When you speak before a group (or meet with a prospect), your audience is immediately assessing whether they like you, can trust you, and if they’d want to work with you. You could explain why you’re the obvious choice with facts, figures, and credentials. But the most powerful way to connect with your audience is to show them you’re the obvious choice by sharing a compelling “Why Story.” A Why Story is a story where you share why you care about the topic you’re speaking about. And even more importantly, you show why you care about helping your listeners get great results with the advice you give and services you offer.
Think about speeches or presentations you heard years ago and still remember. Chances are, those speakers were gifted storytellers who made main points come alive by telling memorable stories. Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner suggests that we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it has been wrapped in a story.
Recent research corroborates this. Paul J. Zak, the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and a professor of economics, psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, found that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make, and the stories enable better recall of those points weeks later.
I can tell you from personal experience that storytelling will strengthen your communications with your team, prospects, clients and everyone else. People won’t remember facts and figures after a while, but they will remember a compelling story that explains why you care about a certain topic.
When you are communicating, your job isn’t just to make people get it; your job is to make them feel it. Leading cognitive scientist Roger C. Schank says human brains are not ideally set up to understand logic. Human brains are ideally set up to understand stories. This is why I think of a compelling Why Story as the lighter fluid that ignites all your presentations, conversations, recruiting efforts and marketing activities.
As an advisor, you know that people often buy first on emotions, and then back that decision up with logic. So why do so many advisors continue to use language that is technical in nature and stuffed with jargon that prospects and clients don’t understand? That’s a dynamic that needs to change. If we’re going to truly serve the modern consumer, then we need to start speaking to them in a way that appeals to their emotions and inspires them to take action to get their financial houses in order.
Advisors often tell me, “But I have so much information to pack into a half-hour presentation. I can’t possibly add any stories.” If your presentation is packed with facts and figures, how much of that information will people really remember? Not much…and they certainly won’t feel it. That means they aren’t likely to take action after they leave you.
I guarantee you that you will make a much bigger impact on your audience if you will give people a few facts and weave in compelling, memorable stories, especially a story that demonstrates the powerful “why” behind your interest in the topic and your desire to help your listeners.
My personal proof that storytelling builds trust
In many of my presentations to advisors and leaders in this industry, I tell a Why Story to convey why I am passionately committed to working with financial advisors to become skilled “Crazy Good” speakers. My story is about the tragic car accident that took my mom’s life when she was just 32 years old and seriously injured my father. I was 10 when it happened.
You can see the full version of my Why Story in the video below (story starts at 3:45).
Source: Deirdre Van Nest
It takes me four minutes to tell this story. I often conduct an exercise in training sessions to show the impact this story has on my ability to connect with advisors and build trust with them. I ask advisors and managers to score how much they like, connect, and trust me before they hear my story about my parents and then to score me again after hearing it. In every single case, they give me much higher scores on likability, trust and connection after they have heard my personal story. Let me highlight this: I am able to increase connection, trust, and likeability in four minutes!
You can too.
When I ask them why, they say my story hit them emotionally. It enabled them to see why I am involved in their industry. I seem more real to them. I am no longer just a businessperson standing up there on a stage. When I tell my personal Why Story, people see that a tragedy from my own life has motivated me to help them work with their clients. They see that I genuinely care…and why. I could tell people I care, but it wouldn’t have anywhere near the same impact as showing them I care by sharing a deeply personal story.
How I realized the power of a personal Why Story
Now, I didn’t realize the power of my personal story during the first 10 years of my career as an advisor coach and professional speaker. During that first decade, I was doing great and having fun. Clients I worked with were seeing positive results from my trainings, but I always felt like something was missing. Have you ever gotten to a point in your career when you’re feeling like something is just off? After every presentation, I would tell myself, “Something is wrong…but I don’t know what.”
Over time, I realized that what was missing was me. I would get up on a stage and give people great content, but you know what I wasn’t giving my audiences? I wasn’t giving them my heart. I wasn’t sharing my humanity. I was too busy trying to prove myself when what I really needed was to just be myself.
I’ll tell you why. I didn’t think it mattered to anyone. I really thought no one cared about the “vessel” who was delivering the content. I thought people just wanted the facts, the content. It started to bother me and I decided I needed to start telling my audiences why I cared and why I was speaking to them.
