Our modern day methods of communication value fast, short, and information-rich conversations. With the rise of social media and texting as key ways to communicate information, conversations seem to be abbreviated.
But, it hasn’t always been this way. For thousands of years, long before we had mobile devices or even the printed page, communicators have relied on one key tool to build rapport, communicate information, and persuade listeners. That tool is storytelling.
In spite of today’s apparent desire for rapid-pace communication, we still value stories. Television continues sharing half-hour and one-hour stories. Hollywood continues producing stories of 2 hours or more, and people still listen to music, which are just stories set to a tune.
Why Stories Are So Compelling
People love stories. Stories communicate facts in a compelling way, wrapping those facts in emotion, which is something that adds a “human angle” to information that might otherwise easily be forgotten. Stories take concepts and add relatable context, helping listeners apply theoretical information to their lives.
Stories have a beginning, middle, and satisfying conclusion. We’re hard-wired to want to hear the whole thing. We have no problem tuning out dry facts, but we actively listen to an engaging story.
For financial advisors, stories are effective ways to communicate. Telling clients a story is a great way to accelerate understanding and promote your ideas or recommendations. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring stories, because you think they are for the “folksy” advisor who has the time to sit around chatting with retired clients. Even the most hard-charging business client, who is almost too busy for a quick phone conversation, will enjoy a brief and carefully chosen story when used appropriately.
How to Tell a Good Story
The basic story model consists of a hero, antagonist, passion, awareness and transformation. The hero is who the story is about. The antagonist is the problem. Passion is the energy that makes you want to tell the story. Awareness is what allows the hero to prevail, and transformation is the action that is happening.
The story should start with the hero facing a problem. Then, the story should briefly move through an attempt to solve the problem. A conclusion is reached when the problem is successfully solved.
Here are a few other tips to help you create a good story:
- Stories do not need to be long and detailed; they do not need to be funny, jaw-droppingly riveting, or have a clever twist at the end. You’re not trying to craft a sequel to Indiana Jones. Just communicating your information in a simple narrative is enough to get your client to take notice.
- Stories should contain some aspect that is relatable to the audience. For example, business executives will more likely respond to stories that involve other business executives.
- Stories can be real or made-up. Just be clear about what you are presenting. You don’t want to dilute the important facts in your story just because your client isn’t sure if you are telling them a true story. You can use embedded clues to help your listener know the difference. For example, you might say, “One of my clients asked me …” to tell a true story but you might say, “this reminds me of a funny anecdote I heard once …” to tell a made-up story.
- When sharing a real story about another client, do not share identifiable information. Rather, generalize it by referring to them as “my client”.
Storytelling is a skill you can hone with practice. There are plenty of resources out there to help you become a better storyteller, and your family and friends will always enjoy hearing more stories from you as you practice your skill.
How to Develop Stories
The first thing you should do is identify when, in your practice, you tend to repeat the same information. For example, you might consider starting with some of these common scenarios: A sales presentation, a seminar, when countering prospect objections, or when helping clients make portfolio decisions. (This is a good starting point so you can find a few solid, reliable stories to use over and over again. Later, you can always branch out to get more stories, but start with a few as building blocks).
Pick one or two parts of those common scenarios, and write down the information you want to convey when speaking. For example, if a prospect makes an objection, the information you usually try to convey is a specific point that helps counter their objection.
Next, find a story that communicates the information you wish to convey in these scenarios. You might draw on your own experience or find short, engaging stories in magazines. For example, you might find a story about an objection you commonly receive (when someone asks you why they should switch advisors to work with you). You might think of another client who was hesitant to switch at first but was later glad that they made the switch.
Collect these stories together and practice them regularly so you can weave them into your conversations. Once you have a few that you’re comfortable with, continue to collect stories that help you communicate facts and support your points.
Start small. Don’t try to become a storyteller overnight. It will feel awkward for you, and your stories may end up feeling forced. Rather, just pick one or two stories, and integrate them into your conversations–tweaking them as you go.