The Power of Story [Part 2] Experiential Learning

Author Curtis O. Fletcher

We were preparing to meet with several executives to discuss matters most serious and teasingly technical.

On the one side of the discussion were those of us who wanted to allow a “guest log in” feature to our web site that would allow known users to begin conducting business without having to formally identify themselves.

On the other side of the discussion was the party that wanted known customers to continue to have to provide their customer number. Something every customer had, few knew, and even fewer ever used for anything other than logging in to the web site.

On our side we had numbers, good numbers, interesting numbers. On their side they had numbers, numbers I wanted to call bad, but couldn’t.

Ever have to go into one of those showdowns…er… meetings? In the worst instances voices raise, emotions boil and conclusions scamper out the window like so many scared rabbits. In the best instances they’re tedious affairs that result in begrudgingly compromised half-measures that wind up satisfying no one, something akin to rice pudding.

To make matters worse this conversation had been had before, several times. Each time each party brought new, more compelling numbers to bear and yet no one was compelled. So I suggested something new, devious perhaps, but new.

As people arrived at the appointed meeting room they were politely greeted outside the door.  “We’re glad you’re here! As a new measure of security for this meeting we’re asking that you provide the VIN from your automobile. We understand you may not have anticipated this new development but as your car is just outside in the parking lot, and the weather today is quite fine, it should be no trouble for you to track down the required information. If you’ve never used your VIN before it can be found on a small plaque on your dash or, in some cases, on the drivers side door.”

The reactions were priceless and I could see them all because the meeting room had a small window in the door. I was seated inside having actually captured my VIN with my phone that morning.

Rather than going through the minor hassle of walking a couple hundred yards to provide the required credentials the surprised attendees tried to push past as though it were a joke. When they found the way blocked and the ‘doorman’ quite serious they stormed off towards the elevator, not to get the number, but to leave the meeting!

At this point our staunch doorman apologized for the minor ruse and allowed them to enter the meeting, as a guest.

The first words uttered in the meeting? “Ok, we get it. How do we fix it?”

Allow me to suggest three reasons why this approach worked, reasons that are universal benefits of using analogy, story and illustration.

1. It moved them from mind to heart.

This experience moved the conversation from a head talk to a heart talk. The participants understood the situation in a new way, one that moved from the intellectual to the emotional.

2. It moved them from observation to participation.

Interestingly enough the way we first start learning in life is through story. In the case of our meeting we actually put folks into the story, into the experience of the customer. It moved the presentation from being a story heard to a story lived. They experienced the voice of the customer in a way they hadn’t before as that voice became their own.

3. It moved them from understanders to believers

Understanding and belief, on the surface, seem like familiar bedfellows. The difference is in the mind versus the heart. I always understood that a cruise vacation could be restful but never believed it until I’d been on one.

Too many ‘corporate’ conversations rely solely on the head and the numbers. We talk about mind share and convincing and countering objections. Just winning the intellectual argument often results in failure, “I agree with your numbers but I’m just not feeling it.” But find a way to win the heart and the head follows easily.

What near term opportunity do you have to use a story approach to communicating a corporate message? What’s holding you back from trying?

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Curtis is a speaker, coach, and grandiose pontificator who regularly consults with large organizations on topics ranging from customer experience to the Internet of Things. He has a passion for helping people create wow moments for their audiences and customers. When he is not coaching someone in communications or marketing he can often be found preparing for his next half marathon, something he finds terribly perplexing.

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