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

The 7 Essential Elements of Compelling Storytelling

compelling storytelling

There are seven basic elements of compelling storytelling that you should use when crafting a narrative. Using the classic fairy tale, “Cinderella” as an example, we explore each element and the role it plays in building an effective story.

– Part 2 of The Sales Storyteller Series

Now that we’ve talked about why storytelling is important in our everyday lives, let’s take a look at the essential elements of compelling storytelling.  A story by definition is a narration of a series of events told with a specific purpose in mind.  The purpose could be to interest, amuse, engage, instruct, or to convince.  How you build that narrative and what you include will determine how effective your story will be at accomplishing its purpose.

The elements of effective storytelling can be broken down in numerous ways.  Copyblogger, for example, breaks the building of a compelling marketing story into three simple parts – the hero, the helper, and “the gap.”  Any good writer will tell you that there are countless facets and angles from which to work a story as you craft it into an enthralling narrative.  Every storyteller’s toolbox is different, but these seven basic elements are always present in truly compelling storytelling.

Using one of the most well-known fairy tales of all time, “Cinderella,” let’s investigate each element and see how they function to support this timeless tale. 

1.  Set the Scene 

Establishing the characters and context by describing the scene of your story is the first action you should take to establish your narrative.  By describing the situation, you build the solid ground upon which your story will stand.

Once upon a time, there lived a young girl with her doting father.  One day, her father brings home a new bride and her two daughters to join their family.  The new stepmother spoils her own children and treats the girl somewhat poorly…

 We first set the scene with characters and context, answering the question, where am I in the story?

Imagine if you began telling Cinderella’s story without context.  Jumping in with a mean stepmother who won’t allow Cinderella to go to the ball robs your audience of the experience of losing themselves in your story.

2.  Use Descriptions to Build an Emotional Connection

You don’t need to be a poet to highlight the essential details in your story.  Simple descriptors can do wonders for building that crucial emotional connection between your audience and your narrative.

…Then one day tragedy strikes.  The girl’s loving father suffers a fall from his horse and dies, leaving his devastated daughter in the hands of her stepfamily.  The stepmother becomes very cruel, forcing the girl to labor as a servant in her family home for years…

Not to be overused, planting small details into the story can help paint a picture for your audience and draw on their emotions.  She doesn’t just lose her father, but her loving father.  The stepmother isn’t just making the girl work, she’s being especially cruel about it.

3.   Tell Me Who this Story is About

A story is nothing without central characters.  Compelling storytelling is built on the conflict happening between the protagonist(s) and the antagonist(s).  You have to tell your audience who they are.

…While her stepsisters are treated like princesses, the girl toils away doing all the household chores at the command of her evil stepmother.  When a royal ball is announced, all eligible young ladies are invited to attend to meet the Prince…

Now we know all the characters central to the main plot, and we know how we are supposed to feel about them.  Your story might only have one character, your customer for example, but that’s ok.  As long as we know who they are and that they are important, you’ve included this basic element.

4.    Establish Conflict for Your Characters

Conflict drives your story forward.  It is the momentum behind your characters’ actions, the reason you’re telling a story in the first place.  There has to be a problem to solve, an obstacle to overcome, a challenge to meet.

…the girl dreams of going to the ball, but her stepmother gives her extra work to do, taking up all her time to prepare.  By evening, the stepsisters leave for the party without her, as she had nothing to wear and no time to get ready for the lavish event…

Will Cinderella make it to the ball?  Even if you didn’t already know the story, you would suspect that she will.  Why?  Because the story would be pointless otherwise.

Overcoming conflict is the whole point.

5.  Evolve Your Characters

Just like in the Copyblogger example above, every story has “the gap” or the evolution of the characters as they move through the narrative and towards reaching their goals.

…In misery, the girl begins to cry as she watches her stepfamily leave for the ball without her.  But as her tears fall, a bright light appears and her fairy godmother stands before her.  After a pep talk, a song, and a magic spell, the girl gains her confidence back.  With her magic dress, pumpkin carriage, and horsemen mice, she leaves for the ball…

Maybe your characters aren’t likely to rely on a fairy godmother and magic to get them over the hump and off to the ball, but something has to change in order for them to overcome the conflict in your story.  It usually won’t be as easy as it was for Cinderella, but your character’s transformation is essential to the moral of your story.