I experienced the true power of this epiphany…this shift in my mindset…on January 11, 2017. I was leading an advisor training session in Minneapolis. I told the story about my mom and dad for the first time, and I was terrified. I didn’t know how the participants were going to react. I was baring my soul and really putting my heart out there. As soon as I finished my story, an advisor raised his hand. I said, “Yes?” and he said, “I just want you to know that you have so much credibility with me right now. I trust you.” Another advisor was nodding his head, and he said, “You get us. Thank you for understanding what we do…and for caring.”
Afterward, people came up to me and were hugging me. The next day, I went to talk with the general agent, and I was still getting hugs! I realized that advisors really did care about the “why,” the intention, the heart behind the person who was delivering the content.
From that point forward, my career began to skyrocket. My speaking fees went up and I became more in demand as a speaker and coach. I began to teach my private advisor clients how to craft and share their Why Story and they started experiencing the same thing!
The great news is I’m not special and neither are my clients. You can use this same strategy in your business because your candidates, teams, prospects and clients care about your “why” too.
It’s ironic right? I spent years trying to earn my credibility with advisors and leaders in the insurance and financial services industry. I got certifications and learned about the work you do. I could tell you about a particular client, how much I had helped increase AUM and countless other facts. But on January 11th, 2017, I finally realized that none of that matters as much as sharing why I care and why I want to help the people in this great industry. I could finally stop proving myself and focus on being myself.
If you want to be seen as the obvious choice and stop being seen as a commodity you must tell your Why Stories!
Don’t just take my word for it; check out Simon Sink’s famous Ted talk on the power of why.
The 4 elements of a powerful Why Story
When you’re telling your story it’s critical that you don’t ramble and that you make a clear and compelling point. To do that, here’s a high-level overview of how to craft your story.
1. Your circumstances
Paint a vivid picture for your audience using words. Describe a specific scenario using sensory details…describe sights, sounds, smells and feelings. In my story you’ll notice I painted a picture, and most likely you were able to actually see the scene. Remember the acronym VAKS. It stands for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic (or feeling) and Smell. Use at least a couple of these elements to draw your audience into your story and let them picture the scene in their minds.
2. Your characters
Describe the people in your story. Give a few details about them that will resonate with your audience and make them care about your characters. Secret: When your audience connects with your characters they connect with you!
3. Focus on the central problem
Where stories often get confusing is when the storyteller describes multiple problems. Stick with one central problem.
4. The outcome
There are two different types of outcomes in business storytelling that you need to focus on. The first outcome is wrapping everything up and explaining what ultimately happens to the characters in your story.
The second outcome is where you connect your story to the content you’re going to be talking about and to why your story compels you to do this work or teach this content. Everything you share must be relevant to your main theme and message. As speakers, we cannot assume that our audiences have connected the dots between our personal stories and our main points. We need to tell them how an experience affected your life. Go to 7:11 in my Why Story video to hear how I do this. Do not miss this step or your story will end up feeling like TMI to your audience.
Craft your own Why Story now
An exceptional speech or presentation is 90 percent preparation and 10 percent delivery. My challenge to you is to take some time now to write out or dictate a rough draft of your own personal Why Story. Don’t skip this step! If you give seminars on long-term care insurance, do you just launch into the facts and figures regarding the devastating outcomes when people fail to plan for the fact that a debilitating illness could end their careers…and paychecks? Wouldn’t it be incredible to tell a story about someone you know personally who didn’t prepare for the future and lost everything? Or a story about someone you know who did prepare and avoided that tragedy?
Whatever topic you are speaking on, have a personal Why Story that shows the depth of your care, concern and commitment. Unless you specialize in one product, you will have different Why Stories that relate to the various topics you discuss and the various clients you serve.
For example, if you’re a leader, you need a compelling Why Story to share with candidates about why being a financial advisor is such a fulfilling career. You need a different Why Story that inspires your team to reach their goals. If you’re an advisor you need Why Stories for prospects and Why Stories for clients.
In order to avoid overwhelm, start crafting and telling just one story. You can add more later. Once you have a rough draft of your first Why Story, start practicing it and using it in your communications. Work with your teams to do the same. This is the most valuable gift you can give them. Create a culture of “why” in your practice or firm.
This is so important! When you are working on your next talk, please devote at least four minutes to a powerful story that captures your audience’s attention and generates strong emotions. Yes, you have to be a little bit vulnerable to let your humanity show. But you will realize it’s worth it.
If you are ever tempted to leave yourself outside the room…to leave your humanity at the door and just focus on the facts and the figures…I want you to remember that the people you are speaking with really do care about the vessel who is delivering the message: You.