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Magic Words Chapter Three: Telling Your Story

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I had the privilege of speaking at a corporate event a few weeks ago, and after the talk, I opened the floor up for a Q and A. One of the attendees asked me, "what's the ONE thing we can do today to help our businesses connect better with our target audience?'

Great question.

We live in a two-dimensional world much of the time. Websites are in many cases replacing brick-and-mortar stores, and texting has replaced real conversation and interchange. But here's what I believe: we have not changed as people. We still love a great story, we like doing business with people that we at least think we know, and somehow we have to achieve that in an ever-changing world.

In fact, I would go even a step further and say that much of the world revolves around a story. If you can get the story right, you can capture the hearts and minds of people you'd like to influence. Paradigms move, and hearts are won. The world changes a little. Maybe a lot.

Telling our own stories is kind of tricky, and most of us are not very good at it. But everybody has a great story to tell. Our lives are interesting, even if they don't seem that interesting to us. And, figuring out how to tell that very interesting story is critical, in my opinion.

Let me give you an example. One time, right after I left The Gallup Organization and started my own company, I interviewed a young lady to write her bio. She had worked with me at Gallup and had gone out on her own to start a very successful real estate company in Houston. She liked the result of that exercise so much that she asked me to write one for her mother, who also worked with her at the real estate company. Instead of doing the interview by phone, I drove out to their offices and sat down in a conference room with her and took out my recorder to start the interview; sure enough she put up her hand and asked me to stop before we ever got started really.

"Listen," she said, "my life is not very interesting, and I hate to waste your time."

I said, "Would you please let me be the judge of that?"

She agreed, and we began the interview; I have to tell you it was one of the most interesting interviews I have ever done. It turns out that this lady and her daughter escaped from Cuba during the Mariel boatlift, and they were incarcerated for months in Arkansas when they first arrived in America. The camp in which they were locked up was filled with mentally ill people and criminals. She had bravely decided to leave relatives behind in Cuba in order to give her daughter a chance at a better life.

Somewhere in her story, she offered the hook: " I love selling houses she said... not for the money, but because I feel somehow that every time I sell a house to people who can afford houses, I am somehow making up for the people in Cuba who cannot."

Boom! You hear that sound? That's the sound of the phone ringing and people knocking down this lady's door when they read that she doesn't sell houses because she's trying to get rich. Her mission for why she sells houses is relatable and attractive. We put her bio on the site and immediately her business exploded. The "Who's the messenger?" question was answered with a resounding response that set her apart from all other realtors that people could have chosen. Her story was a differentiator.

It's funny; almost everyone that I do these bio interviews with starts out by telling me that this probably won't be terribly interesting. But here's the truth. Though our lives may not be very interesting to us, they just might be fascinating to others if you tell the story correctly. That is one really good reason, by the way, that, as a rule, we shouldn't write our own bios.

How do I do it? I start with ten to twelve open-ended questions that I ask in a phone interview. I encourage the subject to talk a lot about each one of the questions, and suggest that more is so much better than less when doing these things. I record the interview, and then I go back and transcribe it by hand.

Yes, with a pen and a piece of paper. The old-fashioned way.

Here's what happens when you do that. You get to hear what people really care about. If you listen carefully, you'll hear the timbre of their voices change at the appropriate time. You get to hear the why. You have a chance to figure out how they got to this role, why they stay here, and why they love it so.

That's attractive stuff, and it's a piece that's sorely missing in our two-dimensional world. People discount their own stories and it's sometimes painfully obvious. I picked up a real estate magazine in a local grocery store recently and every page was the same: a picture of a person, pictures of houses, a red background, a white frame around each picture. Nothing differentiated one seller from the next. I could only tell that they had a head, they had a phone, and they had houses for sale. I wasn't drawn to them.

Remember: People like doing business with people that they think they know. That has always been so, and it is not likely to change. Our stories about ourselves and our work have to do the work that used to happen in person when people walked into our stores or offices. We have to make them care about us, trust us, and even like us.

So, tell your story. Or have someone else tell it for you. You'll be glad you did.