Demystifying storytelling for business, with TED Speaker and Keynote Storyteller Dawn Herscher.

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Posted on February 5, 2020

Stories transform brain chemistry, changing our feelings, perceptions and, consequently our behaviors. For this reason, storytelling for business is a very powerful weapon. Plato once said: “Those who tell stories rule the world“. Today, TED speaker and Keynote Storyteller Dawn Herscher talks about storytelling for business, with a focus in the marketing world. She discusses with us the best techniques and methods to present compelling stories that enchant and sell.

1 – What is storytelling and how did you get involved with it?

Okay, so this is a two-part answer. First part is to define storytelling and my answer is this: storytelling is a technique that builds relationship by using stories that will captivate an audience by using emotion, empathy and relatable characters. 

You really want to hear how I got involved in storytelling? It’s quite an answer. My underwear is involved, you cool with that? Ok, here we go. I was 21 and recruited out of college to work in a luxury, 5-star hotel in Beverly Hills. Not sure why they wanted me, I wore purple unicorn socks with red sneakers, but they said I was just the girl they were looking for. I wasn’t exactly front office material, as I was still a proud nail-biter and a regular hair flipper, but like I said, the big guys upstairs didn’t seem to care much about my juvenile habits. They were convinced that I was the girl for the job.

On the other hand, the Front Office Manager was not my biggest fan! How do I know this? Well, her favorite thing to say to me was, “I need you to be a little more lovely and understated,” which was my first clue. You should know that at that time, I was the opposite of lovely and understated. My hair on its own was overstated, but I digress. 

Lovely and understated

One afternoon, I was in the lady’s room attached to the 5-star restaurant on the property, and right when I walked in, there she was, standing in front of the mirror putting on her makeup was the object of my affection my whole life. My all-time favorite actress! There she was just  two feet from me! She saw me in the reflection of the mirror and turned around and said, “hey, how are you?” I was like, is she talking to me, as I turned to see if someone was behind me. I think I opened my mouth, but honestly, I don’t remember any words coming out. In fact, I don’t even remember using the restroom, but I must have, because when I walked out, the bottom of my dress was tucked into my underwear. Lovely and understated

Naturally, she followed me out of the restroom and gently pulled me aside to tell me about my little underwear situation, AND THEN she told me a very similar story about something she did before going out on a date with “hunky jo” from a trending tv show. What happened next, changed my life in many ways. The adored actress grabbed my arm, and we fell to the ground laughing hysterically, as we exchanged horror stories of our most embarrassing moments and compromising positions, we found ourselves in. I will leave it there, but you get the idea.

Here’s the most important part of my story and the answer to your question. From that day forward, I was the only person in the hotel that she EVER dealt with again. She brought all her friends and colleagues to stay at the hotel, and when I left and went to another hotel in a giant step up in my career, she followed me there with her entourage. The point? Essentially, my career in the hospitality industry was born out of one relationship, based on trust, as a result of storytelling, because story triggers relationship. Stories are that powerful. 

2 – Digital marketing, event marketing, sales… where does storytelling fit in? I mean, how does storytelling solve problems for brands in the business world? 

This is what I call the million-dollar question, because the answer is gold. Technology has made it possible to communicate anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. As you read this, the next 2.0 version of just about everything is underway. The downside is that people now spend their time staring at their screens instead of engaging with each other. There has never been a more important time to develop human connectivity then right now. Despite the growth of technology, relationship is still the core of every successful business. People buy from those they trust, and trust is the outcome of relationship. The solution is to combine relationship with technology, and storytelling is the way to do that. The problem it solves is the one of connectivity, because despite technology, we are still human and need to connect to each other and the products we invest in.

3 – How can a brand build strong and engaging relationships with its clients through storytelling?

There are two ways we connect with our clients.

1.     In Person-If you are in the habit of spending time with your clients in person then you have an incredible opportunity to connect with them through storytelling. Like digital, face to face interactions need to be strategic and methodical with a plan for connecting with story. This is a result of research and knowing what you and your customer have in common, and the willingness to show vulnerability. 

2.     Digitally – In today’s climate, there is a lot of connecting through social media and these are great platforms for storytelling for business. The same applies here as above, you need to be strategic and know your audience, and use relatable characters that your customer base will connect to. The best stories are personal, relatable and memorable.

4 – Is there a basic structure marketing professionals can follow to make their storytelling skills better?  Where to begin from?

There are three different types of storytelling, as I see it:

1.     Stories that sell. It is scientifically proven that humans love stories, and psychologically speaking, our brains are wired to perk up, retain more information, and remember more details when information is presented in the form of a story.

2.     Stories that solidify. In business relationships, our job is to impress people, not bore them, so storytelling for business is way to breathe life into a product or service by way of story. If you want people to fall in love with your product, tell them stories about love affairs between customers and products.

3.     Superpower stories. These are my favorite stories, because this is when you really have an opportunity to cross over any barrier that is preventing a deeper connection to your customer/client. A superpower story shows your enormous depth and ability to empathize with your client. The result is a deeper level of trust that only this kind of story can make possible.

5 – Marketing and the business world have absorbed storytelling as a fundamental skill only in the last decades. But before that, storytelling has also been present in the arts field. What and who were your main inspirations to develop your gift with words and narratives? Any recommended writes, movie directors, musician or brand case?

In my opinion, the two best storytellers in the world are Disney and Bruce Springsteen.

1.     Effective storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology in order to truly move an audience, and Disney does this better than anyone.

2.     Because Bruce Springsteen’s stories are so deeply personal, they have the ability to draw you into the song, as a character living the experience. His talent is making the listener feel like their story is communal, a shared history and that makes you feel less alone.

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