Stories can be incredibly powerful in business, and in business networking. My friend Charlie Lawson, who calls himself The Unnatural Networker, shared his perspective on why stories are powerful tools that can help people be more memorable at networking meetings and events. He told me the following story as an example.
The Travel Agent and the Honeymoon
Marie is a travel agent and BNI® Member in the United Kingdom (UK). She was in her office on a Friday afternoon, it was almost 6:00 pm and she was thinking about the upcoming weekend and dinner with her friends. Her mind wasn’t focused on doing business as she reached the end of the workweek.
However, a call came into the office and there was a lady on the other end of the line who was very upset. She was crying and Marie asked her, “What’s going on? How can I help?” Well, this lady was getting married the next day, Saturday, and then was supposed to fly off on her honeymoon on Sunday – from the UK to the Caribbean. But the problem, the reason she was upset, was because there were no flights to the Caribbean. There was a strike; there were no flights, there was nothing going on. Effectively, the honeymoon was ruined. And she was calling Marie to say, “Look, I know it’s last minute. But is there anything you could do?”
Marie didn’t want to promise anything because this truly was last minute, so she said, “Let me see what I can do.” And she asked one question: “Where are you going to be tomorrow morning? Where will you be in the morning before your wedding?” The lady replied, “I’ll be getting ready at my mom’s house.” She gave Marie the address and the call ended.
Then Marie called a couple of her contacts. She went online and managed to source the exact same type of honeymoon – she got the same spec hotel, same date, same budget, she even found some of the same excursions that the couple had previously planned. The only difference was that it wasn’t in the Caribbean. It was in Hawaii, in the U.S.
The next morning, she went to see the lady at her mom’s house, handed her a package and said, “You are all set to go tomorrow. The tickets normally have a £150 late-booking fee, but that’s my wedding present to you. I hope you have a wonderful time in Hawaii, and a lovely day today.”
But wait, the story didn’t end there. Three weeks later, Marie received a postcard while at her office. On one side on the card was an idyllic Hawaiian beachside scene. And the other side had a few short words, “We don’t know what we would have done without you.”
After Charlie finished the story, he then asked me if I thought I would refer business to Marie based on that story. I said, “Absolutely, no question about it.”
Remembered, Recalled, Referred
When you tell stories like this at networking meetings or at your BNI weekly chapter meeting, they help you to be remembered, recalled, and referred by your fellow networkers. When you tell a really good story, other people are able to repeat it, even if it didn’t happen to them. They could say, “There’s a great travel agent. I have a friend, this is an experience she had.” They remember the story, and are able to recall and tell the story, almost word for word, because it was detailed and powerful.
Charlie says that good storytelling is like making a recipe – baking a cake, for example. You have an ingredients list and directions for how to put the right ingredients together in the proper order for the best results.
Six ingredients for a powerful story:
There has to be a problem. It’s as simple as that. If there isn’t a problem, some sort of issue or challenge, you haven’t got a story. There must be a problem that needs to be overcome.
There’s got to be a solution as well. Sometimes we think that the solution is always going to be a happy ending; keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily resolve in that way every time. However, we’ve got to see the problem sorted out in some way during the story.
You need to have some structure to the story – a start, middle, and end.
Start with the Setup. This is where you lay out the problem, introduce the characters – who’s in it, what’s the issue? What are they going through? Where are they?
The middle is about what you did. Talk about how you, the professional, helped them and solved their problem.
End with the Afters. What happened after the story finished? Did everyone sail off happily into the sunset? Was there an agreeable alternative? Or did you need to refer them to someone else for the proper resolution?
**See more about the Structure below.
This is key. When people feel the emotion, when they feel what the person in the story is going through – what they’re feeling and the challenges they’re facing, they can put themselves in their shoes and really understand the situation.
Talk about the people in the story, the ‘characters’ such as the goodie, the baddie, the person who can solve the problem. Sometimes the baddie isn’t a James Bond-style-villain, it may be metaphorical. In Marie’s story, the baddie is the situation of not being able to go on a honeymoon. A compelling story needs to have all those characters.
A memorable story has a couple of details to bring people into it. In Marie’s story, we know what time of day the bride-to-be contacted her and what Marie was thinking about right before the call came in. Beware of overdoing it with details, too many can make it unwieldy and hard to follow.
Focus on What is Important
**This is more information about #3, the Structure.
In the three sections of the Structure, the setup, what you did, and the afters, you need to weight your story appropriately. Charlie says that this is where many people often miss the mark in their storytelling. They put too much emphasis on the “what you did” part. He recommends that you weight the importance of these three sections in percentage terms.
The Setup: 47½% of importance.
What You Did: 5% of importance.
The Afters: 47½% of importance.
Yes, you read that correctly. Only 5% of the importance in the story comes from what you did. As Charlie shared, here’s the thing – what you do is actually quite boring. Yes, understandably what you do is your life’s work and your business, and you love it. However, from a storytelling point of view, and to get others to refer new customers to you, what you do and how you do it is the least interesting part for those listening.
Your fellow networkers want to hear about how the client felt. How did they feel beforehand? They were obviously worried about something or upset about something, or had an issue, or needed something sorted. How did they feel afterwards? Yes, you saved them time and money. Were they happy? Relieved? Safe? The part that’s important in Marie’s story is that she helped them go on their honeymoon when they thought they could not. It’s those bits that create the emotion and get people remembering and recalling your story. It’s less about what you do, and much more about how the client felt about you and what you did, both before and after. That’s the key to a good story.
All of those ingredients, in the proper proportions, go into making a great story. It takes some work and practice to make it happen. Focus your stories on the goal to be remembered, recalled, and referred.
Storytelling is more interesting, memorable, and referable than simple facts about the products and services that you offer. We can all use facts to TELL others about our products and services. It is the stories we tell that SELL people on thinking of you the next time they hear someone with a need or problem that you can help with.