March 21, 2017

The Six Rules of Story Selling (1 of 6)

This article is part of a series of posts I wrote about telling better stories about your work. Whether you're writing a book, an email series, or a Facebook ad, you'll find these six rules helpful...

Rule 1: Unless you’re doing something deeply meaningful to a statistically significant group of people, no amount of story selling can help you.

On the face of things, I had a fairly ‘regular’ childhood. I went to a decent school. I got good grades. I had no major run-ins with the authorities.

Under the surface though, I was terrified.

It all started when I was 13, in a second year French class. My French teacher that year was Mrs A. Mrs A was five foot tall, with a huge booming voice. If you were going to mess with any teacher, it wasn’t her.

French lessons would usually start with us reading passages from the textbook. For some reason I was directly in her eyeline. Three times out of five, she’d ask me to start reading first.

“Roberrrrr,” she would begin in French. “Please read from the top of page fifty four…”

I opened up page fifty four, with butterflies in my stomach. The first sentence began ‘Ce matin…’. I went to start reading, and couldn’t talk.

“Ce-ce-ce-ce, Mmmmmmm,” I stuttered.

A few boys laughed and looked round at me.

“Ce-ce, Mmmmm,” I stopped.

Inside, by belly filled with hot burning shame. I glanced forward at Mrs A, whose face had dropped slightly. Eventually, she asked somebody else to read. As I listened, I stared blankly at the words in front of me. What had just happened?

In one fell swoop I had gone from a reasonably confident speaker, to someone terrified at the thought of speaking to a group.

What did I do?

I did was any self-respecting 13-year old would do. I hid it.

I stopped raising my hand in class. I avoided making eye contact with the teacher. On the inside I felt constantly anxious. What if it happened again?

About a year later I was nominated to participate in a school elocution competition. I must have slipped up at some stage, and said something that sounded good. A few boys congratulated me on the nomination. In my head I was like, shit. Shit shit SHIT.

How did I get on at the competition? Simple – I did the mature thing and didn’t show up. I hid out on the yard instead. I still maintain that not taking part was the right thing to do, but I went about it all wrong. I should’ve told someone I needed help.

These days I still stammer on rare occasions, but I’m big enough now to deal with it. First, I laugh. Second I breathe. I hardly ever need it, but that’s my process if things fall apart. It sounds simple, but it took me another 13 years to stop being truly afraid of speaking to groups.

What I didn’t have when I was 13 was a process. Something I could fall back on when I needed it. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins calls this the ‘Hedgehog Principle’.

The Hedgehog Principle is something you know that keeps you on track. The hedgehog knows that squishing itself into a ball will keep it safe from a fox, almost all of the time. The fox may be cunning, with multiple tricks, but as soon as the hedgehog curls into a ball none of the tricks will work.

What I needed when I was 13 was a Hedgehog Principle – something I could fall back on to guide me through a stammer crisis.

I now have a Hedgehog Principle in my business too: the idea that marketing is about relationships, not information.

It’s tempting to see your ‘prospects’ as statistics in a funnel. The trouble is, at some point in your ‘funnel’ you have to speak to a real human. You have to tell your story. You have to communicate your values. You have to build trust. You have to show your value. A funnel by itself cannot do any of that.

That’s what I know – my core Hedgehog Principle. When I need it most – when the marketing tactic of the moment threatens to derail me – it keeps me on track.

The first rule of story selling is you need your own Hedgehog Principle. Some core belief that sits right at the heart of your message. Anything I can tell you about storytelling is only useful once you have a core belief you want to share with other people.

Rule 1: Unless you’re doing something deeply meaningful to a statistically significant group of people, no amount of story selling can help you.

I see a lot of people telling stories as a marketing tactic: bolting on stories to some crummy marketing message. When you do that, it doesn’t work. A story isn’t a magic trick, or silver bullet. You need a message worth sharing to begin with.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.