Estimated Read Time: 7 Minutes
…we were a species of storytellers.
Prior to the development of written language, telling stories was the only way to reflect and pass knowledge and history from generation to generation. Stories were used to explain events and natural occurrences like fire, storms, and thunder. They related myths, legends, and gods in a way that bound people to common beliefs and cultures. Stories, in essence, were much of what made us human.
And until not so long ago, we were pretty good at telling stories. Bedtime stories, ghost stories, war stories, jokes—all served a purpose to share and connect with other human beings.
Heck, an endless parade of theme songs from TV shows are introductory stories—The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Flintstones, Cheers, The Addams Family. In fact, think about the first lines in the lyrics for The Brady Bunch, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
“Here's a story, of a lovely lady…”
“Come and listen to my story about a man named Jed…”
“Now this is a story all about how…”
Yep…stories—literally. I’ll give you a minute to finish singing.
The Decline of Storytelling
Nowadays, as we plug in more firmly to electronic media that relate byte-sized morsels rather full stories, we isolate ourselves from one another and fail to connect in the very way that defines much of what we call civilization. Memes, Instagrams, and Snapchats miss the mark of storytelling. And, like anything else that’s neglected, much of our ability to tell a good story is atrophied.
But the good news is we can exercise storytelling like we can exercise a muscle. It takes practice and commitment, but finding your own words and your own voice will be liberating for you.
Tell Your Story
So what’s your story? What anecdotes do you tell to relate to people and reveal something about yourself to others? What stories do you tell to narrate what you do for a living? Drop the product-centric, features & benefits lingo from your shtick, and tell a story about how something you did solved a problem, made improvements, or created joy for your customers.
Tell your story by telling your customers’ stories. Gain access to this subject matter by having candid discussions with your clients about the things that matter to them. What behaviors and achievements are they measuring? What initiatives are they undertaking? How are they distinguished from their competitors?
Take your 30-second elevator pitch and condense it into a 10-second introductory teaser. Then have your real story ready.
The Banana and the Effective Recognition
Here’s my Bruce Fox story. It’s actually two stories—one about a banana, and another about effective recognition—that work together to tell a bigger story.
It works better in the first person, as I play the role of an award recipient, so here goes…
STORY #1 – Awards By the Bunch
It certainly was an honor to be invited to the sales incentive trip to be recognized as a top performer—something I have had in my sights since I started here at Vandalay Industries a few years ago, and something I really worked my butt off to achieve this year. At last, here I am, one of the top 15% among my peers. Woot!
And tonight’s the big night. Another rubber chicken banquet, but I’ll have my moment in the limelight. The Big Boss is here to formally present the awards, so it will be cool to have a turn to shine…
Okay, so I was right about the rubber chicken, but dessert has been served, and now it’s time for the awards program…
Finally, my name has been called. I come forward; accept what looks like a banana in one hand, and the Big Boss’s handshake in the other. Pat on the shoulder, photo op—smile! and skedaddle off stage in favor of the next recipient…
Okay, that was cool, I guess. I hope my smile didn’t look too dopey. Gotta make it back to my seat, where my tablemates greet me with words of congratulations…
Now, let’s see what we got here. Hmmm. It looked like a banana because it IS a banana! Seems a little weird to me. I mean, if our company was in the banana business, I guess that would make sense. But I have lots of bananas at home, and I can get more nearly anywhere, anytime I want. Seems like a letdown after all the work I did. Guess I can take it home and let it collect dust with all the other bananas I’ve received. It will fit right in with the rest of ‘em. If I can fit it into my suitcase. A gift card from Walmart would fit in my suitcase. Just sayin’…
Oh well, at least I got my time to shine. All 7 seconds of it.1
Photo credit: 4 Types of Hand Lettering
The End? Really? Well that’s a pretty crappy story. So let’s try again—this time with no bananas.
Photo credit: 123RF
STORY #2 – Yes, We Have No Bananas!
It certainly was an honor to be invited to the sales incentive trip to be recognized as a “Big Kahuna”—something I have had in my sights since I started here at Vandalay Industries …
…Same story as above, until…
Finally, my name has been called. I come forward; accept a nifty-looking award in one hand, and the Big Boss’s handshake in the other. (Yep, I said “nifty”) …
…Same story as above, until…
Now, let’s see what we got here. Hmmm. Hey, this “Big Kahuna” award the Big Boss gave me is pretty nifty indeed! I’ve never seen anything like it. Nice to get my time to shine1, and it seems someone really made the effort to understand what it means to be a “Big Kahuna.” This will certainly stand out from all the banana awards I have back home. 2
(Not The End)
Okay, so I made it back home, and I’m back into the grind here at Vandalay. Gotta make the trip again next year, so time to hunker down. Getting organized. Oh, here’s my Big Kahuna Award. I’ll put it right here. 3 Looks good. That sure was a fun trip. Pretty proud to have made it and seeing this here every day will keep me focused. 4 Certainly more than a banana would…
(Not The End Yet)
Oh, hi, Jane. Yes! Come on in. What’s going on? This? It’s my Big Kahuna Award. Pretty cool, huh? Some might even say nifty. I went on the trip last week…blah, blah, blah…brag, brag, brag…5
Anyway, good to see you, Jane. They really oughta do something like this in your department…
(Still Not The End!)
Hey, Bob, how was your week? Can’t say I missed everyone back here. (**Snarky guffaw**) Yep, I did get some sun. Oh, yeah, that’s the Big Kahuna Award. Certainly different, isn’t it? You should go on the trip next year, Bob. I know you were close this year, so just a little push will get you over the hump. 6 See ya, Bob. Guess you got work to do, huh? (**Snarkier guffaw**)
(The End Of The Story, But Effective Recognition Really Never Ends)
The footnotes below serve as the bullet points of the story. But an actual story to relate the points to be made is more accessible to the audience and mitigates the “salesy-ness” of a static list.
I could certainly push out a PowerPoint deck with a clinical discourse on the merits of effective recognition. Been there, done that. But I have found stories about bananas to be much more a-peeling.
1 During the moment of recognition, any recognition device will function as a viable objet d’handoff (that’s French…sorta.) The truth is, a banana—or any basic award or glob of glass—will get this job done. Look up the word ephemera.
2Effective recognition will impact the recipient as something unique, special, and thoughtful. A banana won’t do that.
3Effective recognition will be taken home to be properly displayed, where it will serve as a perpetual reminder of the special moment of recognition. A banana won’t do that.
4Effective recognition will encourage the recipient to keep up the good work. A banana won’t do that.
5Effective recognition will provide an opportunity for the recipient to “brag” to colleagues and co-workers and recount the recognition experience. A banana won’t do that.
6Effective recognition will induce others to emulate the recognized behavior or achievement, serving as an incentive for peers. A banana won’t do that.
Hero image credit: Pinterest
Dave Miller is VP of Sales & Marketing at Bruce Fox, Inc. and a professional writer by virtue of the fact his company is paying him to write this blog. He has been with Bruce Fox since 1990, the year the Reds last won the World Series. He would weigh about 32 pounds on the surface of the moon. The goal of his blog is to “edu-tain” (educate + entertain) promotional products distributors, with a focus on custom work. Dave also finds it very awkward to write about himself in the third person.