When you're selling your product, do you simply go into the nuts-and-bolts of how it works, or do you tell a story?
People ask me what I do at Emergenetics International, and I could easily say I own a human capital consulting firm that provides assessments for employee development, recruitment, and retention. That'd be informative, sure. But you need to be prepared to say more, if you want to draw people in.
I tell my story--about how I grew up sitting at my family's kitchen table, listening to my mother and grandmother trade tales of the classroom. I come from a long line of teachers and these conversations of how Susie solved math problems or why Johnny acted out in class inspired me.
Eventually I became a teacher, too, and encountered my own Johnny--a smart-mouthed 11-year-old named Randy who was disruptive, and didn't get good grades. There was a disconnect between how school worked and what was happening in Randy's brain. Randy was wired socially and conceptually, and often boisterous. Unfortunately at that time, school didn't really fit kids like Randy, and there was no "differentiated" instruction.
Randy frustrated me, but he also pushed me to pursue my doctorate. He made me want to uncover how students learned. This pursuit led me to Dr. Roger Sperry's work on left-brain vs. right-brain thinking, and I was convinced I could make a difference armed with this new information.
But a funny thing happened on my way back to the classroom. The CEO of a large bank asked me to talk about my studies to see if it could help his dysfunctional team perform better. And a lightbulb went off! I discovered a calling to both learning and business and it encouraged me to create a way for people to clearly see who they are, how they think, behave, and communicate--and what all that means at work.
That story tells my company's story, and it gives people a reason to care about my consulting firm, and relate to its purpose. Storytelling may seem like a soft approach, but there's power beyond words. Stories personalize a business and connect us to a brand.
I was fortunate enough this year that Emergenetics International made the Inc. 5000 list this year, and our head of marketing attended the Inc. 5000 conference. The takeaways there weren't how many cloud-based companies made the list, or the growth percentage of the top 100 companies. It was the real-life stories: how Life is Good founder Bert Jacobs built a business by throwing a pumpkin-carving contest, or GoPro CEO Nicholas Woodman found inspiration surfing off the coast of Fiji.
Stories resonate because of how human brains function. Noted cognitive neuroscientist (and Sperry's student), Michael Gazzaniga, has researched the way our brains process stories--how the left hemisphere fills in gaps for the right hemisphere. Our brains desire narrative continuity, which draws us to stories. We naturally want to fill in gaps of information that we need to know to process it.
That said, any story you tell needs to cut through to diverse audiences, and the varied ways individual brains prefer to receive information. Only appealing to the heart isn't going to cut it; as Gazzaniga noted, both a left-brained and right-brained approach is required.
Here's five brain-based storytelling tips that tap into practial ways audience members perceive and respond to information:
Think of Steve Jobs unveiling the iPad. It was both technical (equipment) and emotional (hip, cool, and visionary). But most of all, it was simple.
Appeal to both the left-brain and right-brain perspectives. I buoy my emotional story--about how Randy helped define my career--by facts and data. Paint a picture that both sides of the brain can fill in. (Hans Rosling is a master of turning data into a rich narrative.)
Interactivity is Essential
Your audience members run a full gamut of behavioral tendencies. In-your-face exuberance might inspire some, but turn off others. Read your particular audience, and adjust how you express your story and assert your value.
Authenticity, Authenticity, Authenticity
Storytelling has to be genuine. Not everyone can be a Bill Clinton or Guy Kawasaki and instantly enrapture. What you can do is understand, recognize, and utilize your own particular strengths. If you are highly analytical, use that to your advantage--but make your data come alive. Of course, you need great products and ideas to back up your pitch, but make sure your pitch sincerely connects to your buyers by itself.
A Narrative Arc Has a Beginning, Middle, and End
I ran into Randy just last year. The business that he has run for the past 20 years is growing like crazy and he has created one of the best places to work in the Midwest.
And as for me, I just got back into the classroom. Emergenetics is now consulting for one of the largest school districts in Colorado.