How do you begin to rebuild your company after your industry lost more than $35 billion in 2020 in the U.S. alone? How do you inspire confidence when your industry continues to lose $150 million a day?
This is the challenge U.S. airlines face right now. They must spend money even while they are losing money, hoping that when the pandemic ends, a flurry of travel will justify their expenditures.
Many industries face similar challenges right now. As they convince stakeholders to take risks with them, they will need many tools of persuasion at their fingertips.
And there is no authentic persuasion tool more powerful than a well-crafted story. A good story can change the listener’s brain chemistry, sparking empathy. Not only that, stories make information easier to remember and process, and the emotions they inspire make people more likely to act.
Here’s 7 easy steps for creating a brief and brilliant business story quickly.
1. Identify potential story ideas. Pick one.
- 1 1. Identify potential story ideas. Pick one.
- 2 2. Enumerate what happened in this story.
- 3 3. Ask and ask yourself over and over again, “what is the main source of the central challenge in this story?”
- 4 4. Set up an intriguing way to launch this story. Remember conflict, contrast and contradiction.
- 5 5. Decide how you’d like to end your story in a satisfying way.
- 6 6. Construct the riveting middle.
- 7 7. Practice and repeat.
There are two ways to find good stories.
First, keep a story library. Find an organized way to keep track of the inspiring stories you hear, or the daily events that happen to you that cause you to reflect. (A simple spreadsheet works just fine for tracking this.)
Second, brainstorm. We are all sitting on a goldmine called life. We are all rich in stories. Story prompts help you access these. Here are three questions that can prompt stories that work well in business:
- What was something you believed to be right for a long time, and then discovered that it’s wrong? Or you’ve changed your mind?
- Who has been very influential in your work life? How so?
- What is one fact you are very proud of in your career even though it is not listed in your resume, LinkedIN, or company bio?
2. Enumerate what happened in this story.
Write down the facts. But before you get carried away with recounting events… stop. Move on quickly to step 3!
3. Ask and ask yourself over and over again, “what is the main source of the central challenge in this story?”
No one wants to hear a story where everything was easy for everyone involved. No. We want to hear how tough it was, how after the pitch meeting you locked yourself in the bathroom stall so no one would see you crying. But we also want to hear how you looked up at your puffy face in the mirror and heard your phone ringing, and it was your mentor telling you he believed in your project and you should keep going.
In other words, your audience wants your story to recreate an honest ebb and flow of challenges and successes that resonate with their own experiences.
4. Set up an intriguing way to launch this story. Remember conflict, contrast and contradiction.
The one thing your audience needs most from your story is a good hook. Hooking attention promises that your story respects their time.
A story hook makes the audience “work for their meal,” as Pixar screenwriter Andrew Stanton explains, giving them a problem to solve or a punchline to wait for. Audiences want to do that, says Stanton, “they just don’t want to know that they’re doing that.”
Hooking your audience’s attention takes creativity. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit around waiting for the muse to arrive. You can jumpstart your creativity by trying one of these three methods:
1) Conflict. This is the clash of forces or needs going in opposite directions. It can even be a simple conflict, like a competitor launching a new product two weeks before your own product will enter the market.
2) Contrast. It’s the juxtaposition of opposite qualities like heavy and light, plentiful and meager or active and apathetic. For instance, you could describe how your manager’s office is bland and boring except for a huge green octopus sculpture that stretches over an entire bookcase.
3) Contradiction. This goes against your audience’s expectations. For instance, you could set up the familiar story of getting ready for a business trip, but then add the one detail that defies the usual narrative arc; for instance: “Did I mention that my 92-year-old grandmother was accompanying me?”
I’ve explored three real-life examples of conflict, contrast and contradiction here.
5. Decide how you’d like to end your story in a satisfying way.
Think about who will be your audience. Is there something you’d like to see changed in them? Is there something they should do right away? Do you want them to send an email, make a phone call, schedule a follow-up meeting, or simply tell someone else about your product, cause or message? Don’t forget to ask them to do what you want.
6. Construct the riveting middle.
That’s right. Construct the middle last. If you can find an intriguing beginning and a satisfying ending, it’s much easier to figure out what the audience needs to hear in order to take a riveting journey from the beginning to the end of your story.
A simple and powerful way to organize your thoughts is to think in terms of three. What three things happened on the journey from the beginning to the end? What three obstacles did you have to overcome?
7. Practice and repeat.
Practicing by yourself can be helpful, as can practicing on video. But there’s nothing quite like finding a friend or willing colleague who is much like your target audience, practicing with them, and asking them these two questions:
- What do you remember from my presentation?
- What questions do you have for me?
With these seven steps, you can build stories that are well suited for any business situation. You can even be prepared to persuade effectively in the multitude of uncertainties the pandemic brings.