Oh, The People You Meet (The Importance of Stories)
Posted on May 20, 2011
One of the highlights of my job is the people you meet on a daily basis. When marketing is your profession, you meet business owners both large and small, directors of corporations, heads of programs, professionals, government officials (including Governors, Lt. Governors, Secretaries, etc.) — if you’re good enough, you can meet just about anyone… better yet when they want to meet you.
Over the past 10 years I’ve met a considerable amount of people that are just fantastic. Of course I have met more than my share that are equally non-fantastic -but you take the good with the bad. My favorite part about meeting new people remains the same as when I started my profession in marketing, and that is to simply hear people’s stories. Stories are the lifeblood of Americana. Everyone has one… or many. You can gain a lot of insight about a person, their beliefs, their experiences – put simply — you gain the best education about a person, by simply listening to their stories.
Everyone has a story. Those stories are happy, sad, funny, lively, boring, beautiful, triumphant & tragic – the list can go on. America was born and raised on “the story”. Stores are an integral part of American folklore. Before the days of television, radio, Internet, and iPads, word-of-mouth stories were passed from person to person, town to town and generation to generation.
If I was to highlight what I consider one of my more valuable strengths, it is the ability to pull a good story from just about anyone. Once I have you telling your story, I’ll ask questions, which will get you to follow-up with another, and then another will come after that. Collectively, over the short period of time that we spend together, you’ll share with me some very personable information that the ordinary person just might not have gained.
While there are always good stories, sadly there are not always good storytellers. They are hard to find – as there is a fine art to crafting a great story. Not everyone knows how to properly execute the delivery of a compelling story – with practice you can work on this, so by all means – practice. You’ve met bad storytellers… they just can’t tell a story worth a damn. But you just, can’t not listen to that story because of a bad storyteller – you take it in and you make of it what you can; then move on. The best storytellers get their stories retold. They are ones that once you leave the company of that storyteller, you can’t wait to find someone, anyone… so you can share their story.
The other day I met an attorney whom I had not the pleasure of meeting for the past 10 years. Our appointment started as traditional appointments do (when you are in marketing) with general business conversation. Within 15 minutes, I latched on to this gentleman’s “happy” vibe that he was emitting, and decided to instantly change the course of the meeting, by travelling down his “happy” lane. Our business could wait. I was no longer interested in discussing the services I was originally brought to this meeting for: instead I found myself wanting to hear… a few stories. I asked him to take me around the office, show me all the different legal areas of the office. With a quick smile he obliged, and the next thing I knew we were headed up the stairs and then being personally introduced to the entire office staff. As we were walking, I noticed that we didn’t pass his office, so I asked him “Where is your office?” “ I don’t have one” he replied. “I simply choose to just float around the office and use whatever desk I need to at the time”. “Fantastic” I thought to myself.
As we walked down the halls, he shared a few stories about the various pieces of artwork that covered the walls. What’s great about art is that each piece – whether painting, mural, sculpture, sketch, whatever… it has a story. And a person who buys art, buys it for his or her own personal reason. They could be a collector, they could personally know the artist, or they simply connect with the piece — it reminds them of something special – it has a personal connection to them. In this particular case, he knew the artists personally. And so I heard numerous stories about paintings and prints, and woodcarvings (which he knew the carver). Those stories led to another about furniture in the office, and how 1 time he simply helped a friend out who needed some legal council. He personally didn’t do anything with this case other than make sure a friend got connected and stayed connected to another attorney in neighboring Georgetown, DE. When that client was paying legal fees, the client asked for an “invoice” for his services. He had none to give him and simply explained that it was just a friend helping a friend when he needed it. A couple weeks later his office took delivery of several hand made wooden chairs, which to this day sit throughout his office conference room.
An hour passed quicker than I knew. And there were a lot of smiles around the office and in the room. “You’ve got things to attend to, and so do I” I jumped in, “We can continue this conversation next week. In the meantime, let’s think about this…”. With that, I ended recapping why we were originally meeting. The mood was much more receptive. We bonded. We told stories, listened to stories, we connected – a new friendship was formed.
The world is full of interesting people, with interesting stories to tell. The next time you’re on a call, or appointment, or whatever you do that requires you to book meetings with people, remember this important piece of advice: find their story, and have them tell it. Do this, and you’ll crack open the door to a new friendship. And people always… always (read it in any sales book published) – would much rather work with friends, than with strangers. Shared stories form friendships.
Perhaps I should share with you my tips on the art of how to properly tell a story.