What did your hero learn that gave them the strength to fight that proverbial dragon?  How will they proceed in the future now that they’ve learned this lesson?

6.  Give Your Audience a Resolution

The final point of your story ties everything together.  The resolution to the conflict, how the characters solved the problem at hand, is a basic component of compelling storytelling.  Your resolution is the main action of your story.  How did your hero slay the dragon?

…At the ball, the girl becomes the center of attention.  No one knows who she is, but she catches the Prince’s eye and he dances with her all night.  They fall in love, but, as the clock strikes midnight, the fairy godmother’s magic begins to wear off.  The girl must flee, leaving behind a glass slipper.  The Prince uses the glass slipper to search the kingdom for the girl to whom it belongs.  When he arrives at the girl’s home, her stepmother locks her away so the Prince will not see her.  The determined girl escapes and proves to the Prince that the glass slipper belongs to her.  They marry and live happily ever after.

 A combination of luck and willpower help Cinderella overcome her final conflict, and the audience gets the happy ending they’ve been hoping for.

7.  Reveal Your Story’s Relevance

We all know that person, a friend or a coworker maybe, who will jump into a conversation with a story of their own.  But by the time they’ve finished telling it, you have absolutely no idea what their story had to do with the topic at hand.  Don’t be that person.  Tie the meaning of your story back to its purpose; make it relevant to your audience.

The tale of “Cinderella” demonstrates all of the essential elements of compelling storytelling.  When you find yourself telling a story, think back to this example and you’re sure to remember everything you need to craft a compelling story.

Like what you read?  Please help spread the word of The Sales Storyteller by sharing this post using the below links and follow my blog for notifications of new updates via email.  Thanks for reading!

Photo Credit: MorgueFile

Sales Storytelling in Your Website Design

Sales storytelling with your website design image

Check back on January 27th for part one of the sales storytelling post series.

This is going to be a short post this week as I’m working on an exciting new series of posts on sales storytelling that will break the basics down into easily digestible parts.  This is a big project, so, in the meantime, please check out my guest post on the IADT blog, Buzz, How to Tell a Story With Your Website Design, for things to keep in mind as you build out your website.

Every website is an ongoing project, constantly evolving and changing as you learn and grow.  My advice shares a few things for you to keep in mind as you build out your story using this vital business tool.

I will be back with part one of my series on sales storytelling later this month.  Check back on January 27th for the start of this exciting post series.  Don’t forget to follow my blog so you know when new posts are up, and feel free to email me with questions anytime at

The Sales Storyteller Inaugural Post

What makes a good storyteller?The Sales Storyteller

There is always a person at the party everyone flocks to be around, the cubical at the office people like to stop by for a break in their day, the voice standing out in a crowd of laughter.  Good storytellers are always in high demand.  But what makes a person a good storyteller?  Is it their social wit and charm?  Could it be an exotic life traveling the world, storing up a wealth of wild experiences?  Or is it just the ability to engage, to enrapture an audience?  Certainly having wit and charm will help, as well as a ready store of crazy tales, but it is the ability for an individual to strike the right chords in an audience that makes them a good storyteller.  To be a good storyteller, you have to engage.

After all, that is what sales is all about.  Every single day we are telling stories and reaching out to others, asking them to like and accept us.  In essence, we “sell” to others through every interaction that we have.  Whether you are actually selling a product or service, applying for a job, or simply explaining to a family member what happened to you on the train that day, we are selling (read: engaging) with every story we tell.

Because storytelling is such a basic element of our lives, I aim to use this blog, The Sales Storyteller, to explore the craft of storytelling.  I want to examine how we use stories to “sell” in our everyday lives.  I want this information to be helpful to you, Reader, to use in your daily life.  I hope that the information I provide will help improve the way we communicate and help you build better, stronger relationships, whether that is with your customers or your family and friends.

I don’t have to tell you that the business world is becoming more and more technologically oriented.  Not even becoming, it has become; there is no turning back.  Social media is a commonplace way of communicating, networking, and marketing.  This means less face-to-face interactions and more screen-to-screen communicating.  So much for that wit and charm, you can only get so much across when you are connecting with people, whether it is employees, customers, or your own family, through the glowing, indifferent screen in front of you right now.  With this challenge in mind, how do you tell a good story and keep your audience engaged?

The aim of this blog will be to continually ask the questions, what makes a good storyteller and how can we become better storytellers ourselves?  Let’s find out together.

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