If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to build a brand and be the face of your business, you have to learn to tell stories.
Stories are hardwired into our DNA. Even in the stone age cave art was used to help people make sense of our world. And the Greek myths helped people understand things like why the seasons changed, or famines occurred. We all grew up with stories. Fairytales, princes and princesses, demons and dragons. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Toy Story, Pulp Fiction, A Star is Born. They soothe and entrance us and hook us in like nothing else.
When entrepreneurs tell stories about their business, their culture and themselves it sticks. So to be successful and inspire others we business owners have to become storytellers too.
Here’s an example. You could say ‘Our business has outstanding customer service’. That sounds like one of those meaningless statements we all ignore. But the story of a client who called you one evening because he was scared about a high-stakes meeting the next day has a different effect. Perhaps, instead of telling him everything would be fine, you put the kids to bed and called him back to reassure him and talk him through the things he was worried about. That’s showing rather than telling, and that’s the first principle of great storytelling.
All entrepreneurs should master the art of storytelling.
This is because we need to paint a picture of what the future will look like to our stakeholders: our employees, partners, family members, investors and customers. People feel safer when someone tells an inspiring story about their future. It makes them feel great to have a vision and a purpose over and above their basic survival.
Even stories with unhappy endings are helpful. Telling stories about when you made a poor decision and suffered because of it, is a great way to engage and makes others think about what they might do to avoid making the same mistakes.
Many entrepreneurs hold back on telling their own life stories. This is an old fashioned view that comes from a corporate mindset: the belief that people will exploit your weaknesses, pain and failure and come back to use them against you.
Storytelling Builds Fast Rapport
If you’ve come from a corporate or toxic family culture, you may have felt trapped in environments where people did want to tear you down or exploit your weakness. But the best way BY FAR to cut through the noise and build rapport fast, either online or offline, is to tell your story, the no holds barred version, the ups, the downs, pit moments and triumphs.
A lot of people are reluctant to use their personal story in the context of business. They feel it’s manipulative or inappropriate. This is an outdated view which originated from the days when business was done on a handshake and the digital world didn’t dominate. Just like any relationship or transaction, if manipulation is your clear intention, of course you can use storytelling manipulatively. The act of storytelling in itself is never manipulative or unethical. But if you use pain, for example, to get people to part with their hard earned cash against their better judgement, as I’ve seen at times in some of the property or entrepreneurial training events I’ve been exposed to – well storytelling is powerful, so unethical people will of course use it in the wrong way.
There’s one caveat to the use of storytelling to build rapport. If you look at the story of your life you’ll probably wonder what stories you should choose to bring out, and what stories to hold back on.
The things you talk about should be linked to your overall message. If, like me, for example, you come from a home of addiction, where denial and gaslighting moved the goalposts daily, you could bring that in to your story to illuminate your values and show why truth, integrity and connection matter so much to you. These types of revelations will polarise. Some people will fall away, as your story doesn’t resonate or interest them, but the ones that stay will be deeply and powerfully drawn to you, and will want to stay alongside. And that’s the real power of storytelling.