is a duck, movements back and forth in the narrative are not jarring but smooth and consistent like a duck gliding through the water.  If you notice, even with puzzle piece stories, there is a logical progression of elements; one happening seamlessly leads into the next regardless of time and place.  That is how you know you are telling your story like a duck.

As you go about your day to day life, try to recognize the stories you encounter and see if they feel more like a rabbit or a duck.  If you are watching a movie or television or reading a book, take a step back and see how the story is making you feel.  If you think the movie you’re seeing is a rabbit, try to identify the reasons why.  If an episode of your favorite show is particularly engrossing, see if you can tell what makes it an engrossing duck story.  The more you recognize whether stories are rabbits or ducks, the more you will be able to apply the right techniques to your own storytelling.  Soon you’ll be able to spot a rabbit a mile away and avoid being a rabbit storyteller yourself.  Your sales storytelling will improve and you’ll be a duck in no time at all.

Want to know more about the techniques of good sales storytelling?  Start by following this blog, The Sales Storyteller.  The next update is scheduled for December 23rd.  Don’t miss it!

Photo Credit: “Three in a row” by Capt’ Gorgeous / CC BY