Storytelling: Persuasion That Moves & Engages

Last week, PR Newswire and CommPRO.biz hosted the second part of the Google+ Hangout On Air Storytelling Series. The discussion was led by Michael Pranikoff (@mpranikoff), global director of emerging media at PR Newswire. Ginny Pulos (@ginnypulos), founder and president of Ginny Pulos Communications, joined him to explain the results of successful storytelling for a business.

Pranikoff presented the following questions to Pulos:

Q: Why is storytelling so important on a personal and business basis?

Pulos: It is important for when you want to land/keep/move ahead with a job or client as well as when you want to be a persuader or leader. Storytelling is the most persuasive tool you can use, especially when you are in the same room as another party breathing the same air. Also, if you are a leader of an organization, you need to tell stories to motivate, inspire, and engage people. It is true stories that move people to act. It’s a sell.

Also, storytelling is really an untapped resource. We are all telling stories every day, but we just don’t know how to tell them as effectively as we could.

Q: What is the difference between position power vs. personal power?

Pulos: Position power is your title and all the privileges that are accorded to you because of your title. But how many people outside of the narrow definition of their job are able to tap into their personal power to move and persuade people? People have this unwritten taboo in corporations that you should not talk about anything personal, and that your personal life is personal and your professional life is public. But that is absolutely not true. It is the personal stories that we have inside us that are the things that drive business forward. We need to know how and when to tell stories, as well as how to tell them effectively.

Q: What is the difference between power and persuasion vs. influence?

Pulos: It is not your title, degree or expertise by which people listen to you, but it is because of who you are. Power is by right or by might — that is your title. Persuasion is twisting your arm gently or perhaps not so gently. Influence in the worst sense is manipulation, and in the best sense it is like all the heavenly choirs are singing your praises and the pearly gates open, and you walk in with a halo on your head. But we really need to use all three.

Q: Why is it important for people to tell their story in personal and business situations?

Pulos: We have established grooves in our brain that go back to our earliest times when our parents would read us stories, and those stories would begin with “once upon a time” and end with “happily ever after.” Those grooves are deeply entrenched. Sending communication down grooves in our brain that are already established makes it so much easier for people to take in. Also, stories have the capability of creating pictures for people, and those things stay with us and can easily be recalled. That is why, for me, stories are so powerful.

Q: What are some of the elements of a great story?

Pulos: A great story must include the following: 1) be brief, which means five minutes or less; 2) true; 3) about a person; 4) engage an emotion, and this can be done by slipping into present tense while telling the story; 5) end on a high note; 5) a little bit acted out.

Q: Can you tell us about someone who is a really great storyteller?

Pulos: The person I followed for many years was Steve Jobs, the CEO of the decade who transformed all kinds of businesses. The best story he ever told in business was when he introduced the iPhone and he said it was “having your life in your pocket.” It is only five words but it tells so much. His stories that I liked the best weren’t direct selling of a product, but were still driving business goals. My favorite was his commencement speech at Stanford. During his speech, he told just three stories. He was not very good at delivering, because he looked down, read from something, and spoke in past vs. present tense. However, he had a great moral in his stores, which was he trusted that everything would work out in the end. Many great stories lack a moral — the “what did I learn from it” or “how did that change my life ever after.”

Here is a little exercise you can use to start mining your own stories. Make four columns. In the first column put rites of passage (birth, death, graduation, divorces, achievements, defeats, etc.) and in the second column you briefly write out what happened. In the third column you will write how old you were when it happened, and in the last column you write what you learned from it. The last column is where the power lies in storytelling.

Q: Do you have examples of people who aren’t famous or CEOs who have developed great stories to help their business within their company, or just to help their business grow as a whole?

Pulos: One senior VP in human resources told a story about being a really tall gal and playing basketball in college. Everyone thought that because of her height she would be a great forward, but she hated using her elbows, etc., but one thing she was naturally flawless at was making free throws. She made the moral of her story that people are who they are and they should play to their strengths.

