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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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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