A story is meaningless unless it’s told. You should have at least one personal story ready to share with your market for when the appropriate opportunity arises. You need to practice telling your story so that it will have the most impact. Practice telling your story out loud to yourself, then move on to small audiences and gradually build to larger audiences.
The Right Story for the Right Audience
You’ll need to create several stories so that you have more than one ready regardless of your audience and setting. These might detail different important parts of your life that made an impact on who you are today. When creating stories and when choosing which to tell, you should always keep in mind your audience, setting, and purpose of telling the story.
For example, the story that you’d tell to your business associates would be different than the one you’d tell your clients. With colleagues, you might tell a story that highlights some of the behind-the-scenes challenges to running a professional service company. For your clients, on the other hand, you may choose a story that focuses more who you are as an entrepreneur, business problems you or your company solved, or the change you want to make in the world. A story for a client should be used to communicate your vision.
The best way to choose the right story for the right audience is to create audience personas. Identify each type of audience you may be telling stories to and create a profile for that individual or group. Once you have some profiles, you can look at each and decide what kind of story would be most appropriate and effective. Some stories might work for more than one persona, but may differ in the delivery.
For each persona, here are a few things to consider when creating or choosing a story:
- What do they think of you? For example, a visitor to your website doesn’t know you yet, so you’ll have to establish your persona and relay to them what kind of person you are or what kind of business you represent. Alternatively, your long-term clients and employees will (hopefully) think highly of you and respect you.
- How connected is your audience to you? Do they feel a kinship with you? For example, a fellow engineer may not know you well, but will likely feel connected simply because you are at the same company or in the same field. This is important to be aware of when telling stories rich in area-specific jargon or jokes.
- How well does the person know you? You should have different stories for a person who doesn’t know you at all, as opposed to someone you have a deep relationship with already.
- What are the person’s interests? Your story should be appropriate for those specific interests, especially if you’re talking to a client.
- What emotions are most important to the listener? Whatever emotions you identify should be key elements to your story, and especially to its choice point or turning point. This will also influence how you choose a protagonist and how they’re portrayed in your story.
- Is the listener pragmatic or idealistic? This one trait is a major factor in how well they’ll relate to a particular story but is not very effective in large groups since your audience will likely be a mix of both.
- What problem or challenge can your audience relate to? This should be the key problem or challenge in your story’s plot. If you’re telling a story to a group of fellow attorneys, you’ll likely choose a story that includes common experiences for lawyers.
- What are the listener’s possible expectations for a good story? For example, what do they expect to happen next? How do they expect the story to end?
You may also choose different stories depending on delivery – written or oral. For written text, you might choose stories that are longer and more involved if your audience has the time and inclination to read something like this. On the other hand, a written story used for your website’s Home or About pages should be brief and immediately attention-grabbing.
If telling the story orally, it is best to keep it short, or people may tune out. You want to keep your audience engaged throughout, so be sure that the content and delivery of your story achieves this. Use audience personas and the above ideas when you go back to write more stories, refine the ones you’ve written, and choose which story to tell when.
Sharing a personal story can be an invaluable marketing tool for professional organizations. For more advice on how to take advantage of personal storytelling, check out the report titled “Personal Storytelling in Business.”