Another example I have is of a global marketer that I spoke to who is from China. She talked about the hardship she grew up in during the Cultural Revolution. Her father had been a teacher and they fled to the countryside. At four years of age she was left alone to take care of her infant brother. She had to find firewood and cook a meal every day. After the Cultural Revolution ended, they moved to a city and her father opened a school. Every morning she got up at four in the morning and bought food for all the children before she went to school. She made the moral of her story that life is like a delicious meal, and you have to use everything and every bit of your time.

Q: What are some of the bigger things people need to remember when they are preparing and telling their stories?

Pulos: You need to write out your story. You also need to know your opening and closing cold, so it comes out completely conversational. You then to memorize transitional phrases that get you from one part of your story to another part of your story. Remember that stories that have twists and turns, so you may heighten and mute things in your story for different audiences. One, two, or three good stories can get you a long way. Saying your stories out loud so you can hear your voice is important too.

Another thing to keep in mind is when you tell stories a lot you can reduce it to a “vignette.” If you are at a networking conference talking to someone who is unemployed and going through difficult times, you can tell them your short story, and if they want to know more they they will ask. Stories don’t have to be long, but they can be very short and humorous.

Q: How would you apply storytelling to drive business forward? How would you this to change mindsets or status quo?

Pulos: You have to look inside yourself and find that story of how you want to shake things up, and how something changed your mind about something big. It doesn’t matter when it happened, but it is the moral of the story that drives business goals. The best presentations I have seen are the ones that start with a great story and then circle back to that story in the end, because now you know why they told it in the beginning. This is really powerful in a business situation.

Q: What are some of your key takeaways?

Pulos: You need to tell a story when you are in the spotlight; when you can help, encourage, engage, teach or move someone; need to show what you stand for; overcome a sense of defeat. You are the hero of your own story. If you have no emotional contact, you will have no impact. Storytelling is an untapped resource. If you are proud of your work, life or team then talk about it!

Q: How do you assess your personal brand to use it in your storytelling?

Pulos: Here are the key things you can ask to figure out your brand: 1) What do you know me for? 2) What do you like me for? 3) What do you value me for? You ask these three questions of a boss, colleague on your same level, people who report to you, spouse/significant other, family member, or a good friend. They can respond to these questions with phrases. You can then lay out all these responses on a table and circle the words used more than once. Those circled words are key traits about you. If you don’t know the story behind the word then go back to those people and ask why they used that particular word, and they will tell you that story. It is up to you to perfect that story.

Q: How do you know if your story is good, strong enough to support your case?

Pulos: When I am formulating a story, what I do is tell it to a couple of close friends. You also really have to practice telling the story, because this isn’t something that will be achieved overnight. And keep the ideas that come to you on a notepad, so you don’t lose them. People that can communicate and connect are the people that get ahead.

Q: What if people don’t response to your story? How do you reel them in at the last chance?

Pulos: If people aren’t responding to your story then you have probably chosen the wrong time to tell it or don’t have the right story. If you have a moral to your story, then you can grab people at the last minute. There is something wrong with the way you structured the story if they aren’t hanging with you till the end.

Q: How can storytelling be utilized in the written word?

Pulos: I try to use a story in every blog post. The facts and statistics supported through a story can really come alive. I feel that writing is becoming a lot more conversational, especially because of social media. Nothing is more engaging then positive, genuine emotion. It is the most powerful and constructive force for persuasion.

We’ve been emphasizing storytelling tactics on the blog over the last few months.  If you missed the other storytelling posts, here’s a link to the full collection: http://blog.prnewswire.com/tag/storytelling/ 

If you’d like to explore new ways to tell your brand’s visual story, we’d be happy to chat with you about creating a video or a designing multimedia distribution strategy that will increase discovery of your brand’s messages. We’d love to hear your ideas, and help turn them into reality. Contact us for more information.

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

One response to “Storytelling: Persuasion That Moves & Engages

  1. Pingback: Story Pulse | sto·ry·tell·ing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s