August, 2015 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
Hello from the team at Anecdote, and welcome to the August edition of Anecdotally. A few months on from our website refresh in April, we’ve got more big news. We’ve just launched a new training program called Storytelling for Sales, which is all about enhancing the sales conversation using story techniques. We tested this program pre-launch with some of the big brands in business and had great results, so we’re very excited about the benefits it can bring to companies worldwide. If you have a direct sales force who sell complex solutions, then Storytelling for Sales is ideal for you. As you can see, we’re thrilled about our new program. But let’s get back to what we love to deliver in Anecdotally: useful story-related ideas that you can use – or at least be amused by.
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I remember corporate behaviourist Arthur Shelley running a session several years ago on a technique he called reverse brainstorming. The way it worked was simple. Let’s say you want to improve how people collaborate. Well, instead of brainstorming ideas on great collaboration, Arthur asked us to devise ways to destroy collaboration. We set out to do so in small teams, and the ideas came quickly – we seemed to have a natural talent for wreaking havoc. If I remember rightly, after about 15 minutes, Arthur asked us to steal ideas from the other teams, a ploy which also came naturally to us. Once we’d incorporated these new ideas, Arthur then asked us to look at the flip side of our destructive suggestions. To everyone’s surprise, a bunch of really useful ideas for fostering collaboration emerged.
People’s propensity to thrive on the negative is at the heart of another technique we’ve used many times: the premortem. In a nutshell, just after the project team has done its planning, you get them to imagine the project failing miserably. Then, after you’ve brought them down and they are despairing (OK, maybe you don’t have to go that far), you ask them what went wrong. All of a sudden they can clearly see what might cause the project to fail and they begin to take action to avoid this. At Anecdote we first described the premortem method in our blog back in 2006, but it’s only recently that the concept seems to have gained the attention of the digerati, including Silicon Valley guru Guy Kawasaki and the Freakonomics podcast. Good to see it finally being acknowledged.
I mention these two techniques here in light of some of our recent strategy story work. Normally we like to tackle the anti-stories (the stories causing an organisation pain) at the end of a session, which works pretty well. But we just did a session that began with the anti-stories, and it went amazingly well. It was as if everyone needed to get the negative stuff on the table before they were ready to build the new strategy story.
Perhaps there is a general pattern emerging here, where it can be useful to start with the negative and move to the positive. We will keep an eye on whether this applies to any other upcoming work.
Over the past few months, we’ve been helping a global architecture firm put together pitches for several multimillion-dollar opportunities. It’s been a great experience, and a terrific learning opportunity, to apply the power of storytelling to pitching big ideas. The value of using storytelling in sales situations is evident, but it really works well when the stakes are high, such as in pitches of this magnitude.
Here, then, are some of the things we’ve learned. You might not end up pitching like Don Draper from the TV series Mad Men, but it might make a difference.
Building connection and rapport
It helps if each person in the pitch team can weave a small connection story into what they say, one that demonstrates who they are and why they care about the client outcomes. One example we heard was in relation to a pitch for a university campus.
A designer had gone to the campus by taxi to deliver the firm’s proposal for a design competition. As he was walking back to the taxi, he stopped to admire his surroundings. He explained: ‘I was really taken by the beauty of the campus and the unique opportunity it provides for a really world-class learning environment. I told the taxi to leave and spent the next three hours wandering the grounds, captivated by the opportunity it presented’.
The gist before the details
Blaise Pascal wrote: ‘I’ve written you a long letter because I didn’t have time to write you a short one’. It’s not just lack of preparation time that results in long-winded pitches. It’s also an over-abundance of details. Experts find it almost irresistible when pitching to dive into what they believe are essential details. But without the big picture, most of the details are lost on the audience.
We’ve found that using a simple narrative structure really helps the pitching team to understand the essence of their pitch, as well as highlighting details that, while initially considered essential, actually have no place in the pitch. This also provides a framework that helps the audience understand the details.
Practice ... and shitty first drafts
Start practising the pitch very early in the process. Yes, the first time it’s pretty awful, but it improves dramatically and rapidly. Don’t spend too much time worrying about getting the pitch right on paper. Focus much more on practising it.
One of the outcomes of our involvement with the architecture firm has been the confidence of the pitch team in what they are delivering. The feedback has been that whatever the outcome, the pitch has strengthened their case.
A great time-saving tool I use on my Mac is TextExpander . It allows me to type phrases and even entire messages by just keying a shortcut. But while TextExpander is perfect for producing standard emails, for ages I’ve been trying to work out how to get one snippet (what they call the text that appears when you type the shortcut) to fill in both the subject line and the body of the email. I’ve had to use two shortcuts to do this, which has been a real pain. Then Mac podcaster David Sparks pointed out that you can insert a tab key right after your subject line text which repositions the cursor in the body of the email, where the snippet continues to unfold. Problem solved.
If you haven’t used TextExpander, it’s worth giving it a try – I think you will love it. And when you do, you might want to check out David Sparks’ library of snippets.