Communicating Through Stories Isn’t Trendy—It’s Critical

Storytelling, not data slinging, builds meaningful connections.

Recently, while sitting in my office on a web conference, I listened to a salesperson go on (and on) about the features of his company’s new customer relationship management (CRM) product. NSCA isn’t actively looking to change its CRM system, but we always like to keep our eyes open for tools and technologies that might help us better communicate with integrators, manufacturers and our members.

It’s hard enough to sit in a live sales meeting with a person who’s reading from a spec sheet, as he or she tries to sell you the new “thingamadoo.” But, in a web conference, it’s downright painful. Distractions are many: You can check e-mail, put the presentation on “mute” and have side conversations, etc. Often, we allow phone calls or meetings like this to carry on, but, at the end, we retain nothing. The presentation, the long PowerPoint, the discussion about features and benefits…. As Aloe Blacc would say, “Wake me up when it’s all over!”

We don’t get excited to go to conferences and listen to people spew data that we could easily search for on Google. Besides the social aspect of events, we attend to learn, be inspired and be entertained. This is true of sales calls, training…even lunch meetings or coffee breaks. We seek to connect to, empathize with and relate to the information we consume. That’s why we learn better when the subject matter interests us, and when the “teacher” helps us make connections between a topic, its importance to us and our desire to act based upon the content presented.

Here’s a stat for you: Fewer than 10 percent of people will recall the data you share in a presentation, but more than 60 percent will remember the stories you tell. Data might help us validate an idea, but providing data to an audience is as snooze-worthy as watching a movie with no video. It’s data without context. When you deliver this type of information, you alienate your audience. (Next week, you likely won’t remember this statistic about recalling data—but you might very well remember my story about the web conference I mentioned above.)

In a sales call, we likely receive all the information we need to make a buying decision, but there’s failure in one major area—telling a meaningful story. Stories let people into our organizations, and they allow them to see the passion we have for our ideas. When we hear these stories, we feel more entertained and we find ourselves more interested in the subject matter. The connectedness that comes with a good story helps us learn and retain more, which translates to better results from our presentations, whether they are to a large audience or a single individual.

The moral of the story? We need to rethink how we present, sell and communicate. We must remember that telling stories is a way to connect to, and build a rapport with, our audiences. Even though it’s easy to share features and data, that isn’t how we should teach or sell.

As we prepared for the 20th annual Business & Leadership Conference (BLC), which is coming up in just a few weeks, we spent a lot of time searching for high-impact presenters and keynote speakers who won’t just share their knowledge with attendees but who, rather, will relate to integrators by telling stories that instantly create a connection.

We want attendees to retain as much as possible at this conference. The value isn’t just in listening and learning, but also in taking the information home and putting it to work.

NSCA has countless stories we can tell to help our members learn and grow—and we’re working on sharing them through our events and conferences, YouTube channel, blog and newsletters, as well as here in this column.

I find that, when I share these stories, I always make deep connections and help people see not only the factual value of our association, but also the vast knowledge that a partnership with NSCA can bring to an integrator or a manufacturer. Telling stories might be a trendy marketing topic right now, but it’s much more than that; it’s also a critical piece needed to build real loyalty among your company, your employees and your customers.

If that poor CRM salesperson on the web conference could have spun a tale about his solution, a company or an industry association like NSCA, and a problem that was solved, I probably would have listened. Why? Because that’s how I’m wired—and that’s how most people are wired. Tell us a story, and we’ll listen. Sling data at us, and we’re gone.

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