Crafting and delivering a great business anecdote

TV Dragon Peter Jones talking to Sara Knowles

by Andrew Thorp

At MojoLife we’re on a mission to get business people to embrace the importance of stories and storytelling. We believe that stories are your key competitive advantage and help you connect with others on a deeper, more emotional level. That’s essential if you want people to buy from you.

The good news is that more people are starting use them in their marketing, presentations and blogging, but there’s some confusion as to what constitutes a decent story.

Early converts tend to relate just facts, and although they explain what happened, they don’t create an emotional response in the audience. Here’s an example:

Last year Sara and I took a display stand at Civil Service Live in Olympia. On the last day Peter Jones (from Dragons Den) visited the show and he walked past our stand. We got his attention, he asked us about what we did, we told him and then he left.

These are indisputably the facts, but it’s hardly compelling stuff. Try this instead:

Last summer Sara and I took a display stand at Civil Service Live, an important business exhibition at Olympia in London. It was a big deal for us, our first major public display amongst the good and the great of Whitehall, and we 10 minutes talk time with the Cabinet Secretary at a private function on our first night there.

On the final day, word reached us that Peter Jones, the multi-millionaire TV Dragon was prowling around the building. He was a guy we really wanted to meet and when some advance security men scrurried down our aisle, whisperinginto their wrists like Secret Service agents, we steadied ourselves to makeour ‘pitch’. Suddenly, this huge skyscraper of a man rounded the corner andwalked our way – it seemed our moment had come. Tragically, he was looking the wrong way when he reached our stand!

Now I have a problem mithering famous people in public places. But Sara has no such qualms. “Oi, Peter!”she yelled (or words to that effect) and managed to get his attention. Slightly flushed but on good form, she pitched the MojoLife concept to the fearsome investor. Peter Jones’ teeth flashed that TV smile. He turned to me and I blurted something out about the business concept and our hopes for the future. Then he said something that totally stopped me in my tracks.

“So your business shrinks,” he opined. I was lost for words. “Oh god”, I thought. “He’s seen the flaw in our business concept. That’s what Dragons do after all. They sniff out the weakness like a bloodhound.” Sensing my confusion, Jones clarified his point. “I mean you’re business psychologists!”

If you’ve read Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots & Leaves you’ll understand how a grammatical misunderstanding can create confusion. We all had a giggle and the great man departed.

A couple of days later we wrote a blog about our experience at Olympia and our encounter with a TV Dragon, and Mr Jones very obligingly re-tweeted it…to 303,000 followers!

A couple of points here:

First, the longer version uses more emotive, colourful language to bring the story to life. The scene is essentially ‘enacted’, inviting the audience in to share our thoughts and feelings at the time. There’s a key moment of drama –the misunderstanding – that creates tension (you’d leave a longish pause after “So your business shrinks” if you were relating the story verbally). And there’s the reveal, when the audience realises what Peter Jones actually meant.

Second, there’s a point to the story – the short epilogue reveals what happened after the show and of course it’s a terrific endorsement of using social media in business! It’s an example of drawing on your personal storyvault to reinforce a point you want to make.

So, by all means use stories in your business communications. But remember to look broadly at what you’ve got in your locker (in this case just a 10 minute conversation), make the necessary link with what you want to say and get good at embellishing and enacting the story – for maximum impact!

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About Mojo Your Business

Mojo Your Business is an innovative training & consultancy company based in Manchester, UK. We're passionate about helping businesses and individuals perform better through effective communication. We specialise in corporate storytelling and how it applies to internal and external communication (employee relations, employability skills, leadership, relationship building, sales, marketing and public relations). More at http://mojoyourbusiness.com/
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