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Better Business Idea #67

Tell me a story!

© 2004 by Michael C. Gray

April 30, 2004


There is something irresistible about a story. When we were small children, we learned that when we listened to a story, we should relax and listen carefully.

It’s no coincidence that some of our greatest leaders and most beloved personalities were great storytellers. Some of the people who come to mind include Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Will Rogers, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, John Kennedy, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ taught using stories that we call parables.

Learning to tell stories can be an invaluable skill in business.

In How I Multiplied My Income & Happiness In Selling, Frank Bettger told how he learned to sell by becoming a "bird dog" for the greatest salesman he knew, Clayton M. Hunsicker. He was surprised to observe that Hunsicker said little in the way of a "sales talk." He spent most of an interview asking questions and telling stories.

Finally, Hunsicker was unable to be at a sales meeting Bettger had arranged, so Bettger made the presentation himself. He made a four-hour presentation, and successfully closed the sale. "Now, how did I have the courage to go up there that morning without Mr. Hunsicker and sell those four men, nearly twice my age? Stories! It was the stories that gave me courage and confidence. Without them I wouldn’t even have considered attempting to sell them alone. But I knew I could tell them the stories; and I knew those stories fitted their situation. And it was the stories that sold those men more than a half-million dollars of life insurance!" (This was when $500,000 was a whole lot of money!) From that time, Bettger had the confidence to make his presentations on his own.

Many of the advertisements in Julian Lewis Watkins’ The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852 – 1958 are stories. For the Harvard Classics, "This is Marie Antoinette Riding to Her Death – Do you know her tragic story?" For International Correspondence Schools, "The University of the Night – The young Lincoln, pouring over borrowed school books far into the night…" For the Ayer House (advertising company), "The Stranger At The Gate" (they didn’t know who he was, because he didn’t advertise). For Woman’s Institute, "The Diary of a Lonesome Girl." For U.S. School of Music, "They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play!" For Listerine, "Often a bridesmaid but never a bride."

The J. Peterman Company catalogue became a collectible because of the wonderful stories told to make what would be otherwise mundane items, like an old-fashioned western duster coat, very romantic and desireable. (You can see examples of the Peterman ads online – great reading!)

You, too, can join the "great ones" and improve your popularity and effectiveness, and have more fun in the process! Simply start telling more stories. What are your personal experiences that relate to ideas you’re trying to promote? How have others benefited from using your product or service? What consequences did others suffer that could have been avoided? People relate best to "real life" experiences of people like themselves. Enjoy becoming a great storyteller and you’ll also become a better businessperson.

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How to improve your advertisements by using stories.


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Michael Gray, CPA
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San Jose, California 95128
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