Have you ever watched ‘Would I Lie to You’? The show where celebrities are challenged to share stories with each other and separate tall tales from unlikely truths? It is hilarious and, aside from the spontaneous chemistry of the show’s captains and host, it makes for a fascinating study into the human ability to weave wonderful yarns.
Now, I am not claiming to spot every single deception or rapidly conceived fallacy that is told, but I do tend to hit more than miss. Except for the extraordinarily rambling tales of the inimitable Bob Mortimer (where the more outrageous the story, the more likely its truth), there are always tells. Much like the ticks and traits of the poker player or the eye-flickers police interrogators are trained to spot – true stories ring true.
Proverbial, paradoxical or metaphor
Stories, however, do not have to be true to contain powerful truths. There never was a race between a tortoise and a hare; it is not possible to live the same day over and over again just so you can appreciate time, and almost every rags-to-riches story ever told is economical with the facts. But that is not the point. The story is simply the vehicle for delivering the truth within the message.
It is so important to understand this principle when telling your business stories.
Have you ever been to see a comedian perform or watched a set from Live at the Apollo on TV and laughed yourself to tears? Then, felt mildly inadequate as the same material later falls flat from your voice? It’s a little upsetting, isn’t it? Then there was charming Uncle Pete from your childhood who always seemed to get the room in stitches just by showing up at a family event. Some people, by nature or decades of dedicated practice, seem to sell a story or weave a funny quip without too much ado.
You could even go as far as to say that the story itself doesn’t matter all that much. As the late, great Frank Carson would say, “It’s the way I tell em”.
Truths to tell and services to sell
When telling your business story or stories, the biggest thing to remember is this: Do not try and sell. There is a place to sell your goods and services: It’s called marketing or sales (the clue is in the title). But your stories purpose are to show people who you are and that you are you are for real. They must engage, create confidence and tell your truths. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘the’ truth, but it must be ‘your’ truth – and trust me on this – your readers will be able to tell if it is a porky pie.
Just to be clear: Stories are powerful and must be founded on things that your customers will identify with. You cannot simply make up incidents, histories, or testimonials to over-represent you: even if you are as good as those stories say. But you can weave the facts into beautifully flowing narratives that bring your strengths to life. You are entirely within your rights to use metaphor, folklore or the lure of current affairs to connect situation with story and make your point.
Be truthful in all your business communications: But don’t let that limit your use of imagination. That is the true power and potential of business storytelling.