Professional storyteller Kindra Hall acknowledges that storytelling has become an overused buzzword in business. There’s a good reason for that: Done well, storytelling is an effective way for sellers, travel agents included, to connect with and persuade their customers.
In a keynote speech at Ensemble Travel Group’s annual conference last month, Hall urged travel advisors to make strategic storytelling their default selling mode.
“It isn’t the actual excursion or hotel room. It’s the experience and what it will mean after they’re back. How do you sell that? You tell the stories,” said Kindra Hall, a motivational speaker and president of the marketing agency Steller Collective.
Understanding the power of story
Travel advisors already tell stories, Hall said, but if they want to become great strategic storytellers, they’ll need to hone their skills. The first step is to understand the reasons that storytelling works, including:
- Customers can’t help but respond to stories. Hall cited research showing that stories affect the brain, including by triggering the release of cortisol, which is responsible for increased focus and attention; and of oxytocin, which is responsible for empathy and emotion, both of which are keys to relationship-building.
- Stories communicate value really well. A study that looked at how much people would pay for essentially worthless objects when they were associated with touching stories confirmed that, “People don’t buy the thing, they buy the story of what the thing will mean for them,” Hall said. In one example, a paperweight worth $1.49 sold on eBay for $197.50 when a story of love and adventure was linked to it.
- Stories are uniquely memorable. When you hear a story, your mind adds its own visual images, essentially creating your own version of the story. “You engage in a co-creative process, and because you participated in it, it will stay with you longer,” Hall said.
Here are Hall’s steps to great storytelling:
1. Find your stories
If stories don’t come readily to you, make lists of places, things, institutions, events, the people you have served, etc., and the stories will come back to you, Hall said.
Other things to list that will generate stories include: firsts in your life (such as the first trip you booked), the first client you served, etc.; your values, what they mean to you and when you have seen those values in action; your clients and their stories; client objections or questions (to spark stories of why they should say yes).
Agents also need to entice clients to tell their stories. “That’s how you get to know your clients better, the nuances of their desires. Here’s a trick – story begets story. So, if what you want from them is a story, give them a story and they will give you a story back.”
2. Craft your stories
While every story needs a beginning, middle and an end, Hall told agents to think of this sequence instead as “normal, explosion, new normal.”
Normal is what was, for instance, what the client was hoping for, thinking about or nervous about. This is the point from which you should build your story. “Where stories go wrong is you start in the middle: ‘I booked this trip for so and so,’” Hall said.
The explosion is the client’s travel experience, and the new normal is how the client was changed.
Imagine a client who is super stressed at work, never takes time off and perhaps isn’t doing well in his job. “It’s a tough time for this guy, but then he found you [and went on a great trip], and now he’s super stoked. He’s winning awards, because he’s refreshed.”
Stories also must have four basic elements: 1) identifiable characters; 2) emotions (the struggle, the hope); 3) a specific time and place; and 4) details.
3. Tell your stories
Use stories wherever you need them, but especially in meetings and presentations, which should always start with a story and include stories throughout to punctuate key points.
On Instagram and Facebook, add just a few words of a story to increase engagement rates. “In digital advertising, if your ad has a promise of a story, people will click on it because they want to get to the story,” Hall said.
Also, use stories on your website’s “about us” page, rather than simply including a dull history or timeline. And if you’re touting your integrity, don’t just say you have integrity, tell a story that shows your integrity in action.
Your most important story of all
Finally, Hall said, the most important story of all is the one we tell ourselves about our own lives: Why are you here? Why do you do what you do? Find a meaningful story from your own life that reminds you of your purpose, and the next time you get bogged down in details and lose sight of the big picture, call the story to mind so you get reconnected to your purpose.