“Once you’ve got (people’s attention), you want to engage them right away.” – Diane Currie Sam
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Everybody loves a good story! They’re exciting and relatable and teach us about what it means to be human. So why aren’t you telling your customers more stories?
I’m sitting down with Diane Currie Sam, communications strategist and CEO of Be A Better Story to talk about the importance of narratives to your marketing plan.
Diane’s explaining why people love stories so much, and what makes a story part of an effective pitch. She’s also giving tips on how and where to incorporate stories into your communications, and what kinds of stories to tell. We’re getting into the dos and don’ts of reaching your customers through narrative.
Diane is such an expert in her field, and has spent years studying and teaching on how to communicate through stories. You won’t want to miss what she has to say.
“People want to know who you are. They want to have a story, they want to get it, they want to add meaning to it.” – Diane Currie Sam
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- Stories are the currency of higher emotion, how we let people know who we really are, what kind of company you are.
- Start out your emails and blog posts with a funny little story to engage the reader, and afterwards get to the educational or informational data you want to get across.
- When pitching to investors, don’t just tell the story of the money, tell the story of the company itself. Why this idea, these people, right now?
- Keep it short and sweet. People don’t read long texts like they used to. Think about what the core of your story is, and simplify it down to that.
- Make sure your stories have a point that’s relevant to what you’re trying to get across to your customers.
- Test you stories like any other marketing piece. How did people react? Are you getting the response you want?
- Tailor your story and how you tell it to your audience members, size, and location. Think about who your recipients are and what would appeal to them.
- Practice your story and pitch in front of a real person, not just in your head. Get used to telling it and know how you want it to sound.
- Stories add actual value to what you’re selling. People are more likely to buy something they feel psychologically and emotionally connected to.
Elements of a Good Story
- Hook the audience’s attention
- Rise of energy/ building action
- A climax with a conclusion that leads into the point/pitch you want to make.
Steve Job’s Commencement Speech at Stanford:
Kim Orlesky: Welcome back. Today’s guest is Diane Currie Sam. She’s an award-winning writer, a communication strategist, and a corporate educator who’s on a mission to bring a Hollywood style of compelling storytelling into the business world, and help people communicate better. She’s the founder and developer of two successful Canadian Internet technology companies. She’s also the CEO of Be a Better Story which creates story-based marketing [inaudible] and persuasive presentations and speeches that have brought in millions of dollars in investment sales and new business opportunities. You can [inaudible] for work in ink.com. I’m so excited to have Diane here today. Hello, Diane.
Diane Currie Sam: Hi, Kim. I’m very excited to be here, and thank you for having me.
Kim Orlesky: Yeah, thank you. So I know we kind of got in touch a while back, but one of the things that really drives you right now is helping people, entrepreneurs, small business owners, even corporations really tell better stories. How can a good story really help drive more business?
Diane Currie Sam: Well, a story is actually–it’s been called the currency of human emotion. So you really think about that, right? That’s how we exchange who we are. Like Kim, when you and I met each other, it was like, “Hey, how are you, hi.” You did the pleasantries. But I want to know who you really are. One of my story’s about you. So it really is in a emotional way and in an intellectual way–how we connect with other people. So businesses–I would say the corporate 1990s style of communicating is over. People want to know who you are and why you’re there and what you can do for them. You know in sales–I know you’re an expert in that–that people need to connect with you. They need to get what’s in that for me without being felt like they’re being lectured, too. That’s what a good story can do.
Kim Orlesky: Yeah. And I know with a lot of my clients, we work on things such as value proposition. Really cutting down to the conciseness. But a story really gets into more of the background of the entrepreneur or the business owner. How does that story really connect to somebody actually driving more sales?
Diane Currie Sam: I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this when you’ve been either in a speech or you’re listening to someone or maybe they’re trying to sell you something and you kind of want to buy it, but there’s a part of you that isn’t quite sure, and the minute they say, “Well, let me tell you a story.” And I have this customer, and this is what happened, and I had a person that was [inaudible] wanting to work with me, and she spent 80 hours trying to write her speech. She was frustrated, she was–and very bright woman. She’s had many [inaudible]. She was former CEO, and was starting her own business OP, and had run multi-million dollar [inaudible] companies like, fantastically skilled person. But because she was so close to her own staff and her own issues and she just wanted to get–she just didn’t know how to say it, she had spent [inaudible]–her and I worked together within 6 hours, we had the thing done.
