01. We Tell Stories
Not those sort of stories. You know the ones I mean – your mum always said not to tell them, because they got others in trouble. We do try not to get people into trouble. The stories we have the privilege of telling are positive, uplifting and life-affirming. They aren’t necessarily about earth-shattering discoveries or events, but they are important.
The issue of storytelling as a skill for businesses was reinforced to me recently. A TV programme featuring artisan food producers saw them compete against each other for a prize which would give them additional marketing and promotional activity, off the back of an already experienced business. Each competitor was assessed on a range of things, including the quality of the product, how viable the business was and how well they marketed themselves and the product, including how they presented their stalls. The participants were from a range of backgrounds, but were all essentially cottage industry start-ups, hungry to give their business a platform, as well as exploiting the wealth of advice from the expert judges.
In terms of judge’s feedback to the participants, there was one constant theme and that was a lack of storytelling. The food producers had some wonderful stories to tell, from recipes handed down from previous generations to product provenance. If the person was pushed, the story was teased out. But their stalls simply didn’t tell that story, which made it harder for potential customers to buy into what they were selling without a lengthy conversation with the stallholder, which wasn’t always practical. We’ve all been there – walking around a market or food fair, or mooching around the internet, and been drawn to a business because of something a little bit different. Something that inspired them to start their business, be it their mum, grandad, a favourite cactus or gerbil.
Talking to a good storyteller is to be drawn fleetingly into their world. And to a business, that could mean the difference between success and failure. If you can engage customers in your story, and therefore your business, they will come back to you time and again.
A story might not just be someone’s history, it may not be linear or chronological, but it will always be personal and unique. It might be about them, their family, where they live, where they have come from, what they do, why they do what they do, and what motivates and inspires them. The list is endless. And we do all love a good yarn, especially if tea is involved…
There are often good reasons why people can’t tell their story. That some can’t, don’t or won’t is by no means a criticism. Telling your own story can be hard. For most people it won’t come naturally. After all, we are living our stories every day and rarely think about what led us to where we are now. Talking to someone who is not part of your story allows for independent, gentle questioning to bring the story to life.
If you’re starting out in business, you should have your story sorted – especially if it is likely to mark you out from your competitors – and you need to be able to tell it well.
Around the same time that the TV programme was being broadcast, we were approached on behalf of a client to help write the story of a fledgling business which was struggling to convey its story well, because of the very technical aspects of their project. Their idea is valuable in many ways and, although it took a bit of getting our heads round the concept, we did, and they were so pleased. So, it is possible in every situation, and we love doing it. We also get to meet some pretty amazing people in the process, which is a bonus to our work.
A year ago, all this would have been meaningless to me. If I’d heard someone say “you need to find a way of telling your story better”, I’m not sure I would even have noticed. But because of the time I have spent working with the Wordscapes team, my ears pricked up. I now have a far better understanding of the value of storytelling, and its contribution to our society, our history and our economy.
We are the stories we tell ourselves, and each other.