Sales Storytelling: Is Your Story a Rabbit or a Duck?

sales storytelling ducks image

Be a storytelling duck by keeping your points in a row.

Sales storytelling is a wonderful and, some might say, vital tool to use to engage your customers.  But how do you know if the story you are telling is actually catching on with your audience?  In the hit show, How I Met Your Mother, there is an episode called “Rabbit or Duck?”  In it, the characters use Ludwig Wittgenstein’s rabbit-duck illusion to describe the ambiguous nature of love and hate.  Depending on how you look at Wittgenstein’s drawing, you can either say that you see a rabbit or a duck, and you’d be right both ways.  After some debate, the characters on the show deem ducks to be considered “good” or, in this case, “love,” and rabbits to be considered “bad” or “hate.”  We can take this metaphor a step further and apply it to the art of storytelling itself.  Some stories will be good until an error jars you, akin to running your hand over cloth and catching the prick of a needle, and some will run smooth as silk.  Storytelling can be very ambiguous by nature, but there are some rules you can follow to land your story closer to duck territory than rabbit.  So let me ask you, is your story a rabbit or a duck?

The Storytelling Rabbit

Whether or not you agree with the gang on How I Met Your Mother and think that rabbits are worse than ducks, for our purposes we’ll stick with the idea that being a rabbit is bad.  And indeed, when you are trying to build an understandable narrative, you do not want to be like a rabbit.  A storytelling rabbit does not engage with the audience.  It hops around, point to point, with no regard for timing or cohesiveness.  Have you ever had someone telling you a joke but they have to keep going back to the start to give you vital details they forgot to include so that you can understand the punch line?  By the time they got to the end, did you remember enough to find their joke funny?  They are the rabbit, constantly jumping back and forth in the story till you can’t follow them anymore.

In the classic Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, the rabbit is a fast-talking speed junkie who turns out to be fatally overconfident to boot.  That storytelling rabbit is too fast for his own good, rushing to the end of the story so quickly that you don’t have enough grounding details to follow what they are saying.  They may not be losing a race to a tortoise, but they certainly lose you, the all-important audience, by focusing on the finish line above all else.

You can tell if your story is a rabbit by examining it point by point, making sure each concept flows logically into the next till you reach your conclusion.  Making an outline for your story can help.  This process will also enable you to determine if you have enough concrete details throughout to keep everyone engaged, and that you aren’t flying through the narrative, getting to the ending too quickly.

Telling Your Story like a Duck

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Getting your ducks in a row.”  That’s because ducks are great at getting into line and following one after another in an orderly fashion.  This is how a good story is laid out.  One point follows another in a nice, logical manner.  Even good stories that purposefully tell the tale out of order will still follow a logical layout.  How I Met Your Mother is infamous for this type of storytelling.  The viewer is given a small piece of the puzzle at first then gradually the story flows back and forth in time till the viewer has all the puzzle pieces and a complete picture.  Notice I said “flow” and not “hop” for these changes in time.  If the story is a duck, movements back and forth in the narrative are not jarring but smooth and consistent like a duck gliding through the water.  If you notice, even with puzzle piece stories, there is a logical progression of elements; one happening seamlessly leads into the next regardless of time and place.  That is how you know you are telling your story like a duck.

As you go about your day to day life, try to recognize the stories you encounter and see if they feel more like a rabbit or a duck.  If you are watching a movie or television or reading a book, take a step back and see how the story is making you feel.  If you think the movie you’re seeing is a rabbit, try to identify the reasons why.  If an episode of your favorite show is particularly engrossing, see if you can tell what makes it an engrossing duck story.  The more you recognize whether stories are rabbits or ducks, the more you will be able to apply the right techniques to your own storytelling.  Soon you’ll be able to spot a rabbit a mile away and avoid being a rabbit storyteller yourself.  Your sales storytelling will improve and you’ll be a duck in no time at all.

Want to know more about the techniques of good sales storytelling?  Start by following this blog, The Sales Storyteller.  The next update is scheduled for December 23rd.  Don’t miss it!

Photo Credit: “Three in a row” by Capt’ Gorgeous / CC BY

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