And she was out speaking, and really happy with it. So throw in a little story like that, you’re going to all of a sudden get–if you’re that person, if you’re that person sitting in front of your computer banging your head against it trying to get the speech written or trying to get your story out, and I’d tell you that someone was experiencing the same thing, and guess what happened? They worked with me. I don’t need to lecture to you, I don’t need to give you all the statistics about–woah, I did this extended study, and 75% of the people that worked with me reduced their number–like who cares, right? But if I tell you this client–and then that was just a short little story, right? You’re going to get it and you’re going to say, “Okay, ah now I get it.”
Kim Orlesky: Yeah. I know you work with a lot of people on speeches and onstage presence, but how do stories kind of–are they incorporated into things such as social media or even email that–more of that online presence that we have today?
Diane Currie Sam: I would incorporate them all the time. They are what gets read. I think that kind of–yes, you want to have engaging headlines and you want to have kind of catchy tag phrases and all those standard marketing stuff. It does work, over time though, you want to start really bringing people to you so you can grab their attention with something kind of attention-grabbing like a cool headline or a little style or–but once you’ve got them, you want to engage them right away. Let me tell you a story about–I always tell people like the cavemen and women, we’re not sitting around texting each other. You would say something like, “Well, let me tell you a story.” And people lean in and like gathering around– “Oh, okay.” What happens is they start to see themselves in the story you’re telling.
So I would send stories out in emails, in blog postings. Start out your blog posting with a funny little story to engage people, and then give them some good datas and good kind of educational type of information about what you’re trying to get across. You can even finish the story at the end or start up another little short story. You can integrate them into your blog postings, into your emails. When I write–I’ve done investment pitches where yeah, the money has to tell a story, obviously. [inaudible] invest to the company, you’re going to look at the spreadsheets and all that kind of stuff. But you also want to find out the story of the company itself. Why you want to invest in this, why now, [inaudible] relate it to the current time frame, why this is a good idea, who are these people, what’s the story of this product.
I have a framework that I use that I talk about all different kinds of stories. There’s about the founder–let’s say it’s a company–who founded this company. What are you guys all about, right? That often can tell a little bit about what the [inaudible] the company is and make you want to buy from them. The story of the products, the product themselves. Where do they [inaudible] are where they sourced from, how do people use them. People don’t want to just download a product information sheet. They want to find out [inaudible] really, what is this stuff that I’m buying. All of those–the product, the staff–who are the staff of the company? Who are the employees? What do they do? I want to see where they [inaudible] in the United Way Fundraiser the other weekend, tell me about it. Who are these people that work here?
Kim Orlesky: Yeah. Even personally, I find myself to be more engaged like you go to a website like Tom’s where you’re reading all about the shoes and how there’s a give back, or you go to other people’s websites where they–they don’t just tell you the position and the title of the person, there’s also a little–even if it was a two-minute or a two sentence portion. That just kind of gives you a little bit more background into the person. And I know one of the things that you’re really good at is kind of driving more of that simplicity behind it. And we’re starting to see things shrink. We’re going from these like long form blog posts down to the short form more and more. Even with the Twitter generation, 140 characters or less, you have to tell a really good story. How could somebody go ahead–and if they already have something started, how can they create even more simplicity with it?
Diane Currie Sam: Well, there’s of course, editing. It cuts stuff out. I have a lot of people that put extraneous detail into things. So that’s one thing that’s very practical. But what I do with people, and what I’m very good at doing is really getting to the core of what the story really is. Like, what is it that was interesting about this? What was the turning point? What was the emotional pivot point in the story? And tell that one moment. It may not be the biggest drama moment, but you can make it very real and very dramatic just for the emotional resonance of the moment. So what I often find is people will dance around it, they’ll tell a way–a big prelude to it whereas if you want to just get short and sweet, what really happened the moment that–start a blog post, and say, “The moment I realized I had to change was this.” Not the whole big thing leading up to it. Then you’ve engaged people. Later on, they can maybe read it if you want to write a bigger thing. But you just really get to the heart of the matter.
Kim Orlesky: Yeah. I remember reading when I first started writing, there was a article I read, and it was actually specifically for novelists, and it says, “If you’re writing a novel, cut out your first three chapters.” It was like, because whatever you were building up to, nobody needs to know. It was just kind of getting right to the point. Which kind of is also really beneficial because I know a lot of the listeners on here are also starting to get, or they’re already involved in things like webinars. I know you help a lot of people in webinars, and creating a story. How does that help drive more revenue when you actually include a story inside the webinar as opposed to being entirely product-focused or value-driven?
