Use the 3 Elements of a Good Story to Lead With Power

The Power of Story

When I was growing up, I spent many weekends camping with my Boy Scout Troop in pursuit of my Eagle Scout badge. One thing I remember about those trips was the campfires and the stories we told. From the scary to the hilarious, those stories created an environment as we entertained each other. No devices, no distractions, just stories.

We may live in a different time, but the power of story remains an important part of memory, of persuasion, and of leadership.

A few months ago, we spotlighted Procter & Gamble executive Paul Smith, who is now a speaker and trainer on storytelling techniques. His latest book, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale is a powerful reminder of the power of story.

After our written interview, I met with him in person to continue our conversation.

 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –Maya Angelou

 

We discuss the 3 elements of a great story:

The Innovative Thinking Behind the Reinvention of Football

Reinventing American Football

Almost anything is ripe for innovation. We’ve all seen startups wipe out the established players. We’ve seen whole industries upended as new technologies create new possibilities.

I love to collect these stories. It’s also fun to collect quotes from the naysayers who laughed at the disrupters, but are later proven wrong.

Aspiring leaders always benefit from studying disruption whether in your own industry or even in a distant field. Because often the principles and lessons are applicable elsewhere.

That’s why I have to share this story with you. It’s the reinvention of American football.

Don’t care about football?

Just wait.

You may learn a few lessons from this story that may inspire you. And even if you don’t, you may find yourself at a cocktail party one day, looking for conversation. Read this and you’ll have another story guaranteed to fascinate everyone.

S.C. Gwynne is a first-rate author. Sam was a finalist for the Pulitzer and worked at Time as bureau chief, national correspondent and senior editor. Mix his superb writing with a compelling story and you have The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football. I recently had the opportunity to ask him about his research into the reinvention of the game.

 

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs

 

A Passing Innovation

Hal Mumme transformed football from a running game to a passing game. Who knew!? Your book tells the untold story of how this transformation happened, and it does it in a compelling way. Would you briefly share how this happened?

In the NFL, the middle 1970s came to be known as the “dead ball era.” Fewer points were scored than at any time since 1942. Fewer passes were thrown than at any time since the 1950s. The game was heading back to its ground-and-pound origins, which is what many players and coaches really wanted anyway: a bloody scrum in the middle of the field featuring halfback dives and snarling middle linebackers. Things got so bad—and so boring (it was just as bad in the college game)—that the NFL made radical changes to its blocking rules in 1978, allowing offensive linemen to use their hands, and limiting how many times a receiver could be bumped.The Perfect Pass by S.C. Gwynne

It was, coincidentally, precisely at that time that the coaches who would change the game arrived on the scene. Bill Walsh was experimenting with what would become the West Coast offense; Don Coryell’s receivers were running routes in new ways; Mouse Davis was setting records at Portland State; LaVell Edwards was starting his long run of offensive dominance at BYU, and a young Hal Mumme was studying the passing tactics of all the above. Fast forward to the present day, where a few quick statistics will illustrate the impact those coaches collectively had on the game. Prior to 1991 (the year Hal arguably changed the game), five NCAA D-1 quarterbacks had passed for 10,000 yards or more in their college careers. Since then, 90 more have done it. Of the 92 quarterbacks to date who have thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a single season, 78 have done it since the year 2000. And so on. The game has changed.

Of these passing innovations, by far the two most extreme were the Run and Shoot—invented by Ohio high school coach Tiger Ellison in the 1970s and brought into the modern age by Mouse Davis at Portland State in the 1970s—and the Air Raid. No one else was even close. As I describe in my book, the Run and Shoot did not really survive the 1990s, while the Air Raid was just starting to take off.

Hal’s approach began with the fact that he simply threw the ball more than anyone else. At Iowa Wesleyan, his quarterback Dustin Dewald once completed 61 of 86 passes, both all-time records. He passed on first down and fourth. Hal also messed with the basic assumptions, goals, objectives, and premises of the game. If most football teams ran 60 offensive plays in a game, he ran 85 to 90 and sometimes 100. If most teams believed that controlling the ball—time of possession—was the most important single statistic of the game (other than the score), Hal’s players behaved as though that number was utterly meaningless. He put five feet of space between his offensive linemen, shifting the basic geometry of the line of scrimmage. In a world of exceedingly complex playbooks and ever-multiplying plays, Hal had no playbook and only a handful of plays. His players saw a dead simple game, while opposing defenses saw what looked like wild complexity. Because Hal usually went for it on fourth down, his teams had four downs to make a first down, while his opponents had three, thus altering the assumptions one might make about what sort of play Hal would call on third and 9. (Hint: in his relativistic universe, he does not have to make 9 yards.) And so on. It was as though Hal’s team was playing an entirely different game.

 

Hal Mumme coaching on the sidelines, Used by Permission Hal Mumme coaching on the sidelines, Used by Permission


You point out that before Hal Mumme introduced his technique, only five NCAA Quarterbacks had ever thrown for more than 10,000 yards and since then 90 have done it. That’s amazing. When did his technique catch on with others?

Though one can argue—as I do, in my book—that Hal definitively changed the game of football in the Iowa Wesleyan-Northeast Missouri State game on August 31, 1991, the rest of the world did not know that. The football world would not truly understand what he had done until the late 1990s. That was when he took his video game offenses to the game’s motherland—the SEC—when he became head coach at the University of Kentucky and did what everyone said he could not possibly do: in 1997 he beat Alabama. After the Alabama game, American football started making pilgrimages to his doorstep.

