Story telling not selling

Posted by on Mar 3, 2017

Whatever your goal or need, personal or professional, learning to tell a story will give you an amazing advantage, especially when it comes to selling.


A tale about Truth and Story

Once upon a time in a quaint little town, far, far away there lived two beautiful sisters called Truth and Story. One day they decided to have a contest to see which sister was the more popular. The rules were simple: whoever attracted the most attention whilst walking through the town would be considered the winner.

On the appointed day, Truth decided to go first. She began to walk through the town, smiling and greeting everyone as she went. Not many people liked what they heard and saw and to her dismay, most of the town’s folk began to move back inside their houses, glancing suspiciously over their shoulders, slamming doors and shuttering their windows. As she reached the other side of the town, only a few people still stood outside their houses. Truth was very upset and afraid she would lose the contest with her sister. In an effort to attract as much attention as possible; she threw off her clothes and walked back through the town, naked. She was sure that now she would attract lots of attention.

This time, though, all the doors were closed tight and the windows shielded. There was no one to see her. Truth was very upset when she made it back to her sister, wailing and sobbing and hanging her head in shame.

Her sister, Story, said “cheer up Truth, here try on my magnificent and beautiful clothes.”

Truth dressed herself in the bright fabrics and colourful cloth of her sister and, again, walked back through the town. Much to her surprise and delight everyone came out to see her. She was happy and danced with joy. Story then explained: “Not many people like the truth, especially not the naked truth but when you dress truth in story you will always be popular”.

So what do you do for a living?

The other day I was at a conference. Meal time was a communal hall and we were seated randomly with other people attending the conference. One of my table team-mates turned to me and asked: “So what do you do for a living?”

Clearing my throat, I replied: “I represent a logistics company that’s one of the top 3 in the country. What we do is ensure the various delivery channels between the main production area and the consumer are optimised to deliver the best possible experience.

My colleague immediately turned to the other members of the table and struck up a conversation about the recent rains.

What if I had answered his question like this: “Imagine you’re in the chicken business. As you know, they’re pretty perishable things and I don’t know if you’ve ever unwrapped a chicken you’ve bought at the shop and found out that it’s gone off, but it’s not an experience you want to repeat – trust me. Anyway, the tricky part with chickens is, how do you get them from the farm to the shop  in less than three days, all ready for cooking and smelling nice? To do that is an intricate process and there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of people involved, actually a lot of different companies, and if one thing breaks down or something goes wrong from the farm to the shop, then the whole thing turns into a huge, foul-stinking mess really quickly. So basically what I do is to look at all the steps in the process and try to figure out if there is some way we can do them faster, better, less expensively, or more efficiently”  (Smith, 2016).

Whether your goal is to build a business, pitch an idea, win at a job interview, present at a networking session, boost teamwork, improve staff morale, give a wedding speech or make the presentation of your life, learning to tell a story will give you an amazing advantage. Stories are how we communicate and connect with one another; they help us make sense of the world.

Storytelling goes back, way, way back. The earliest forms of storytelling are a series of cave paintings from the Lascaux Caves in the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France.  Discovered in 1940 by a group of French children, the images depict a variety of animals and one image of a human being and date back to sometime between 15000 and 13,000 B.C.

Hero’s journey

Fast forward and a number of modern stories follow something called the Hero’s Journey, which is drawn from the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. When we want to sell or present something it’s useful to follow the same kind of hero’s journey with our audience. It doesn’t matter whether your audience is a group or individual the process is essentially the same. However, to simplify things we are going to dispense with the theory and look at the practice by splitting the story into three main parts (Duistermaat, 2015):

  • Describe a problem, existing situation or status quo
  • Explain how your product or service will fix or solve the problem
  • Explain how much better the world is and how good it feels to have the problem sorted out

In addition to the general format, here are a few suggestions for the way in which you write or tell the story: Be light, passionate and have fun. No one wants to hear a dour, droll and dry story. Be conversational and use short, easy to remember, take away phrases and sentences which can help the audience remember what you are telling them.

One of my favourite business story tellers is Steve Jobs. He turned the three-part recipe for story telling into a high art form. Here’s an example: Apple launched the iPhone in January 2007. At the time the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone on the market so Apple and Steve, had to craft a compelling story using the three sections above. Here’s what he had to say (Gallo, 2016) (note how he creates the idea of villains and solving a mystery).

Existing situation and or problem

“The most advanced phones are called ‘smartphones,’ so they say. The problem is they are not so smart and they are not so easy to use … What we want to do is make a leapfrog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has ever been and super easy to use. This is what iPhone is. So we’re going to reinvent the phone and we’re going to start with a revolutionary user interface.”

“Why do we need a revolutionary user interface?”

Fixing the problem

“Here are four smartphones—the Motorola Q, Blackberry, Palm Treo, Nokia E62—the usual suspects. What’s wrong with their user interface? The problem with them is in the bottom forty. It’s this stuff right there [pointing to keyboards]. They all have these keyboards that are there whether you need them or not. They all have control buttons that are fixed in plastic … the buttons and controls can’t change. How do you solve this?” [Once again, Jobs uses words you’d expect to read in a murder mystery—to “solve” the crime that’s been committed.]

A better world

“What we’re going to do is get rid of all these buttons and just make a giant screen. How are we going to communicate with this? We don’t want to carry around a mouse? We’re going to use a stylus? No. Who wants a stylus? You have to get them out, put them away, you lose them. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus. We’re going to use the best pointing device in the world, a pointing device that we’re all born with. We’ll use our fingers. And we have invented a new technology called multi-touch. It works like magic. You don’t need a stylus. It’s far more accurate than any touch display that’s ever been shipped. It’s super smart. You can do multi-finger gestures on it. And boy have we patented it.”

Remember, it’s not about you

Remember the story isn’t about you. In fact your audience doesn’t care about you. Nor do they care about buying your products or services. They are only interested in what’s in it for them. They want to be the hero, to feel good; be happy or happier; be more confident; feel more secure and so on. This is why you tell stories which solve problems and change lives.


Duistermaat, H. (2015, October 27). This simple 3-Act business story will do your selling for you. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from Enchanting Marketing,

Gallo, C. (2016). The storyteller’s secret: From Ted speakers to business legends, why some ideas catch on and others don’t. United States: St. Martin’s Press.

Presentations, B. F. (2012, February 28). A very brief history of storytelling. Retrieved March 1, 2017, from Presentation Theory,

Smith, C. (2017, January 21). IPad docks, cases and accessories. Retrieved March 1, 2017, from Digital Company Statistics,

Smith, P. (2016). Sell with a story: How to capture attention, build trust, and close the sale. Amacom.

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