Diane Currie Sam: Well, webinars used to be this cool new thing a few years back, but even know–it sounds so funny because they’re still kind of cool and new to me. But people are getting a little cynical in everything. I think you’re probably–[inaudible] prove it. Who are you? How do I trust you?” It’s one thing if you’re selling a small item like less than $100 or something, people will–they just want to know the product, they’ve kind of researched it themselves. [inaudible], right? But if you’re selling a service that’s more than whatever–a few hundred bucks, people want to know who you are. They want to have a story, they want to get it, they want to add meaning to it. I mean, I believe a story all the time, but especially in a webinar where you’re trying to keep their attention for 45 minutes, 1 hour, I’ve seen some go on for 2 hours, 2 ½ hours, whatever. The only way that you’re going to keep people’s attention for an extended period of time is to tell stories. I mean, period. They will just click away. I call it the multitasking menace. You have to tell stories. People will leave if you don’t.
Kim Orlesky: These stories have to be not just about the product but also behind the background of the individuals, the founder, right? So by having multiple different stories that are very poignant–
Diane Currie Sam: One of my [inaudible] I tell people now, “Don’t do it now because you’ll listen to Kim and I, but later, you can Google on Steve Job’s commencement speech on Stanford University.” He literally just tells 3 stories. But he does it masterfully. He weaves them strategically together like one makes sense, it leads into the second one, and you’re kind of going, “Oh, I see where he’s getting,” and then, “oh, it leads into third one.” And then he kind of makes us point at the end. So you can have a whole presentation that’s almost entirely stories. If they’re strategically thought through and told well, and positioning something ultimately because we’re in business [inaudible] there’s a position and some kind of action with it.
So that’s a mistake people often make is they get all on this– “Oh, I’m going to tell stories. I’m going to keep people engaged.” And they’re hilarious, they’re funny, they’re good, but they don’t make a point. Or they’re jumping around a little bit. So I’ve had people that–when you’re telling someone else’s story, you’re obviously kind of co-writing with them. I’ll say, “Oh, that’s a great story, but you know what? It doesn’t relate to what you’re trying to get across.” So we’re either going to have to put it somewhere else or we’re just going to have to leave it and do it some other time. That’s the art of it. I used to tell people, I use the analogy of a figure skater. You got to have the artistic, but you’ve also got to have technical merit. You’ve got to logically lead people to a conclusion.
Kim Orlesky: Yeah. We talked about that as well with my clients and everything. We talk about taking them on the journey, letting them through the path. What would be kind of, let’s say, [inaudible] the first 3 elements of the pieces of a really good story? What would a really good story have to have?
Diane Currie Sam: First, you got to hook their attention. There’s got to be some kind of edge or hook. That’s going to–well, I’ll never tell you about the time I showed up naked or something like–something that people are going to be like, “What?” Completely cut off. You do have to kind of be funny, be engaging, and grab their attention. It’s got to have a very strong–almost life or death. Now that’s metaphorical, of course, but turning point. Like a moment where the emotional energy is rising, it’s rising–you come to a climax, and something happens. Something has to happen in a story or else it’s just a character sketch or something. Or it’s just a product description. There has to be a rise of energy, and then the kind of climax of it, and then the–[inaudible] the moral of the story. The lesson learned. The conclusion that’s got to kind of lead into the next thing. So hooking their attention, building up the emotional energy, and then having that turning point of that emotional–and then the kind of climb back.
Kim Orlesky: We kind of create this story, we have these elements. How do you differentiate or how do you know if you’ve told just a really good story versus a great story? Besides practicing it to your dog and looking for a reaction, is there some way that as a storyteller, we can go ahead and test that ahead of time?
Diane Currie Sam: That’s a very good question. It’s like anything. If you’re doing that for a particular purpose, let’s say you want to make sales from it, you want to grab attention from it, then it’s like any other marketing piece. You can test it like did people react to it, how many responses did I get? For a webinar, you can–people don’t leave my webinars. People don’t leave. I have a very, very small dropoff rate because I’m keeping them engaged the entire time. So if you’re on a webinar–and don’t get distracted. But you can actually–in some of the webinar software, you can see later when people dropped off. Or if you have an [inaudible] person working there with you, they can kind of make notes when people left. So be aware of that when people are leaving. In the marketing piece, you can just tell. A lot of the marketing data, you can see how many people opened it, how many people read it, that kind of stuff. Webinar, watch the software, watch when people drop. Are we telling a good–and in a live presentation, they’re less likely to walk out of the room.
