In today's interconnected world where everyone is a "friend" and we let people know we care by "liking" an image they post, people are starved for real, genuine connection. In fact, we all have a person that right now you would refer to anyone (mine is my chiropractor Chandler Collins).
Now ask yourself "Why?"
The reasons are probably varied, but they include: you like them; you trust them; and most likely they know your story and you know theirs. When we exchange our backgrounds with someone, we connect at a level that many relationships never reach.
Recently, we held a conference in which the overarching theme was authenticity. One of our keynote speakers made the point that it's our authentic, human side -- the side we try to keep hidden from the world much of the time -- that makes all the difference to people. We care more about who a person really is than a résumé. It's their story that moves us, that connects us, that includes us.
Storytelling has been part of human existence for thousands of years. It's the way we make sense of things, the way we get others to understand and empathize. It's fundamental to our communication. In fact, storytelling is so hard-wired in our psyches that we actually have a physiological response when listening to a story. Research has shown that storytelling affects our neurology significantly, even to the point that our breathing and heart rate begin to synchronize with the storyteller.
With such a powerful tool at our disposal, it's a surprise that more entrepreneurs don't take advantage and share their story. Yet most of the entrepreneurs I meet don't. Many are simply afraid that their authentic selves won't be well received; when in reality it's their authentic selves that would likely have the greatest impact on their clientele and motivate others into taking action on their behalf.
Recently, an entrepreneur heard me speaking on "telling your story," and he confided in me that he just didn't think he could tell his story. His past was riddled with challenges: he grew up poor, was sexually abused and turned to drug use. He confessed that he felt ashamed of his past, and that he thought it would change people's perception of him for the worse. But we communicated for a while, and he soon came to realize that there was nothing to be ashamed of.
In fact, he came to realize that his story was a hero's story. Born into poverty and a rough neighborhood, he struggled to make his way out and become not only successful, but a respected entrepreneur in his community. He discovered that people wouldn't find a connection to his story despite his struggles, but rather because of his struggles, which he overcame. When I played it back for him this way he was no longer afraid to let people know who he was and he has never looked back.
One of my favorite "story" success stories is Toril Schoepfer. Toril was a top producing REALTOR for years. This came with everything you would expect, a six-figure marketing budget, billboards, TV commercials and the veneer to match. She was number one, dressed the part, wore the clothes and kept up the image that she thought the world demanded from a top professional.
She was somewhat successful, and she was exhausted.
Just being yourself is tiring; maintaining a persona in addition to who you are can become overwhelming. We started working with her three years ago, and one of the first things she did was write out her story. It is impressive. Like any of ours, it includes hardship and trials and success, it is a story of a brave, unexpectedly single mom who took on challenges that would leave many paralyzed and yet found a way to overcome and find success. Most importantly, it is vulnerable and honest.
I still remember the day she let us know she was going to email it to her entire database and add it to the home page on her website.
In the world of real estate, where appearances are seemingly everything and agents routinely spend beyond their means on clothing, cars, and the trappings of success trying to reinforce their image, here is a professional brave enough to share who she really is! How many other professionals are there out there like this? How many of us are trying to succeed while spending valuable energy and focus on the image we believe is not just necessary but required?
Toril now spends less than 10 percent of what she used to spend on marketing. She runs one of the top real estate businesses in her area, gets to be herself, and is attracting a loyal following of clients who support her and who she really is.
I can assure you, regardless of what your story may be, there are people out there who will connect with it, and the connection you create with those people is stronger than just a simple client/brand relationship. Telling your story disarms you, and gives people a glimpse into your "why." For most of us, knowing "why" an organization exists is just as--if not more important--than what it does.
By sharing your story, you give them a chance to contribute to and be a part of your movement. And by contributing to your collective success, others are taking part in the "hero" role. They are no longer just consumers or clients, but, in their own way, champions of a cause and integral pieces of a larger story.
So what is your story? Are you sharing it with your clients? If not, write it down, refine it and start sharing. Ask someone you trust to help you if you feel unsure. Most importantly, remember that your story doesn't end, that you continue to write it each day, and that by taking part in your journey, your clients become heroes, too.
Alex Charfen is CEO of the Charfen Institute.