United Airlines has been making some changes in the front office; they’ve just added a whole new position. United now has a Chief Storyteller.
They hired a woman who used to work for Oprah to do “strategic storytelling” for the airline. Dana Brooks Reinglass is supposed to “use stories to give employees and customers a window seat to how we’re doing things.” To capture attention with messages that are engaging and authentic.
You and I aren’t about to get a veteran of The Oprah Winfrey Show to tell our stories, are we? But you do have a Chief Storyteller. That would be you.
United’s corporate communication guy is right when he says, “Data points are important, but what’s really interesting to people and what they remember are stories.”
So how do you tell the story of your business? Your practice? How do you tell your story?
My first answer is: briefly.
Seriously, I think most people’s stories go in one ear and out the other because they’re too long, with too much extraneous detail.
They tell us things we don’t need to know, explaining things we already understand. And then just when we think it’s mercifully over, the storyteller says, “In other words …” and starts telling us the same thing all over again. Oy.
I’d get agreement from storytelling experts going all the way back to Shakespeare. “Brevity,” his Polonius said in Hamlet, “is the soul of wit.”
On the other hand, really masterful storytellers can get our attention and keep it through their tale’s twists and turns; we get so caught up in what they’re saying we lose track of the time. We want to know more. We’re sorry when the story ends.
So how can we be more like those storytellers? There’s a lot to becoming truly masterful, of course. But here’s one thing that will help whether you’re writing or speaking. Your story needs structure.
I often suggest a simple three-part structure for clients who need to craft a message quickly. Situation-Action-Outcome works well. Or, as they say in 12-Step meetings: What it was like; what happened; what it’s like now.
You can fit a story into that framework, even when you’re speaking on the fly, to keep you and your listeners on track.
And if that sounds simplistic to you? Start paying attention to the stories people tell you; you’ll notice how few of them have any structure at all. People ramble and blather and bore you to tears. Even a little bit of organization will make your stories more interesting.
To take it to the next level, try this. Replace “and then” with “but.”
Howard Suber teaches storytelling and structure at UCLA’s film school. He says amateur storytellers string their material together with “and” or “then.”
I went to a Chamber meeting and I talked to some friends and met a few new people. Then Sue came in and joined the conversation and she was wearing a leather skirt and it looked nice and I told her … well, you get the point.
A better bet is to go with “but” when you put a story together; it takes your listener/reader on a much more interesting journey.
At Women in Business, I was talking with some friends: the usual “How’s biz” chatter. But then Sue came in wearing a leather skirt. I introduced her, of course. But when I pointed out her “Sexy Dentist” costume that’s when the conversation took off.
Same set of facts. But it makes a better story because it has a twist in it. Who expects a dentist to be sexy, after all? (Apologies if you are a dentist or you’re married to one. But there’s definitely an image issue there.)
You might play with the way you describe your business. Or your clients and their challenges. Or the solution you offer. Tell us a story that has a “but” in it somewhere: it changes direction, it takes us down a surprising path, it grabs our interest and keeps it.
When you have our interest you also have the opportunity to create a business relationship. Likewise, if you fail to capture our attention, you can hand out as many business cards as you like; odds are it’s going nowhere.
As United’s new Chief Storyteller reminds us, “In this digital age of immersion and participation, I still feel that sharing your story inspires the most powerful emotions and moves people to action.”
Share your story … and make sure there’s a “but” in there somewhere.