Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What's Your Story?

This morning I put on the first of my two “Communicating for Results” seminars for Enterprise Toronto. We held it at the old council chambers of the North York Civic Centre, so I felt as if the ghost of Mel Lastman were watching over my shoulder.

“Communicating for Results” is intended to be my flagship product: a seminar to help business people communicate more effectively, creatively and consistently. It works for entrepreneurs or corporate executives, salespeople or startups – because communication is the No. 1 function of business, and most people are so bad at it. Peter Drucker, the ageless Austrian management guru, says 60% of management problems are caused by poor communication. I think he’s wrong. I think that number is higher.

This program also works for me, because it brings together my 25 years (!) in business journalism, writing, editing, and studying entrepreneurs – their good habits and bad. Now if I only had time to market the thing better.

We had a good group this morning, with lots of interesting comments and questions. I particularly enjoyed being one-upped by one member of the audience.

I was on my sixth point: Tell more stories.

“People don’t remember facts, dates, amounts, names or rules,” I said. “To communicate in a powerful and lasting manner, for millennia human beings have been telling each other stories.

“Sometimes it’s not enough to tell our children not to talk to strangers: the story of Little Red Riding Hood drives the message home. It’s not enough for Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola or Molson to tell us that their product is 8% more effective than the competition’s – they do it by showing us 30-second mini-movies showing people having more fun with their products, or getting whiter teeth or shinier, more manageable hair. In the end it’s the images and emotions that stories evoke in our minds that we remember.

“Every company should have its own trust-building, pride-inducing stories. What makes a good story? People, problems, and happy endings. That’s the structure of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, and it should be the theme of all your ads, sales materials and testimonials…”

When I was done discussing story-telling, I asked the audience if anyone had a good business-building story to share. Nobody moved. No one even looked in my direction. Then, one woman volunteered her story.

Melanie is in the balloon-a-gram/flower business. A few years ago, a customer confided in her that he really liked a woman he knew, but didn’t have the courage to tell her. Melanie suggested he go big, with a huge flurry of flowers that would tell her how he feels in one big, flamboyant, all-or-nothing gesture. So he did. Two years later, they were married. And every year, on their anniversary, he buys his wife a balloon-a-gram. From Melanie.

It’s a beautiful story. It’s got a hero, a problem, a solution, a happy ending – and an epilogue that makes Melanie a winner, too. I asked her what the result is when she tells her story to her customers. “They buy more,” she said.


So… what’s your story?

PS: If you’re interested, I am doing another gig for Enterprise Toronto, at Toronto City Hall, on May 25. Admission (sigh) is free. See for details (click on Events).

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