Little Robert loved to help his mom dry the dishes after dinner. For an eight-year-old boy, drying the dishes was a big honor. It was a way to show he was growing up and that he was big enough to help his mother. One night Robert was drying a large platter when it slipped from his hands and shattered across the tile kitchen floor. Little Robert was devastated. Just before he began to cry, his mother smiled and said, “You know, Robert, of all the times you’ve dried the dishes for me, this is the first time you’ve ever let one slip. I believe you’ve set some kind of dish-drying world record!”
This story illustrates the power of words and how they can either lift people up or tear people down. When I heard that story a while ago, I never wrote it down, and even though I only heard it once, I can still remember it. Like Velcro, the story sticks vividly in my mind, along with the powerful lesson it implies.
As I teach and lead entrepreneurs around the country, I make sure to share stories in all my talks. I apply Les Brown’s rule: “Never make a point without sharing a story, and never share a story without making a point.” This is key, because, as the saying goes, facts tell, but stories sell. I’d like to share with you five key ideas that support why I believe this is true.
- We think in pictures. When I told the story of Robert, chances are you pictured the story in your mind. You “saw” the boy drying off the platter. You could picture the dish shattering across the tile floor. Although you were just reading words on a page, your mind turned those words into mental images. As an entrepreneur you need to understand this key fact: people think in pictures. Knowing this, it’s important to speak with a goal of painting purposeful, clear images in the mind of your audience. The best way to do this is to tell a vivid story.
- We act on feeling, not logic. There’s an important three-step process you should note: hear (or read), picture, feel. Words we hear or read trigger pictures in our mind. From there, depending on how clear the picture is in our mind, it triggers a feeling or an emotion. In his book Tell to Win, Peter Guber shares that facts (logic) simply do not cause action. This is further documented in the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. The authors report that our emotion is twenty-four times stronger than our logic. They tell us that we make decisions emotionally, then rationalize those decisions logically. So what’s one way to connect emotionally? Simply tell a story. We use stories to paint pictures that are so powerful that they induce the emotion of our audience.
- We don’t want to feel like we’re being sold. My good friend Tom “Big Al” Schreiter says that everyone has an internal “salesman alarm.” It’s a mental alarm that goes off when we feel like someone is trying to sell us something. Big Al goes on to teach us that one surefire way to “get past the guard” and not set off this alarm is to simply tell a story. Because the story is about someone else, our audience becomes relaxed and they don’t feel like they’re being sold.
- We can’t forget a story. If you were to give me a fact, I better have a pen and pad handy, or else there’s no way I’ll remember that fact twenty minutes later. However, if you tell me a vivid story about an eight-year-old boy who breaks a platter, the story will stick for the next twenty years. The reason for this is that our brains are wired to remember stories. In one of my talks, I tell the story of when I was a broke high school coach, digging change out of my truck ashtray, hoping to scrape up enough nickels, dimes, and quarters to afford a two-dollar lunch in my school cafeteria. I believe that long after my talk is over and the crowds have gone home, that story will stick in the minds of the audience. It’s my hope that if anyone from my audience were to face a similar situation of despair, my story will spring into their mind so that suddenly they have new inspiration—a hope for the future that wasn’t there before.
- We are inspired by real people. Stories of real people can encourage and uplift our lives. If you’ve never read a biography of someone great, I encourage you to do so. Reading about someone else and their accomplishments brings hope. Maybe they were in a similar tough situation. Maybe they had humble beginnings worse than ours, or maybe they had seemingly insurmountable challenges they were somehow able to overcome. I believe that all humans are connected at a deep level. Therefore, when we hear someone else’s story, deep down we are inspired with the thought, “If they can do it, I can do it!” Fictional stories are fine, but nothing inspires more than a true story of a real person who overcame adversity. Stories like these seem to awaken the sleeping lion that’s within all of us.
In summary, let me recommend that we all become collectors of stories. Collect enough stories so that no person or situation is outside your reach of storytelling. Read books every day. Study others. Model your mentors. And, most importantly, observe your own life. In doing all this, you’ll have plenty of stories that can reach, connect, and inspire.
Feel free to collect the stories I share on PresleySwagerty.com and use my stories to inspire the people in your life.
A former basketball coach, PRESLEY SWAGERTY is a top-earning network marketing professional, a success coach, and the author of Millionaire by halftime. Swagerty motivates and equips people around the world to “Be, Do, and Have More.”