 

Leadership Characteristics Designed to Challenge

How to Capture Attention, Build Trust and Close the Sale

The Power of Story

All of us love a good story. We are swept into the latest book or blockbuster film or we are enthralled by a particularly talented storyteller in our office. Those who tell a story well have our attention.

Leaders should strive to be good storytellers, painting a vivid scene and picture of what’s ahead. That’s the art of persuasion and influence. It’s also the skill of most sales leaders, who use narratives to explain a difficult concept. We are creatures who love a good story.

 

“At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going.” -Jack Trout

 

I know that I may review spreadsheets and be dizzied with statistics, but one emotionally connecting story can have more immediate impact.

Former Procter & Gamble executive Paul Smith is now a speaker and trainer on storytelling techniques. His latest book, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale, attracted my attention. Because I’m a big believer in the power of story, I wanted to connect with him to talk about his work.

 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –Maya Angelou

 

Stories Influence and Persuade

You witnessed, first-hand, the power of a sales story when you purchased some art. Would you briefly share that with us?9780814437117

Sure. Last summer my wife, Lisa, and I were at an art show in Cincinnati. She was on a mission to find a piece for our boys’ bathroom wall at home.

At one point we found ourselves at the booth of an underwater photographer named Chris Gug. Looking through his work, Lisa got attached to a picture that, to me, looked about as out of place as a pig in the ocean. It was a picture of a pig in the ocean! Literally. A cute little baby piglet, up to its nostrils in salt water, snout covered with sand, dog-paddling its way straight into the camera lens.

When I got my chance, I asked the seller (named Gug) what on Earth that pig was doing in the ocean. And that’s when the magic started.

He said, “Yeah, it was the craziest thing. That picture was taken in the Caribbean, just off the beach of an uninhabited Bahamian island named Big Major Cay.” He told us that years ago, a local entrepreneur brought a drove of pigs to the island to raise for bacon.

Then he said, “But, as you can see in the picture, there’s not much more than cactus on the island for them to eat. And pigs don’t much like cactus. So the pigs weren’t doing very well. But at some point, a restaurant owner on a nearby island started bringing his kitchen refuse by boat over to Big Major Cay and dumping it a few dozen yards off shore. The hungry pigs eventually learned to swim to get to the food. Each generation of pigs followed suit, and now all the pigs on the island can swim. As a result, today the island is more commonly known as Pig Island.”

Gug went on to describe how the pigs learned that approaching boats meant food, so they eagerly swim up to anyone arriving by boat. And that’s what allowed him to more easily get the close-up shot of the dog-paddling piglet. He probably didn’t even have to get out of his boat.

I handed him my credit card and said, “We’ll take it!”

Why my change of heart? The moment before he shared his story (to me at least), the photo was just a picture of a pig in the ocean, worth little more than the paper it was printed on. But two minutes later, it was no longer just a picture. It was a story—a story I would be reminded of every time I looked at it. The story turned the picture into a conversation piece—a unique combination of geography lesson, history lesson, and animal psychology lesson all in one.

In the two minutes it took Gug to tell us that story, the value of that picture increased immensely. It’s the kind of story that I now refer to as a “value-adding” story because it literally makes what you’re selling more valuable to the buyer.

 

“Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.” –John Barth

 

5 Reasons Stories Matter

Why is story telling so important?

I could probably give you dozens of reasons, but here are my favorite 5.

  1. Storytelling speaks to the part of the brain where decisions are actually made– Human beings make subconscious, emotional, and sometimes irrational decisions in one place in the brain and then justify those decisions rationally and logically in another place. So if you’re trying to influence buyers’ decisions, using facts and rational arguments alone isn’t enough. You need to influence them emotionally, and stories are your best vehicle to do that.
  2. Stories are more memorable– Lots of studies show that facts are easier to remember if they’re embedded in a story than if they’re just given to you in a list. And you can prove that to yourself right now. All of you reading this know that by this time tomorrow you won’t remember this list of 5 things. But you will remember the story of Pig Island. And next week, next month, or next year, you’ll be able to tell the Pig Island story and get most of the facts right. But you won’t remember any of the 5 things in this list.
  3. Stories can increase the value of the product you’re selling– as you saw in the Pig Island story.
  4. Stories are contagious– When’s the last time you heard someone say, “Wow! You’ll never believe the PowerPoint presentation I just saw!” Never. But they do say that about a great story.
  5. Storytelling gives you a chance to be original– Most buyers have seen every pitch, tactic, and closing line in the book. They’ve heard them from you, your competitors, and the last three people who had your job. Storytelling gives you a chance to go “off script” and say something they won’t hear from anyone else.

 

Many people may think, “Oh sure, a sales person should be a good story teller.” But you turn that around and say it’s more important to have a buyer tell their story. I love that. Tell us more about that.

I figure if you don’t hear their stories first, how will you know which of your stories to tell?

A colleague of ours, Mike Weinberg, says it this way: “You wouldn’t trust a physician who walked into the examining room, spent an hour telling you how great he was, and then wrote a prescription, would you?” Of course not. Then why would a buyer accept the recommendation of a salesperson who did the same thing?

 

How to Get Others to Tell Their Stories