Stories That Stick, a compelling new book by Kindra Hall, may be the most valuable business book you read. Hall runs a storytelling advisory firm and credits stories as the decision factor to “sell better, pitch better, recruit better, build better, create better, connect better.” After seeing thousands of careers up close as a recruiter and a coach, I agree 100% on the value of stories. You need to develop the storytelling skill to:
- Network –so new people you meet actually want to talk further
- Interview – so recruiters believe you are the best candidate for the job
- Negotiate – so employers give you what you want in your offer, on the job and over your career
- Advance – so your boss gives you the resources you need and the credit you deserve
- Lead – so your team supports you to get things done
- Influence – so your colleagues collaborate with you
- Sell – because everyone sells and the line between employee and entrepreneur is all but gone in today’s insecure job market
- Grow – so you tell yourself a motivating story about what you can do and how you can adapt to meet the demands of today’s rapidly-changing market
Luckily, Hall provides a comprehensive structure and easy-to-follow suggestions for telling powerful stories. Here are four steps to develop your storytelling skill:
1 – Brainstorm story ideas
Ask yourself questions. Use customer concerns and questions. Think of firsts – e.g., first husband, first job. These are some of the prompts Hall shares so you can begin to think of your own stories.
For job seekers, I recommend going line-by-line through your resume for story ideas — recollect the details on each role and project you worked on. You can also use the job posting for ideas – for each responsibility and qualification, think of a story you can tell that matches what is required.
2 - Include the four key elements
In Hall’s approach, a powerful story has four key elements:
1. Identifiable characters
2. Authentic emotion
3. A significant moment
4. Specific details
Throughout the book, Hall includes numerous stories (my personal favorite part of the book). She includes the story of a middle school outcast who finds her place among the theater kids, even getting invited to an upper grade party. One of the older kids invites the outcast to the front yard to lie on the grass together and gaze at the stars. She reminds the outcast to remember the expanse of nature, how much is out there, when things get tough. This brief example has all four elements – 1) identifiable characters like the outcast and the mentor; 2) authentic emotion like loneliness and finally belonging; 3) a significant moment like getting that well-timed piece of advice that changes everything; and 4) specific details like the grass, the stars, the party.
For interview stories, you can build these by answering five questions that ensure a comprehensive job interview response.
3 - Captivate before trying to convince
Hall opens the book with a fun story about how a young sales rep at an everyday Paris store convinced Hall’s shopping-adverse, never-wears-fragrance husband to actually buy cologne. I won’t spoil how the sales rep did it, but it includes JFK as a character in his brilliantly delivered sell story.
“Because stronger than a man’s desire to keep his wallet closed . . .Is the irresistible power of a story. A perfectly placed, impeccably delivered story can transport a person to a place beyond interested, straight past paying attention, and into a state of complete captivation.”
Kindra Hall, in “Stories That Stick”
In your career, you will have to convince others – recruiters, your boss, busy colleagues over whom you have no direct authority. If you’re a business owner or in a client-facing role, you will have to sell as part of your job description. Remembering to draw your listener in first — to captivate them – is sound advice. Don’t just barrel into your arguments, logic or reasoning. If you take the time to enthrall your audience first, they will listen with a more open mind and heart.
You have to captivate in order to influence. You can’t gain trust if no one sees you in the first place.
Kindra Hall, in “Stories That Stick”
4 – Influence and transform your listener
Hall refers to the space between what you want and what your listener wants as “the gap”. Hall posits that stories bridge the gap so you influence and transform your listener into someone who wholeheartedly goes along. You can use a story to captivate your listener, and you can also use a story to influence and transform them.
For example, Hall shares a story told by a young manager tasked with motivating a deflated sales force going into end-of-year behind on their sales target. Instead of talking business strategy or pleading or even threatening, the manager tells a story about his college water polo days. This is my favorite of many interesting story examples in the book, and I can’t do it justice with a summary. Essentially the story is about whether the manager would press on or give up the sport in his senior year, which parallels whether the sales force should press on or give up going into end-of-year. The heartbreaking story makes a strong, relevant point in an influential and transformational way.
In your career, you will also need to motivate and cajole people to do things they may not initially want to do. As you advance in your career, your scope of responsibility expands and becomes more complex, involving multiple departments with conflicting objectives and timelines. The ability to influence and transform becomes even more important later in your career.
Storytelling is the most important skill in today’s job market
People are drowning in information – emails, social media, constant company changes. Storytelling can cut through the noise in an overloaded environment. Recession looms large, and employers will be more selective in who they hire, retain and promote. Customers will be choosier in how they spend. Storytelling can help you win over decision-makers at every stage of your career or business. Technological changes are disrupting industries, companies and individual jobs. The stories you tell yourself, ideally success stories, can keep you going.