Yes, Virginia. Stories Still Matter

At a recent rehearsal for a national sales meeting, a Marketing Director launched into a new campaign with a very thorough – yet painfully dry – overview of the project’s development. As he clicked through his PowerPoint – chock-full of segmentation data and charts – all I could think was, “Wow, this is really dull.”

Midway through his presentation, I stopped him.

“Hey Dan,” I started. “Was there ever a moment when you thought this campaign wouldn’t happen?”

He stopped pacing, squinting into the lights overhead, then took a few steps forward.

“Yeah,” he sighed.  “Right at the outset.  We were looking for people – real people – to feature in our campaign, but it’s a really sensitive subject.  I remember we had reached out to our network for recommendations and our contacts kept reassuring us that people would come, but…”

He shook his head.

“We’d booked this hotel conference room in Ohio – you know, ‘The Heartland’ – to meet people.  It was January, record low temperatures and the room had a chill.  We were expecting at least 20 people to interview and there was no one.  Just me, sitting there, watching the hours roll by. I kept checking my phone for messages, walked over to the front desk…nothing.

“It was a complete failure.

“I started packing up, wondering how I was going to explain this to my boss when in walks this guy, Steve – out of breath, apologetic. His car wouldn’t start, then he couldn’t catch a cab, so he ended up taking a bus, then a train to get to me. He didn’t have his phone or he would have called…Poor guy, he was so flustered. But all he wanted to know is whether I still wanted to talk to him.”

I took off my coat and poured him a cup of coffee.  Then I listened for the next hour about how the work that we do changed his life.  I’ll never forget it.”

He cleared his throat, coming back into the room.

“Open with that,” I told him.  “It shows how high the stakes were and how much this project means not just to you, but to your customers.”

The next day he told an abbreviated version of that story. During the break, he was surrounded by audience members who thanked him for his perseverance. Maybe they wouldn’t remember the specific metrics around the studies underpinning the campaign, but they knew how much this project meant to the company…and to Dan.

Just as Dan would always remember Steve, the audience would always remember Dan.

Stories instantly connect speakers to their audience, which is why they are such popular openers.  The stories that work best follow a simple formula:

Beginning + middle + end

Help your presenters identify the main character, the challenge overcome, and their reason for telling that particular story, and your presenters will thank you.

They may even tell a story about it.

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