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

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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

Why Sales Storytelling Matters to You

 – Part 1 of The Sales Storyteller Series

Sales Storytelling image

Whether you are talking to a friend or a customer, we use sales storytelling to interact and engage every day.

I am a storyteller from way back.  As a kid, I would make up invisible friends and far-off magical kingdoms (which I ruled, of course) and then tell all these crazy stories about them to anyone who would listen.  I would put on shows for my parents, direct my unfortunate siblings in holiday plays, and write nonsense narratives down on pages stapled together to look like books.  In short, storytelling is part of who I am.

But do you want to know a secret?

Storytelling is part of who you are too.  Every day we tell stories to engage with others, using this vital skill to reach out and ask the people around us to like and accept us.  It is how we communicate, build relationships, and yes, sell, in our everyday lives.

In this new digitized age, stories are more important than ever before.  Connecting, as we all know, is a click away, but storytelling is what makes connecting worthwhile.  The value we derive from those connections and what making those connections says about who we are as individuals is how we define ourselves.  This is how we tell our story to the world.

In her book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing, marketing expert Shama Kabani argues that the main reason we throngs of people flock to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook is to show the world who we are as individuals.  Like a bumper sticker on our car or the t-shirt showcasing our favorite cause, we fundamentally crave the ability to share our identity, who we are and what we believe in, with the world.  If you look at anyone’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Pintrest board, you can quickly see how right she is.

The challenge we now face is in telling our stories consciously and purposefully so that our voices are heard.  I don’t mean standing out in a crowd of millions, though that is certainly a goal you can have; I mean adequately conveying your message even to the person standing right in front of you or on the other end of an email or tweet.  After all, we are selling with every story we tell.  In essence, I am talking about engaging with an audience, any audience, through sales storytelling.

In sales, the best professionals don’t simply tell customers about a product or service, touting its wonderful features, explaining why it is so great.  The truly knowledgeable sales person will tell the customer a story about themselves that resonates with a real problem they are experiencing and demonstrates how the problem could be solved with their product or service.  Telling the customer their own story, making that connection with them on a deeper, personal level, and using that connection to make the customer’s life easier, is the very heart of sales storytelling.  And, whether you are in sales or not, we do it every day.

Let’s say you’re a teenager who gets caught trying to sneak the car out past curfew.  What do you tell your angry parent?  Maybe you confess.  You really wanted to go to that party tonight, even though it’s a school night, because your crush will be there.  Maybe you lie.  Maybe you tell a story about needing to put gas in the car so that you aren’t late for school the next morning.  Either way, you’re using storytelling to make your case.

Now, I’m not advocating for teenaged joy riding, but I think many of us have found ourselves in a situation like that from time to time.  It is an extreme example of how storytelling elevates our exchanges.  Without it, every conversation would be flat, two-dimensional, and boring.

How important would this same interaction be if it were not with your parents but a key client?  In this scenario you weren’t being sneaky, of course, but there has been a miscommunication and the customer feels cheated in some way.  Or, you are in the middle of navigating a tricky close and you are challenged by the customer on some detail they don’t understand.

We will do a deep dive into using sales storytelling for objection handling later on in this series, but you can see the benefit of being able to use this skill to communicate more effectively and strengthen the bond you have with your customers more and more with every interaction, whether it starts out good or bad.

So, now that we’ve defined sales storytelling and why it matters, are you ready to dig in and discover what it takes to be a great storyteller?  Join me on February 18th for part two of the sales storyteller series on the basic elements of a good story.

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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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