In a previous post, I shared seven tips for better storytelling in business. While I stand by those suggestions, I also realize that the idea of putting yourself out there as a storyteller can feel a little intimidating to some.
I can already hear the objections. “But Adam, storytelling doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does for you. I don’t feel confident that I will ever be good at this.”
There is a lot of debate on whether storytelling is a talent (you have it or you don’t) or a skill (you can learn it). I’ve taught storytelling to salespeople for over a decade. As a result, I believe that while some possess some innate skills that make them better storytellers, everyone can learn how to apply storytelling in sales and business.
Even if these skills don’t come as naturally to you as others, you can still improve dramatically!
The Two Most Important Skills
The two most critical skills for a salesperson, or any Business Artist for that matter, are 1) Discovery, and 2) Storytelling.
These are also the two hardest skills to learn. Why? Because they require you to clearly embrace the way of the Business Artist.
The best salespeople do both at the same time. They ask questions and use short stories (or “story nuggets”) to validate someone’s understanding and probe for more information.
After enough artful discovery, the best sellers will gain implied permission to share a powerful story that is relevant. They use the customer’s name and also use language they can relate to. It is emotionally engaging and has a clear takeaway.
But why are discovery and storytelling the two hardest skills to teach? Because it’s hard to get learners to shift their focus from How do I? to How might we? or How might you?
In order to be successful, you have to understand the fundamentals and be able to make it your own. It’s easy to just repeat what you see other people doing rather than making the process truly your own.
It’s easier to be a cover band, repeating other people’s tunes endlessly, than it is to be original and dance to your own music.
Connecting Emotionally with the Listener
I’ve been asked to teach at least a dozen different storytelling frameworks to salespeople over the last decade. While they all have merit, most are overly structured, process-heavy approaches to having sellers re-arrange their case study into a more engaging order that takes the listener on a journey.
While that is important, it doesn’t really matter if you can’t emotionally connect with the listener. If you aren’t able to lift the words off the page in a compelling way that is relevant, has proper tension for the audience, and has a clear takeaway, then what’s the point?
Good storytelling requires improv skills, artistry, and loads of practice to even start the process.
Unfortunately, many salespeople and sales enablement leaders think they can teach storytelling, or even good discovery for that matter, in a sixty-minute workshop. It’s not even that you need more time to do it properly. What you really need is an intervention of the mind as it relates to listening skills, asking questions, and telling stories that feel natural to the customers.
It’s just like learning a new language. You don’t really “get it” until you start thinking in the new language.
Storytelling works the same way. You have to get engaged in the story and live inside of it. Otherwise, it’s just another framework, a container for information.
There is no shortcut to becoming a good storyteller. Storytellers are not born, they are made. Put yourself in situations where you can practice and become more comfortable telling stories.
When you do, you’ll find your own style and rhythm. Over time, you might just be surprise at how good you’ve become and how much you love storytelling!