By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial

As millions across the nation will attest, there’s just something about March Madness.

Yes, it’s fast-paced, do-or-die basketball – the kind of sports entertainment that junkies live for. But it also attracts those who don’t usually pay attention to what can seem like a drawn-out college season. You know what I’m talking about: Your usually sports-indifferent co-worker is suddenly talking smack about your alma mater, even though they based their entire bracket on the fierceness of each animal-mascot.

There is a certain thrill in March Madness. I propose it has little to do with the sport, but rather the narrative the bracket weaves. There’s the powerhouse, the underdogs, the upsets. The star players rise and fall with the drama of the day. The ubiquitous office brackets mean you and your colleagues rise and fall with them. At the end, it’s four, then two and then one.

It’s a testament to a riveting saga, and it’s why at Dardis we emphasize the importance of tying selling to storytelling. You may be awash in statistics and data that ought to move a client, but experience proves that feelings are memorable and facts can be forgettable.

So why do stories make the sale? Three reasons:

1. They’re imaginative. An acquaintance who recently moved to Minnesota was studying to take the written driver’s exam and was griping about how hard it was to remember what the manual required for visibility when making U-turns. Is it 100 feet, 500 feet or 1000? She’s been driving for decades but couldn’t put a number on what she determined was a safe distance between her car and oncoming traffic.

Conversely, the manual specified three seconds between vehicles – based on passing a fixed roadside point – as the appropriate following distance in regular traffic. That, she said, made sense. She could see it in her mind’s eye, and visualizing an actual experience rooted the concept in the way a length measurement couldn’t.

It’s the same when we put information into stories. It simplifies the message, jogs an image and makes a picture. Pictures, not data, make memories, and the stronger pictures aren’t attached to a PowerPoint, but the image the listener makes in his or her mind.

2. They’re relatable. Remember a time when you heard a story about a person you didn’t like and it changed your opinion? It’s likely because their experience resonated with you. You found common ground. That’s why public officials are always pointing to people when pitching their policies. People sell ideas. Stories remind people that you, the storyteller, are a person with real experiences. Stories also build trust and reveal how you benefit from making the sale.

3. They’re inspirational. Stories evoke emotions. We know this from the newspaper’s letters to the editor and our Facebook feeds. When we feel, we act. Even on Facebook, we share what we’ve read or heard. The same thing goes for the water cooler, the dinner table and the conference room. Data alone rarely elicits an emotional response, unless you’ve found yourself a very serious actuary. (And even then, isn’t a story about risk much more fun than just outlining numbers?)

Last October the New York Times’ Opinionator blog ran a piece called “Why Doctors Need Stories.” The author, Peter D. Kramer, described his surprise to find a case vignette published in a medical journal, a practice that has fallen out of vogue. In his argument for reviving the use of case reports, he noted that they illustrate and reassure, but also have the power to set research agendas.

“Research reduces information about many people; vignette retains the texture of life in one of its forms,” he wrote.

That “texture of life” doesn’t only benefit doctors, but anyone who’s trying to connect, establish trust and make a sale.

Storytelling experts recommend keeping stories simple, knowing your audience, sharing a bit of yourself and keeping them lighthearted. And remember, sincerity will get you far.

Good stories may not fall into your lap. Take the time to actively solicit them, be it through an email request, a stroll through HR or an informal interview with a colleague.

Think of your stories as the next-day game recap – the parameters of the court, feet traveled and even exact seconds on the clock matter less than the drama of a swift passing of the ball and a Christian Laettner-style buzzer-beater. You’ll find that stories, told well, make people feel part of the action, and that can affect the final score.

 

 

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit www.dardisinc.com.

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