Many people understand the value of stories when trying to make a point. However when they get into high stakes negotiations they revert back to old beliefs that say “facts will win the day” or “the more facts the more professional my case.”
Here is a true story that challenges those old beliefs.
I was hired by an auto maker to help a senior designer present his new design to the CEO for a final 57 million dollar decision. My client, Franz, was scared of the CEO and for good reason. The boss was called “the ripper” because he could gut a company faster than an angler could gut a bass. He also had a short attention span and was easily distracted during presentations. These rumors only heightened Franz’s anxiety.
Franz responded by adding more facts to his Power Point. Complicating all of this was that English was not Franz’s first language. I knew that if Franz was allowed to make this difficult to understand and lengthy presentation not only would his project get rejected but his career could be in jeopardy.
I challenged him to tell a story which would give meaning and context. I wanted to know what inspired his design. Where did he get his idea? Franz resisted and said it was not relevant. I kept coaxing him to reveal more than facts. Finally Franz coughed up his story.
He had flown all night to attend a meeting in London. He arrived early in the morning and rented a car. Franz was in meetings until 10:30 that evening. He was so exhausted he was having trouble finding his car. He couldn’t even remember what kind of car he had rented. The parking structure was old and poorly lit. Each dark corridor looked like all the others. Franz started wondering who might be waiting for him around the next corner.
To his relief he finally found his car and as he was driving back to the hotel he had an epiphany. What if he could just touch a button on his key chain and his car would be encircled with light. Not only could he instantly find his car but he would know that as he approached his vehicle, he would be safe.
I said that was a terrific story and what was his concern if he told it? Franz said it made him look weak and vulnerable. I replied that a great story is always bigger than itself because it points to deeper human themes. These themes can’t be replicated on spread sheets or power points.
A week later the CEO listened intently as Franz told his story. When Franz had finished his boss said “OK what else do you have for me?” Franz was puzzled and asked if his project was approved? “Oh my yes” said his boss.
Later Franz discovered that the CEO had felt that this idea could solve a big problem.
Women were buying less of the company’s cars. They felt that more vanity mirrors and cup holders were not addressing their core needs for quality and safety. The CEO knew that Franz’s idea was a powerful way to begin remedying these issues. His story worked in ways that no power point could. Powerful stories win the day by combining facts with emotions.