There are three kinds of stories that you can—and should—incorporate in any conversation or presentation intended to move people to action.
- Stories about personal experiences
- Stories about real customers or clients
- Stories about signature events in the history of a brand or company
1. Stories About Personal Experiences
Personal stories about a successful outcome after an adverse event, a triumph over a tragedy, are powerful. Using struggle and success as rhetorical tools allows us to make deeper, more meaningful connections with each other.
For example, I once met with a senior director at Walmart. Her challenge was to share the culture of Walmart at the monthly orientation sessions for new employees. These meetings were quite large. Walmart received 10,000 applications a month and employed more than two million people. All new hires were required to watch this manager’s keynote—from associates to managers to executives at the corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The manager had plenty of facts and figures about Walmart, but we decided that a personal story would help her relate to new associates. During our conversation, the manager turned me to and said:
“You know, Carmine, our slogan—save money, live better—really means something.”
“Oh? Tell me about it,” I said.
“My brother-in-law was diagnosed with ALS. I helped my sister care for him as his health deteriorated. The monthly costs for his care began to pile up, so I suggested to my sister that we shop at Walmart to save money—this happened before I even worked for Walmart. We saved $300 a month on the very same supplies we had been using. With that $300 a month, we bought a wheelchair-accessible van, which gave my brother-in-law more freedom. He even used the van to attend my nephew’s college graduation, which my nephew will never forget.”
Once those of us in the room wiped the tears from our eyes, I asked if she had a photo of her brother-in-law. “If you tell that story and show photos of your brother-in-law, nobody will ever forget the company’s mission and what it means to the lives of every one of your customers.”
At the next orientation session she delivered the story, along with photos. Immediately after, a new employee approached the manager and said, “That was one of the most inspiring presentations I’ve ever heard.” “I only have one complaint,” the manager told me a few weeks later. “I can’t keep up with the requests for lunch. My next communication challenge is to learn how to let people down gently,” she joked.
“At Walmart, we love stories,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon once said at a company shareholders meeting. “There is just something about them. We enjoy telling them. We remember hearing them. We repeat stories and pass them down. We also write them. Together, we’re writing our company’s story.”
2. Stories About Real Customers Or Clients
KPMG, the fastest growing of the Big Four accounting firms, discovered that storytelling gives employees purpose. The company conducted an internal study of thousands of managers and employees and found that “A workforce motivated by a strong sense of higher purpose is essential to engagement.” KPMG made storytelling a key part of its management training to help everyone understand the brand’s long history and influence. “We recognized that just telling people from the top down about their higher purpose would not succeed,” said Bruce Pfau, KMPG’s vice chair of human resources.“We encouraged everyone—from our interns to our chairman—to share their own stories about how their work is making a difference.” After creating a storytelling culture at KPMG, turnover plummeted, morale skyrocketed, and profits soared.
3. Stories About Signature Events In The History Of A Brand Or Company
I once had the opportunity to have lunch with San Francisco 49ers football legend Dwight Clark. “It’s funny, Carmine. I caught five hundred and six passes in my NFL career with the Niners, but everyone wants to hear the story of The Catch,” Clark told me.
The Catch has its own Wikipedia entry. It’s one of the most famous plays in professional football history. When Clark caught Joe Montana’s pass in the NFC conference championship on January 10, 1982, it sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl, which they won. The team went on to dominate the 1980s with four Super Bowl victories. Clark sketched out the play as his signature on autographed footballs. Dwight Clark was an individual, but also a brand. “The Catch” was his signature story, literally.
What’s your signature story? Every person has one. Every company, startup, or brand has one, too.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Carmine Gallo, adapted from his new book Five Stars. Copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.
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