Are you a Game of Thrones fan? If you are, you already know who won and can debate your level of satisfaction with the outcome. Even if you aren’t a fan of the show, no doubt you’ve heard about this intense eight-season series of ambitious storytelling and beloved character development.
As a fan myself, I was struck by something Tyrion Lannister says near the end of the finale. To an attentive and rapt audience, Tyrion asks the rhetorical question, “What unites people?” He goes on to say, “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”
Why did this line resonate with me? Because it’s what we do at Mandel Communications every day. We teach people how to tell their stories in the most powerful and meaningful ways for them.
When Do We Need Stories?
Think about a time when you had to influence others in some way. Maybe it was introducing a new idea to your CEO that could be unpopular or difficult. Perhaps it was closing a high-stakes sale with an important customer, or maybe it was asking an executive for something radically different or potentially expensive.
Knowing you had to make a case for your ideas, where did you turn to first? Most often, people turn to what they’re comfortable with. Data points. Facts and figures. The old, reliable PowerPoint deck.
While comforting for you, these analytics alone don’t actually influence others. As Peter Guber explains in his book, Tell to Win, data points are transactional. People don’t remember them, and they don’t respond to them. What you want, is to tell what Guber calls a “purposeful story” where you ignite someone’s interest and their passion. If you narrate the information inside of a story, you’ll be able to move someone to action, make your story memorable, and even have them tell it forward for you.
Powerful stories influence others in a way that no amount of data ever can.
3 Examples of Powerful Storytellers
Wouldn’t it be great if all innovative and clever business ideas caught fire right away and became successful? All it takes is a little luck and some funding, right?
Some of the best innovators of our time failed over and over again before they managed to get their ideas to flourish and grow. What do Walt Disney, Sir James Dyson, and Joe Gebbia all have in common? They used the power of a good story to turn their innovative thinking into wildly successful realities.
Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom
Everyone thought that Walt Disney was crazy when he decided to build Disneyland. Amusement parks of the day had shady reputations at best, and were most definitely not family friendly. Walt’s brother and business partner, Roy Disney, was worried. He thought that this “fanciful park” would lead to financial ruin.
Can you imagine a meeting with investors where Walt pitched out facts and projected data points? This park was going to be unlike anything that had ever been built before. He needed to attract investors by capturing their imaginations and allowing them to actively share his creative vision. Along the way, Walt also understood the importance of telling the park’s story to its future customers, or as he liked to call them, his guests.
Walt Disney’s ability to tell a powerful story created a momentum that not only was actionable with investors, but it was memorable and easy to repeat. It wasn’t long before potential guests worldwide knew all about this “fanciful park” and couldn’t wait to go there. Personally, I owe a lot to Walt Disney’s story as my career started as a cast member at Disneyland.
Sir James and the Bagless Vacuum
If you didn’t know, let me tell you, the vacuum industry is cutthroat. As an engineer and inventor, Sir James Dyson, tells the story of stumbling into the vacuum business by accident. One day while cleaning his house, he noticed that the upright vacuum he was using had lost suction. Being curious and loving to tinker, he took apart the entire machine and understood immediately that the filter was the problem.
Years and thousands of prototypes later, Dyson invented the now-iconic, revolutionary vacuum cleaner that uses cyclonic separation technology. When it was introduced in 1983, despite showing unquestionably superior performance, sales of this amazing vacuum were slow.
Did Dyson need a little luck and a little funding? No. He needed a powerful story.
With languishing initial sales, Sir James Dyson decided to shake up his advertising campaign and tell his story directly to the consumer. When he personally shared the Dyson story in his first American television spot, sales skyrocketed. No, he didn’t focus on facts and data points. There were no fancy graphics or animations. He simply told his story with conviction, passion, and integrity. Consumers responded. Momentum was created.
Joe Gebbia’s Air Mattress Rental Service
To hear Joe Gebbia tell it, when he and his roommates first pitched the idea of Airbnb to potential investors, it went something like this: “People are going to take pictures of their most intimate places – bedrooms and bathrooms. Then they’re going to post them on the Internet. And then they’re going to invite strangers into their homes – it’s going to be HUGE!”
Not so much. At first.
The Airbnb business idea started when Gebbia and his then roommate rented three air mattresses in their apartment to some conference attendees coming to San Francisco. Hotel rooms all over the city were booked, and the idea sounded like a great way to pay the rent. When they began to flesh out an actual business plan, things got more complicated. Gebbia realized that what he actually needed to sell was the idea of trust. Getting people to invite perfect strangers into their homes required more than just scores of facts and financial projections.
Gebbia began to tell the story of how he even got the idea of hosting someone in his own home. It had nothing to do with money. His story was a powerful one of generosity, of some risk, and ultimately, of friendship. He’s often said that “turning fear into fun is the gift of creativity.” Gebbia’s story of hosting and discovering human connection not only moved investors to finance his venture, but it inspired people all over the world to open their homes as well.
What’s Your Story?
The next time you need to influence others, stop for a moment and think about how you want people to feel. More often than not, you can answer that question by looking at your own passions and motivations around your project.
Harness that positive energy. Think about how you can share that feeling with others. By all means, don’t throw away your data points, your facts, or your beloved PowerPoint deck. These are your support structures, and they are always going to be important.
Just remember, to win your own “Game of Thrones” and influence those who can help you, it’s your own story that is the most powerful and that can unite people. Nothing can stop it.
Citations (in order of appearance)
Guber, Peter. (2011). Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story. Crown Publishing, New York. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Tell-Win-Connect-Persuade-Triumph/dp/0307587959/ref=sr_1_1?crid=TOB3W9KGOHXL&keywords=peter+guber+tell+to+win&qid=1560445538&s=gateway&sprefix=peter+guber+tell%2Caps%2C199&sr=8-1
Freedogshampoo. (2007 Apr 14). The Disneyland Story Part 1 (1954) . Retrieved from https://youtu.be/rIrq3RFUQPU?t=199
Holst, Brad. (2014). Lessons from the Jungle Cruise. Mandel.com. Retrieved from https://www.mandel.com/blog/lessons-from-the-jungle-cruise/
Asseenonjennyreviews. (2011 Jan 23). Dyson vacuum commercial . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUDLY6VZTqo
Gebbia, Joe. (2016 Feb). How Airbnb designs for trust . Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/joe_gebbia_how_airbnb_designs_for_trust?language=en#t-298133