Kim Orlesky: It does happen, though.
Diane Currie Sam: At that point, you’re having to watch for subtle signs. You’d want to really watch for–and the more you do it, the more masterful you get at it. You want people, obviously, to be looking at you, to be laughing at your jokes, to be focused on–if they’re starting to write on their notepaper, fidget, or whatever, you know you lost them. Get to the point, get on with it.
Kim Orlesky: Yeah, absolutely. Like you do work with a lot of people on stage presence and everything. Do you find that the stories that you tell whether it’s on stage or a webinar or even a blog post, they’re different or are they all the same?
Diane Currie Sam: They’re all different because you’re telling the story for different purposes So a story you might tell live, you may not tell on a webinar. I mean, [inaudible] webinar last forever There may be things that you might want to tell in a smaller group versus a larger group versus a webinar. So there’s subtle differences either how you tell them or what story you choose to tell. I mean, the core engagement process is the same. I studied this stuff, I don’t want to nerd out on you too much. There’s been [inaudible]. The process I study is there’s 7 basic plotlines. So you have the redemption type story, you have the overcoming the monster type story, David and Goliath type thing. You’ve got the Cinderella type story, you’ve got the rags to riches–all that kind of stuff. All those story telling genres and plotlines have been around since the dawn of time.
I find it fascinating to study, but I’m a nerd at that. But those types of things don’t change. Even the emotional connection that we have with other people, and engaging people. I mean, the study of persuasion has gone on since the time of Aristotle. It really has been studied, and it works. So those types of things are timeless. One of the stories I tell is one of the reasons I got really into storytelling as opposed to just marketing in business is that one day, I was Googling my family name, Currie, and [inaudible] Curries where the bards and poets of Scotland.
Kim Orlesky: Oh, interesting.
Diane Currie Sam: I know. And I had one of those moments like, “I want to be a bard.” “I want to be that kind of chill [inaudible] that this was what I was meant to do.” Those types of storytelling has gone on since–like I said, the beginning of time. As a strategist and a business person, you want to think–okay, you don’t want to go on and on on a story on a webinar. Webinar story will probably be shorter than a live story. It will also depend of course on your audience. How long you have, whether it’s a paid group or a group that’s coming, which you’re going to kind of pitch something at the end. How well do they know you? So maybe they’re already your tribe, they’ve already bought from you a few times, and this is kind of your gold star group or something or people who have already kind of engaged with you.
You can tell the more personal stories get deeper with them in a way than people who don’t really know you. It’s the first time they’ve ever met you. Like I tell deep stories [inaudible]–I don’t really care particularly, but I’ll tell them a little differently depending who my audience is. I may be a little more reserved with more corporate audiences while still maintaining that emotional connection. That’s why it’s an art.
Kim Orlesky: Yeah, absolutely. It does take a lot of practice and it does take a lot of iterations in order to get to kind of where you’re going.
Diane Currie Sam: Yeah, exactly. Don’t think that if you’re sitting [inaudible] audience or watching a webinar, and you think to yourself, “Oh, they make it so easy.” Chances are they practiced it a lot.
Kim Orlesky: Yeah. Absolutely. I know even for myself–when I’m on stage or whatever, every now and then, I will try to change my presentation which then also results in changing the one or two stories that I end up telling from the stage. Those are always very nerve-wracking moments because they haven’t actually been practiced in front of a live audience yet. I’ll say it to my head, and it sounds wonderful and great, and I’m laughing at my own jokes.
Diane Currie Sam: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Kim Orlesky: And it falls flat.
Diane Currie Sam: That’s why I recommend people practice with someone. When I write someone’s presentation or speech with them, we have a dress rehearsal where there–there’s tons, I can remember one in particular where I wrote something on behalf of this guy. He loved the speed, everything was great. So I got him to practice it, and in my mind when I had written it, he was supposed to have an excited sound in his voice. It’s supposed to be kind of really powerful and excited. When he actually practiced it with me, he sounded angry. It was really interesting. And I said to him, “Woah, wait a minute. You sound like you’re pissed off.” I thought you were going to go high and you were going to go–and he went, “Oh my God, I actually feel kind of angry about this.” Like he had these feelings that had to kind of be worked through before he could really protect it in the way I had intended. Or maybe we needed to change the word subtly so he could say it in a way that was more exciting to him. That’s why it’s auditory when you’re writing a speech or a presentation at least anyways. How does it sound.
