09/19/2013 12:08 EDT | Updated 11/19/2013 05:12 EST

Using Storytelling to Sell Your Business

Much is written these days about storytelling as a way to make yourself or your business stand out, and it is a strategy that I strongly recommend. Yet recently I have witnessed ways how, as a speaker, it can backfire on you and instead of winning over your audience, can alienate the people listening to your talk. How?

As a society, women in particular, are not comfortable with "tooting our own horn" and so when someone appears to be bragging about their achievements, it is not always well received and those listening are skeptical and frankly, dismissive and annoyed by what that person has to say. This is too bad.

From my take, the speaker's intention is often much more altruistic and it is more that they are using their stories as a way to empower others to follow their example. In other words, they are sharing, not to brag about what they have achieved but more to illustrate how their actions have worked for them, and could for you too.

It's too bad their motives are misinterpreted, because when we take this cynical attitude, we close off our receptiveness to learn and grow. Perhaps part of it depends on the self-esteem of the individual listening, and their comfort at what they have been doing, or more to the point, not doing.

So how can we change this reaction? Part of it is timing. To list all that you have achieved or what you have done, may not be a helpful strategy as it does lay you open to criticism. Whereas if the illustrations are spaced out, with stories to showcase each point, followed by tips on how people can achieve the same results, then the audience may be less inclined to form a poor opinion of the speaker and be more receptive to the ideas put forward.

Part of it, I think, is when the focus is on the speaker and her achievements, without any learning opportunities intertwined with the observations, people assume, rightly or wrongly, that the speaker is somewhat self-absorbed and the talk is all about him or her.

Yet showcasing what works is such an effective way to convey best practices. I guess it is all a fine line, and perhaps, as speakers, we have to ask ourselves about our motives in giving a talk in the first place. Are we doing this to project ourselves as experts and leaders, or are we more interested in helping others learn and be their best? Likely, the answer is both, because ego always has a way of sneaking in and perhaps that is what has to be dropped from this equation.

As someone who has heard and used hundreds of speakers over the years, and is just starting out as a speaker myself, I am a keen observer on what works, and what doesn't. Of course the other piece to remember is that you can never please everyone. So often I would look at evaluation forms after an event, and question whether these people had been at the same event, as some would highly rate the speaker, while others felt she shouldn't give up her day job.

At the end of the day, I believe as a speaker you need to know your audience, learn what will work for them, and then deliver. Forget about yourself and focus your energies on helping your audience learn, grow and yes, laugh, from what you have to say. When that happens, it is pure joy and you've done your job well.

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