Being in lockdown due to the 2020 pandemic has been a crazy but also fruitful experience for me. It allowed me to rethink things, reposition my business, and land new opportunities with clients I'm thoroughly enjoying working on.
One of them is Ed Rush. Ed is a successful business advisor who's about to release his upcoming training on how to become an in-demand consultant using what you already know — without the need for any consulting experience or degrees.
(Full disclosure, I'm not an affiliate, but I am working with Ed on this launch and had a hand in the sales copy. So I am a little biased.)
However, Ed does something exceptionally well.
He's a master storyteller.
Ed is a former F-18 fighter pilot. A true, bonafide “Top Gun.” He was classically trained as one in the army, and it's not like the kind you see in the movies. He often talks about his harrowing, high-speed, and often on-the-razor's-edge-of-death experiences as a fighter pilot. Pretty riveting stuff.
But the cooler part is that he relates them to life, business, and success. A perfect example is one story he tells about where he had to execute a maneuver while flying above the Japanese island of Okinawa during a one-against-one dogfight.
He misjudged his altitude and airspeed, and was hurtling uncontrollably at Mach-level speeds towards the water and a seemingly imminent death. With only moments to spare, he made a split-second decision. His instinct told him to refer back to a systematized yet basic training he had in flight school.
It was a simple, step-by-step, mental checklist.
It saved his life.
The point he was trying to make was twofold:
1) Success often depends on taking decisive action.
Decisiveness is a key characteristic of successful people. As Ed put it: “A good decision now is better than a great decision made too late.”
2) Good decisions rely heavily on the fundamentals.
We often balk at the basics as being too boring or beneath us. But as it did with Ed, mastering the fundamentals increases the effectiveness in making decisions when under pressure or working on the less-than-fundamental stuff.
Similarly, storytelling is a fundamental skill.
You may be a professional. You may be an expert in your field. But most successful professionals and entrepreneurs I know are also expert communicators.
I've seen engineers, doctors, even scientists use storytelling with great results. It's a skill you can learn, too. It's not a talent (although, it does come naturally for some). And you certainly don't need to write an edge-of-your-seat epic, too.
Start small and simple. Start with metaphors and analogies, or better yet, start by telling personal stories. We all love talking about ourselves. It's the easiest thing to do.
But an important caveat: you're not the hero of the story — your audience is. Even if it's about you, the goal is to make your personal story mean something to the audience, or else it will just make you look boastful and self-centered.
Here are two ways you can practice:
1. Start with a story first.
It can be something simple, short, and straightforward, perhaps something that might have happened to you recently. Then, after you're done, relate it to your audience. Turn it into a lesson, point, moral, or message you want to impart.
It doesn't have to be something complex. Even if it's as simple as finding inspiration in your life experiences, your story in turn will inspire your audience.
2. Start with the purpose first.
It's the same approach but flipped around.
Determine the lesson or message you want to convey first, and then dig into your own unique set of experiences and memories. Pull something out that resonates with your audience, exemplifies your lesson, or illustrates your message.
Here's what I do.
I have a Google Doc with a list of stories I come across, or a list of ideas and personal experiences that make great points. It's my own personal swipefile. When I have a need, I start from those and flesh them out in my writing.
Other times, I start with something that happened to me recently. It may even start out as a rant or a rave. But then I try to turn it into a message that illustrates a point I want to make, or how it can be meaningful to my readers.
What story has made an impact on your thinking? You may or may not remember the details. Or the story may not come to mind immediately. But chances are, you do remember the lesson it gave or the point it made.
That's because the best stories don't feel like stories.