January 28th, 2013
As a senior at the University of Texas, I took a class titled “Leadership Stories”. Based on the title, I expected the class would focus on famous leaders and their success stories. Far from it, the class required us—the students—to tell five stories of our own for our entire grade; no tests, no paper at all, just us posting our recorded stories to YouTube. It was very unconventional, yet I gained valuable assets that would continue to be useful in the future.
I discovered the class was titled “Leadership Stories” not because the leaders defined the stories, but rather the stories defined the leaders. In other words, a captivating story is a tool through which leadership is gained and maintained. Studies show that people remember stories far more often than they remember other types of speech, allowing leaders to communicate their message very effectively. As a B2B company—especially a leader or founder of a B2B company—getting your story told through marketing efforts is an excellent way to create compelling content, connect with your target audience on a personal level and begin building a trusting relationship with potential buyers.
To help you tell your story, I have outlined the number one lesson I learned from my class: every story needs a beginning, middle and end.
Step 1: Craft Your Beginning. The first question you must answer to your audience is: why should they listen? You must deploy a hook that gets their attention and compels them to listen further. One example of a hook that typically works well is outlining a problem. People tend to be curious about how problems will be solved, but truly there are a million and one ways to grab an audience’s attention. Also, to be effective a story must have veracity. It must hold a certain level of truth for an audience to connect with it. You can elaborate without exaggerating.
Step 2: Arrange Your Middle. Stories that have organization are easier to follow and more effective overall. So, break up your middle into parts. If you are describing how you solved the problem from Step 1, you could split your middle into three sections: your first attempt to solve the problem and why it failed; your second attempt and why it failed; finally your third attempt and why it worked. There is no correct number of segments that stories should be broken into, but there seems to be some magic to the number three.
Step 3: Illuminate Your End. Now you must answer another question: so what? You must always tie your story back to the underlying point—why are you telling that particular story in the first place? The best stories lead an audience into making that connection themselves without explicitly point it out. This is also known as the “ah ha moment”. When practicing your story, sometimes this can be best place to begin.
Leadership and stories have a strong connection, and in a world starving for content, stories are overlooked surprisingly often. As a leader you probably have more than a few stories about your business—why you started it, how you’ve helped your clients, what you learned along the way and more. Being able to make a personal connection with your customer that resonates is crucial to differentiating your company in the B2B marketplace. You can’t expect even the best content marketer to tell your story if they haven’t heard it before. So, take a stroll down to marketing and tell them it is story time.