Why do we tell stories that suck? Nobody wants to hear a lame story. And yet, in business, we seem obsessed with being uninteresting. We’re practically apologizing every time we begin to tell someone about our organization. I’d like you to stop doing this. A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Simon Sinek speak. You might know him from his awesome TED Talks. He was talking about his new book Leaders Eat Last. Here’s how he started:
The date is August 16th, 2002. And flying over a valley in Afghanistan are two A-10 warthogs. An A-10 is a heavily armored low-flying, slow aircraft designed to provide ground cover for troops on the ground.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Boom. We’re all on the edge of our seats.]
And on this night, it’s a very cloudy night, there are storms in the area. And these two planes are just waiting up above in case anyone down below needs help. Up there it’s gorgeous. The moon is bright. There’s thousands of stars in the sky. The clouds look like the snow had just fallen. Down below in the valley however, there were 22 Special Operations troops trying to make their way thru the country and they could feel that something was wrong. They could feel… they felt uneasy. One of the pilots up above – call sign Johnny Bravo – he could feel their unease over the radio so he decided he was gonna go down below the clouds and have a look.
And we’re all locked in.
Importantly, Sinek is speaking about how to create a more productive work culture. He’s not there to tell war stories. He’s talking about human resources. And yet he has the courage to try to build a deeper connection with the audience. He dares to be great.
Most of the stories we tell in business are not told with the aim of being great; they’re told with the aim of not embarrassing ourselves. Marketing’s job is to hit homeruns. Hitting homeruns requires swinging for the fences. You can’t bunt the ball over the fence, and you can’t follow formulas to create a great story.
A great story is a dramatic construction. It has characters we care about, rising and falling action and a certain level of dramatic tension. It is not a series of bullet points.
Whether it’s what we tell someone at a cocktail party, our presentation to colleagues, what we say in a new business pitch, or the marketing messages we create, most of us – even trained marketers who understand the power of storytelling – tend to stick to the formula – start slow, promise to be quick, and don’t truly perform.
B2B companies are especially guilty. We hide behind jargon. We try to prove how smart we are by throwing around acronyms. We dive right into the middle of the conversation without making a case for why the audience should care – I mean really care. We appeal to logic, rather than emotion. This is a mistake, even in business-to-business situations. We need to make that emotional connection, and then we will have the audience’s attention as we make our appeal to logic.
But of course, that requires you to have some cajones. To have the willingness to step outside formulaic message delivery and be bold.
Think you can do that?
Consider this a challenge.