The Power of Your Story

Every successful company has a story of how it was founded. Does yours?

For Under Armour, Inc., it was how Kevin Plank, a former fullback at the University of Maryland, grew tired of having to change his under shirts several times during practice. Noticing that his shorts always remained dry, he used a similar material to create moisture-wisking synthetic fabric shirts in his grandmother’s basement.

Unable to afford a Christmas gift for his mother, sixteen-year-old made a scented candle out of melted old crayons. The candle caught the attention of friends and soon he was selling his creations in stores and the Yankee Candle Co. was born.

Former MIT student Drew Houston became frustrated by constantly forgetting his USB drive on trips to school. This annoyance led him to envisioning a cloud-based file sharing service that became Dropbox.

How about your company? Do you have a well-developed story that is told and retold to prospects? If you do, could it be better? If you don’t, you’ll find this message very helpful.

By sharing your company’s humble beginnings and explaining how it first helped clients solve their challenges, you humanize your business and build emotional bonds with prospects. In the crowded marketplaces in which we operate, a powerfully created and told story is an important differentiator.

Proudly display your story on your company website and tell your story whenever prospects ask. Before too long you’ll hear your clients telling your story to referrals. The magic happens when you read about your story on-line and in printed media.

If you haven’t created your story or have one that needs improvement, use Freytag’s Pyramid for dramatic structure.

Let’s look at my story to illustrate dramatic structure.

Exposition (setting the stage): When I was an officer candidate in the U.S. Army, I attended the Instructor Training Course, a six-week course for soon to be instructors at the Engineer School at Ft. Belvoir, VA. I enjoyed learning how to give presentations and instructing officers and enlisted personnel how to teach engineering courses.

After I graduated from OCS, I was given the opportunity to teach the course to Army personnel. This was as close to a dream job in the Army as you could get. After a year, I received orders to report to a unit in DaNang, Vietnam (aka Rocket City). As a 25 year-old First Lieutenant, I was the Executive Officer (second in command) of a 550 person unit.

Rising Action (a series of events that build toward the point of greatest interest): After three years and four months and earning a Bronze Star, I completed my military obligation and began looking for a job. I didn’t see a future in presentation training and decided instead to make my millions as a stockbroker.

After several years I became a top producer primarily by conducting seminars, publishing a newsletter and hosting a radio and television show. In spite of my success as a stockbroker, I came to realize that it was the speaking part that excited me. I began exploring starting a presentation training business and worked with a small speech training company in the evenings.

Climax (the turning point):  Then came October 19, 1987, Black Monday, when the DJIA dropped 508 points for a 22.6% loss. The impact of that day on my clients and my business was painful and life changing. Although I had participated in many of the market’s wild swings over the years, I decided that this was the signal for me to pursue my love of speaking. I proceeded to sell my book of business to a former business partner and created a presentation skills course. After testing my plan with my closest friends over the next year, I held a reception on November 17, 1988 to announce the founding of Pygmalion.

Falling Action (the conflicts unravel): I set up my office in my small second bedroom overlooking a noisy grade school playground and began selling my training program. The first group had 12 students, 11 of whom were personal friends. My business grew largely through referrals and speaking to large groups of prospects. Despite 50-60 hour work weeks, my income never approached my days as a stockbroker and I frequently wondered if I had made the right choice.

The Dénouement [dāno͞oˈmäN] (conflicts are resolved creating a release of tension and anxiety): After four years, I had generated consistent year-over-year revenues and was able to hire another trainer and an assistant. Today my team of talented coaches and I have delivered our six training programs to more 100 organizations and 1,000 individuals in the U.S. and abroad. As the result of writing The Power of the Pitch: Transform Yourself into a Persuasive Presenter and Win More Business, I have delivered keynote speeches to audiences from 100 to 1,000. I love helping people overcome their fears of public speaking and develop new skills to persuade and win business.

There you have it. That’s my story and I tell it all the time.

How about you? What’s your story? Does it have dramatic structure? If you’d like to test it out, email it to me and I’ll gladly give you suggestions on how to make it better.

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