How to Harness the Power of Storytelling for Your Small Business

Tell to WinFor the holidays, we like to do something special on, since we take a break from #Smallbizchat for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, I had a wonderful opportunity to have a conversation with CEO and legendary Hollywood Producer Peter Guber, author of the new book TELL TO WIN.  Guber has long relied on purposeful story telling to motivate, win over, shape, engage and sell. What began as knack for telling stories as an entertainment industry executive has, through years, evolved into a set of principles that anyone can use to achieve their goals. Peter Guber has served as Studio Chief at Columbia Pictures; Co-Chairman of Casablanca Records and Filmworks; CEO of Polygram Entertainment; Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment; and Chairman and CEO of his current venture, Mandalay Entertainment Group. Films he personally produced have earned over $3 billion worldwide and include the box office hits the Color Purple, Midnight Express, Batman and Flashdance.

SmallBizLady: What do most people misunderstand about “the hidden power of story?”

peter guberPeter Guber: It’s amazing how the most knowledgeable and experienced people fail to see how telling purposeful stories can activate a listener’s emotions and be a game changer.  Rather than simply deliver information as a stream of facts, it’s always more resonant to pour your facts into a narrative. A good story is much more memorable and actionable than can ever be achieved with a recitation of soulless facts and figures.

We’ve all been brought up telling and listening to stories. This is the way we’re wired. It’s in our DNA.  My intention is to shine the light on this hidden power so anyone can benefit from the potential bounty that a purposeful story, well told, can yield.

SmallBizLady: When you began exploring the concept for Tell to Win, what event triggered how you set forth on your career path?

Peter Guber: As I explored the concept of Tell to Win, I realized I was “told” into the entertainment business rather than “sold” into it.  I was on my way to completing an MBA at NYU having received a Juris Doctorate degree and Masters of Law degree when I was recruited by three organizations – a major consumer brand company, a lumber company and Columbia Pictures.  The recruiters at the lumber and consumer brand companies tried to “sell” me on their organizations by spouting facts, figures, and information.  The recruiter at Columbia Pictures asked me what I was interested in.  When I responded, “sports,” she invited me to a hockey game, putting me in a context she knew I’d enjoy.  Then she aimed at my heart, connecting to me not intellectually, but emotionally.  We talked about movies that moved me, stayed with me long after “the end” appeared, and affected me personally and professionally.  It wasn’t “the end.”  It was to become my beginning.   Within three years, I became studio chief.

SmallBizLady: How has purposeful story telling been central to your career?

Peter Guber: Both telling stories for entertainment (film, TV, miniseries, etc.) and telling purposeful stories to propel my business goals (buying and selling sports teams, new media companies, real estate ventures) have been “the secret sauce” behind my career success.  The seminal elements of what makes a story great are the same whether we’re talking about story content for a movie such as Rain Man, or story content used in the room, face to face to propel the success of a deal such as acquiring an NBA franchise, securing intellectual property rights to a great estate like Frank Sinatra, becoming CEO of a corporation like Sony Pictures Entertainment, or raising money for a university like UCLA.

SmallBizLady: What’s missing when we communicate solely with data, facts and figures?

Peter Guber:Very few people remember facts, figures and data.  Research on memory absolutely shows that you can remember details of things much more effectively when they are embedded in a story.  When you bond information with emotion, which is the catalyst in every story well told, the information is then experienced, ingested, emotionalized, and thus recalled and acted upon more effectively.  A purposeful story puts you in the emotional transportation business regardless of the industry or enterprise you’re in or the goal you have.  Purposeful stories are aimed at the heart or gut, where hits are born.

SmallBizLady: Why has the need for great storytelling increased?

Peter Guber: In today’s roller-coaster economy, hyper-competitive, fear-based, flat and global world, convincing anyone to do anything at any time requires getting their attention, creating their intention and turning it to action.  This means you have to render an experience.  And, telling purposeful stories in the room, face to face, cuts through the cacophony in both turbulent and triumphant times.

SmallBizLady: What are the essential elements of a purposeful story?

Peter Guber: Purposeful stories have a goal, a call to action that tellers want their listeners to do.  But, before tellers motivate their listeners, the teller, him or herself, must first be motivated.  This means he or she must be authentic and congruent.  The tellers’ story must not just be interesting, but demonstrate that the tellers are interested in what is interesting to their audience if they want to capture and retain their audience’s attention.  Purposeful story tellers must engage the listener(s) in a dialog.  Telling purposeful stories is interactive. It’s not a monolog.  Ultimately, purposeful tellers must surrender control of their stories, creating a gap for the listener(s) to willingly cross in order to take ownership.  Only when the listener(s) own the teller’s story and make it theirs, will they virally market it.

SmallBizLady: What did your research about telling stories uncover that most surprised you?

Peter Guber: As a guest professor with me at the graduate course at UCLA, titled Navigating a Narrative World, Marco Iacoboni, Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, provided one of the most surprising insights behind the power of telling a purposeful story.  Iacobani is a pioneer in the research of mirror neurons.  Mirror neurons allow us to read each other, both functionally and emotionally, as if both the teller and listener are entering and living each other’s experience.  They make it possible for the teller and listener to imitate, learn, and intuit each other’s goals through feelings of empathy and connection.  Iacobani explained that when one tells a purposeful story in the room, face to face, they evoke the mirror neuron system of their listener to feel what they are feeling in their tell and thus mirror the same intentions. A truly empathetic and powerful experience!

SmallBizLady: How can we better master the art of telling to win for maximum impact?

Peter Guber: Align your intention and attention and just start doing it!  Any one of the elements in Tell to Win is a catalyst for making a difference through your tell.  The more elements you employ, the more likely it is that your story will be your game-changer.  And remember, there are no bad side-effects, hidden costs or painful exercises to endure.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

SmallBizLady: How exactly can telling a purposeful story become a game-changer?

Peter Guber: The power in telling a purposeful story makes the purpose, the object of the story, emotional rather intellectual, and aspirational rather than inspirational.

SmallBizLady: What is it about telling your story in the room, face to face that is so much more effective than written text or digital story telling when it comes to persuasion?

Peter Guber: Nothing replaces being in the same room, face to face, breathing the same air and reading and feeling each other’s micro-expressions.  Michael Wesch, the Kansas State University cultural anthropologist, described at one of the narrative conclaves I hosted at my home that there are over 4,000 of these micro-expressions including pauses, eye contact, body language and gestures that we make in the room.  They’re subtle, but critical to creating empathy.  He explained that we subconsciously pick up on them when we’re in the room and both the mind and the heart recognize these signals.  Current technology isn’t yet fully successful in conveying or duplicating these signals.  This is why as Arianna Huffington said to our graduate MBA students, if there’s something incredibly important on which everything depends, you always want to be in the room, face to face.

SmallBizLady: What’s the simplest way we can start applying telling purposeful stories to our own lives right away?

Peter Guber: Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  You will tap into your inherent resource.  Be clear to yourself about what your intention is, that you want to be heard and felt and what you want as your goal, i.e., what you want your listener to do upon hearing and feeling your story.  Be sure to know what your audience is interested in rather than trying to be interesting, and set your content in a context that is important to them.  Let your authenticity and congruence shine through your story, turning “me to we,” in the process.  Embed the important facts and information inside your story while rendering an emotionally resonant experience.  Hits are born in the heart or gut and then migrate to the mind.  Aim there.  Only then will your listener(s) own your goal as theirs and act on it.

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Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is America’s #1 small business expert. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog Melinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works. Her latest ebook, How To Become a Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online was released in 2012.

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