THE BLOG

It's the Story, Stupid

03/23/2011 11:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sometimes you learn more from your failures than your successes. One of the most painful times occurred in early 2000. My goal was to build the ultimate state-of-the-art baseball stadium in the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas. At the time, Mandalay baseball owned five professional minor league franchises across the country, including single-A, double-A, and triple-A teams. If we accomplished this goal, it would have elevated Mandalay's sports entertainment business onto the national stage.

Our success hinged on my ability to persuade Las Vegas' chief politician, Mayor Oscar Goodman, to lead the campaign for a municipal bond to fund this multimillion dollar civic project. And what did I do? I spouted facts, figures and information! I failed to tell the mayor a story, aspirational or inspirational. Instead, I went informational and I failed in my goal to get them to build our stadium. And that's when the light bulb turned on: a-ha! You forgot to tell a story, stupid!

The epiphany that here I was, a teller of stories, failing to tell a heartfelt story to propel my company's most important goal hit me like a ton of bricks. Miss the audience's heart as a filmmaker, and the only wallet that gets hit is your own. That's because the heart is always the first target in story telling. But my Vegas strikeout suggested that this rule went beyond show business. What if reaching the audience's heart was critical to winning in every business I asked myself?

Indeed aiming at the heart is critical in every business. Regardless of your industry or profession, you must consider yourself in the emotional transportation business and transport your listener to your goal through the purposeful story you tell. What do I mean by "emotional transportation"? I'm talking about the complex system of action and reaction that operates within stories to move listeners.

Stories that "work" transport audiences emotionally. They move us to laugh, cry, gasp, sigh, or yell in sympathetic rage, and every listener intuitively demands this emotional propulsion. It's important to remember that this is true even in a business context. Business people are human beings who grew up listening to stories, just like everybody else. So in business as in show business, if you fail to transport your listener emotionally, you will lose your audience. Lose your audience, and your story can't possibly deliver your intended call to action.

Telling purposeful stories that aim at the heart is the single biggest game-changer any business person can do and immediately -- not next week or next year, but tomorrow -- to change their success. That's because magic happens when you narrate otherwise soulless information like facts, figures and features in decks and PowerPoints into emotional nodes that render an experience to an audience -- and a single listener is an audience -- making the critical information inside the story memorable, resonant and actionable -- inciting them to embrace your call to action. And, that's the result of the emotional transportation. It transports an army who hears your story to carry your story forward as theirs becoming apostles and advocates of your brand, service, mission or cause.

Don't take the stupid pill I took. The next time you need to convince, persuade or motivate someone or a group of someones to heed your call to action, tell a purposeful story and embed the critical information into it. As they say in the American express ads, "don't leave home without it."