Facts Tell, Stories Sell

Stories Compel Audiences to Take Action

Edward Richards was 27 and graduating from Yale with a master’s degree in chemical engineering. He would join the family business, marry his college sweetheart and move home to Tennessee.

Edward didn’t count on the recession eroding the government contracts that comprised much of his family’s business. When the company closed, Edward responded by sending a flurry of resumes to prospective employers. No one was hiring.

During the ensuing months, Edward lost his apartment and his car. He had to borrow his girlfriend’s aged Volkswagen to attend interviews.

Then, Edward saw an ad on Craigslist for SFG. Last year – his fifth year with the company – his income surpassed $1.1 million.

This true story is one SFG agency managers often share when recruiting agents. They explain that Edward began as a sales agent and, with diligence and hard work he assembled one of SFG’s largest agencies.

“Facts tell and stories sell,” a top-selling SFG agency manager told attendees during the company’s semiannual meeting. “You must identify your own stories and tell them – whether selling in the home or building a team.”

Robert Dickman, author of The Elements of Persuasion, claimed that people in the business world do two things every day. We sell something – products, services, skills, ideas, visions – and we tell stories.

“A story is a fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world,” Dickman said. “Storytelling is innate in the human psyche – we all know how to do it.”

Dickman analyzes the elements of every good story:

Passion. Passion attracts the audience to the story and draws them in. Theatrical performers refer to new or difficult audiences as “cold” and understand such audiences must be “warmed up” before they will accept new information. Passion ignites the audience’s interest and makes them want to learn more.

In Edward’s story, Edward himself was passionate about the direction his life would take. The audience felt compassionate toward him because they understood what he had invested to live the American dream.

Hero. The hero grounds the story in reality and provides the audience a point of view. The audience must feel a part of the hero’s situation and able to put themselves in the hero’s shoes.

Many audience members could identify with Edward. Perhaps they had worked hard to achieve something like an advanced degree from a prestigious school only to have circumstances shatter their hopes.

Antagonist. The antagonist is the obstacle the hero must overcome. The antagonist does not have to be human but may be a problem or challenging situation.

In Edward’s account, the recession was the antagonist and resulted in the closing of the family business and loss of financial stability and perhaps confidence.

Awareness. This is the element that allows the hero to prevail. It is literally the inspiration that lets the hero see the problem and take action.

The moment of discovery is often very brief, an “aha” moment. For Edward, it was reading the SFG ad and realizing there were other potential employment opportunities.

Transformation. Transformation is the natural result of a well-told story. If the above elements are present, the hero will take action to overcome the obstacle and the world around the person will change.

Edward, of course, enjoyed a successful career with SFG and earned more than $1 million after five years of employment. His story has helped attract hundreds and helped SFG become the fastest growing insurance marketing organization in the country.

Dickman concluded that stories do not have to be long or verbal, but they help shape our world.


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