Kim Orlesky: In that case, did you change the speech or did you communicate with them?
Diane Currie Sam: I think we did a bit of both, actually, as I recall. I changed a couple words and he became aware of how he was feeling in the intention behind the words. It worked out the way we had both wanted which was to be more of a call to action, more of an exciting, kind of high-energy positive thing. Sometimes you have to do both. You got to be aware of it, and maybe change the words a bit.
Kim Orlesky: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. I ask this question to all of my guests that are on, so I hope I don’t catch you too off guard. But I know you’ve been an entrepreneur for several years, chances are you’ve probably had one or two failures in your time. I would love to hear a time of–perhaps a really large failure, one that kind of stands out in your mind as you were building your business or whatever that looked like, and kind of what did you learn from that?
Diane Currie Sam: I have a very trusting soul. I kind of am one of these people that–if I say I’m going to something, I just do it. This can be tough. If there’s something kind of bothering me [inaudible] say it and to [inaudible] have firm expectations upfront, and really discuss–this is maybe even more related to the sales type stuff, right? It’s like I get very excited about wanting to do things, but I need to step back and say, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do, this is what you’re going to do.” I can see visions that people have that’s why I’m good at what I do. I can see– “Oh, wow, this is going to be really cool.” This is what you need to do to get your ideas out. But that can be taken advantage of because I’m so excited getting their idea out that I don’t have firm guidelines about getting paid, getting paid on time, what my expectations are, making sure the contract’s fulfilled, the business side of things, I’ve made lots of mistakes on that.
Kim Orlesky: Yeah, absolutely. There’s probably a lot of entrepreneurs that are listening right now that you all get excited about working with a brand new client or getting closer to the end of the ideal that we forget to sometimes work through those finer details especially when it comes to the financial aspect of it–the payments, the structure. When are you going to get paid?
Diane Currie Sam: Yeah. This is why the work you do is so important to you because [inaudible]. I wish I had had a sales coach at a younger age because it’s holding your own space. Holding your– “Oh, no. This is what I’m going to do, this is what you’re going to do.” So I’ve lost thousands of dollars. Thousands because I have not done that.
Kim Orlesky: That’s some great advice for the listeners, to ensure that we are working through those finer details no matter how uncomfortable they are because–I mean, you have a great product out there. Everybody needs to understand what the story is, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business.
Diane Currie Sam: Exactly, yeah.
Kim Orlesky: So one last piece of advice for any entrepreneurs that want to sell more, if you were to–how would stories be able to help them sell more?
Diane Currie Sam: I’ll tell a story and then give the advice that comes out of it. There was a group–I can’t remember, it was one of the universities in the states and marketing group. They bought about $100 worth of junk products. Like this ton of stuff you find at the garage sale. Like an old Elvis cookie tin from whatever, and little candle holders and stuff. Bought $100 worth of that type of junk. Then they put it up on eBay, nothing really happened. Then they hired a team of creative writers to write stories about all those products. All these Elvis tin, it’s an heirloom, and my parents met at Graceland and fell in love over this tin, and it’s been through–blah blah blah. Whole story about these products. Put them back up on eBay with these stories attached. So about $100 worth these just junk stuff. Do you want to guess how much it sold after those creative writers got at it?
Kim Orlesky: Oh, I have no idea. At least double, I would say.
Diane Currie Sam: It sold for $8,000.
Kim Orlesky: $100 worth of items.
Diane Currie Sam: So the moral of that story is to–we’ll add actual value to what it is you’re selling. The stories will add psychological value to what it is you’re selling. So my advice is to embrace that concept. What story am I going to tell about this product, how many different kind of stories can I get out on my website, on my marketing, my emails? Can I go out there and powerfully tell some really cool stories about my life and my business and my product and how it [inaudible] its place in the world? My advice is to just run with it. Stop trying to be so formal and so corporate and so protected.
Kim Orlesky: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much, Diane. If people want to learn more about you, what’s the best way of them to get in touch with you or any of your projects?
Diane Currie Sam: So if you go to my website, it’s beabetterstory.com, I’ve got some downloadable gifts. If you want to download the gifts–if you do want to actually meet with me, I have a consultation process. If you go to beabetterstory.com/meetwithdiane, then you could fill out a form, and we can have an actual discussion.
Kim Orlesky: Perfect. All those links will be included on kimorlesky.com/podcast. If you go to /episode4 for Diane, you’ll be able to get all those downloadable links right from her or go check out her website as well. Thank you so much, Diane. It was wonderful talking to you as always.