"People don’t want more information. They can’t process the information they already have. What they want is faith in you, your words, and your good intentions."
Annette Simmons has nothing against facts, statistics and other objective data. She just wants people to actually hear what we’re trying to tell them. And to be heard, we need to tell stories.
In Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, she equips us with the storytelling skills we need to give listeners faith in us and our good intentions.
Above all, this book is actionable and only succeeds if we make the effort to create our own stories using the templates she provides. If we don’t, we’re merely listening to a master storyteller share some great tales.
The Big Idea
Fuel perceptions with intentional stories
"The fuel of perceptions--good and bad--is storytelling. That’s why we need to be more intentional about the stories we tell."
Simmons identifies six of the most influential story types:
- Who-I-am stories tell listeners what qualifies you to influence them.
- Why-I’m-here stories establish your reasons for being there.
- Teaching stories instruct without sounding like a lesson.
- Vision stories reframe the present as inevitable steps toward a worthwhile future.
- Values-in-action stories illustrate principles by showing how they play out in the real world.
- I-know-what-you’re-thinking stories empathize and disarm inevitable skepticism.
Simmons contends that we tell these six types of stories all the time. Unfortunately, our default storytelling mode too often turns negative. To increase our positive influence on others, she urges us to mindfully tell stories that achieve goals rather than reinforce problems.
Never is this more on display than at a wedding. I happened to finish Simmons’s book while attending my oldest son’s wedding in sunny, snowy Denver. This gave me occasion to hear both positive and negative stories of each type. Without naming names, one guest told a who-I-am story that made him sound like a perpetual victim wronged by the universe at every turn while another shared a vision story about her potential startup that had me reaching for my checkbook. Each story fueled my perception of the teller, but in entirely opposite directions.
Tell stories that validate then dispel objections
"People like to stay safe. Many times they have already made up their mind, with specific objections to the ideas you bring...it is a trust-building surprise for you to share their secret suspicions in a story that first validates and then dispels these objections without sounding defensive."
Of the types, my favorite is the I-know-what-you’re-thinking story. According to Simmons, telling one makes you seem telepathic because you’ve magically anticipated unstated reservations about you and your message.
To help craft different stories of each type, she suggests coming up with one about a time you shined, another about a time you blew it, a third about a mentor and a fourth that comes from a book, movie or special event.
For my I-know-what-you’re-thinking story, I chose a time I shined. Since my natural presentation style is extremely low-key, audiences occasionally feel I lack Tony Robbins-like enthusiasm for a topic even when I’m passionate about it. To acknowledge then dispel this myth during one presentation, I shared a story about how I once got so intense at a daughter’s volleyball match, the local news photographer snapped a picture of me cheering at the top of my lungs. Then I shared the photo of me with my arms flying and told my audience: “In spite of how I sometimes come across, this is how I feel about you and this subject matter.” More important than the ensuing laughter, my audience believed me in ways merely repeating the words, “I’m excited,” would never have accomplished.
Tell stories that add substance to vision
"Story forces substance back into the vision process. Laminated cards with core values and quippy sound-bite visions are exposed as superficial and one-dimensional when compared to vision stories."
According to Simmons, it’s impossible to imagine the future unless you actually take someone there through story. It allows your listener to “experience places and times intimately enough to play out the possibilities.” Compelling vision stories also validate the difficulties of achieving it, giving due regard to the real pain, sacrifice and frustration that will undoubtedly occur.
Another favorite author, Daniel Pink, provides a compelling framework for sharing a vision story in his 2013 book, To Sell is Human. His “Pixar pitch” helps to give any pitch (or vision) a narrative structure by framing it using the six blanks used by Pixar films: Once upon a time ______, Every day ______, One day _____, Because of that ______, Because of that ______, Until finally ______.
Annette Simmons believes “every problem in the world can be addressed–solved, made bearable, even eliminated–with better storytelling.”
What stories can you tell this week that will help people know who you are and why you’re there? How can a story teach, share a vision, demonstrate your values or let someone know you know what she’s thinking?