FIX MY STORY? See how two simple changes take a business story from ho-hum to effective.

FIX MY STORY? See how two simple changes take a business story from ho-hum to effective.

recent2A new mentee of mine, Robert, recently asked if I could coach him on his storytelling. When I asked him to tell me something about himself, he shared the story below. Have a look, and then let’s diagnose.

“Paul-  The Inn and Spa at Loretto assigns Eastern New Mexico University the Acoma room, a room smaller than the Zuni room to which the Alumni  Association Legislative Session Committee is accustomed. Showtime is 5:00pm MDT, an hour earlier than previous years – the room is smaller and currently empty; it seems especially emptier since there are fewer sit down tables and more stand-up tables.  Over the course of two hours, the room fills to capacity with legislators from not only the east side, but also west.  People talk and visit gregariously with one another. 

Two weeks later, “this may be the best legislative reception I have attended in the 11 years I have been here,” says the president.  Six months earlier, it’s my first day on the job as Alumni Affairs Coordinator.  The president meets with me first thing in the morning.  “A good listener goes far,” says the president.

I am a listener who successfully builds and brokers relationships.”       

Ok, first piece of advice: this story needs an introduction that gives the audience (me) a reason to be interested in reading it. Without that, I might lose interest before getting halfway through. As it is, the first few sentences tells me only about:

  1. the Inn and Spa (which I don’t know anything about)
  2. Eastern New Mexico U. (which I’ve never heard of)
  3. the Acoma room and Zuni room (which aren’t familiar to me)
  4. the Alumni Assoc. Leg. Session Committee (which I’m not a part of)

In short, there’s nothing in the first paragraph I know or care about.

A better beginning might be:

 “Paul, I learned something important about myself, as well as how to broker relationships between others, from the same event back in August of 2012 when I was in charge of my school’s alumni legislative session . . . “

That one sentence makes me interested in reading more for a couple of reasons.  First, I’m intrigued how a single event can tell me something important about Robert and brokering relationships with others at the same time.  Sounds like an interesting story I’d like to hear, even if I don’t know you.

More importantly, this opening gets me interested because I asked Robert to tell me something about himself. If he opens with this, it tells me that if I read more, that’s exactly what I’ll get.  Otherwise, it isn’t until I get to the end of the story that I find out the story is about him. If I knew that ahead of time, I’d have paid more attention.

So, if you add the new introduction, and cut out all the unnecessary details about the Inn & Spa and the Zuni Room, it starts off looking like this:

 Paul, I learned something important about myself, as well as how to broker relationships between others, at an annual reception I oversee for government officials on behalf of the university I work for.  

 Showtime is at 5:00 pm – an hour earlier than previous years. And the room is smaller and currently empty . . . “

Better. But we need one more fix: Stay in the same verb tense when shifting from introduction to “the story.” Changing to present tense brings too much attention to the fact that you’re telling the audience a story instead of just talking to them.  It makes the story seem like a big production instead of a casual conversation. And the more attention you draw to the fact that you’re telling a story, the less attention your audience will have left to focus on actually listening to the story.

For business communication, it’s best if your story is woven seamlessly into your conversation as opposed to being a separate entity. You want to be able to slip in and out of storytelling without your audience noticing.

So, with those two changes, here’s what Robert’s story looks like now.  Remember, this is in response to me asking him to “Tell me something about yourself.”

Paul, I learned something important about myself, as well as how to broker relationships between others, at an annual reception I oversee for government officials on behalf of the university I work for.  

 Showtime was 5:00 pm – an hour earlier than previous years. And the room was smaller and empty.  Over the next two hours, legislators from east and west filled the room.  People talked and visited easily with one another.  The e-mails, phone calls, and in-person visits paid off; even the minor schedule tweaks worked.  

Two weeks, later, the president tells me “it was perhaps the best-attended reception we’ve ever had.”  Six months prior, it was my first day on the job as Alumni Director.  The president said to me then that a “good listener goes far.”

 Paul, I’m a listener who successfully builds and brokers relationships.  

 See how much better that flows?

What other advice would you give Robert on his story?

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