Need to get better at ‘selling your ideas’? Use this storytelling technique

There’s a reason why Hollywood is a multi-billion dollar business.

A few years ago, I wrote this article about storytelling on KISSmetrics, teaching marketers how to use their story to deeply connect with their customers.

Why do you think a marketing and analytics company like KISSmetrics would be interested in THAT?

Because while companies use analytics to make a ton of decisions, particularly about marketing (myself included), what needs to happen before you start analyzing the data?

You need to have content to be analyzed!

Copy for people to read! Blog posts to peruse! An IDEA you need to sell!

And if you plan on influencing people with your ideas, whether you have a business or you’re an executive, you 100% need to know how to tell great stories.

Look at it this way:

One of my heroes, Walt Disney, created one of the most visionary companies in the world on the premise that it ‘creates happiness’.

And how does Disney create happiness?

It all started with a dream…and mouse, as Walt says.


Which turned into a comic strip…


Which turned into cartoons…


Which turned into Snow White…


And then Bambi, Dumbo, Hercules, The Little Mermaid–you name it!–that became the North Stars of our childhood (mine, at least).

Hit after hit after hit. A story formula so good, that it’s the basis of what Oscar-winning movies use today to captivate and engage audiences…which is what I happen to be very good at doing.


Did I really spend 150K learning how to be a great storyteller?

I did–I went to Northwestern and studied film and screenwriting. I made films. I wrote them. I studied them. I analyzed them. I won awards. And I fell asleep in class. There it is–the cold hard truth. (Fun sidenote: I made an animated film about a mosquito that falls in love that won an award. I am not kidding. I still have the DVD.)

But why in the world did I do that?

Let me paint an interesting picture for you:

When I was a little girl, I used to set up a ‘movie theatre’ in my living room. I’d lay out a blanket, put all of my stuffed animals on it, and watch films like The Parent Trap, Merlin, and Beauty and The Beast (The Enchanted Christmas, mind you), over and over and over again.

And even as I got older, my relationship with my grandfather was tied by our weekly trips to Blockbuster where I’d get movie after movie and just tingle at the excitement of holing up in my room with a girlfriend, gobbling down Carvel cake batter ice cream, and watching movies until 3 in the morning.

But why did I love it so much?

Not to sound like I’m straight out of a Harry Potter book, but I really, truly believe in the magic in the world. And when I say magic, I mean finding the beauty in the smallest details. Finding the magic in the mundane. Taking ‘average’ and turning it into ‘spectacular’.

Movies and stories were hope to  me–they showed me what was possible–no matter how ridiculous, dumb, or off-the-wall some of them are. And more importantly, no matter where I was at that time in my life. Movies (even great TV shows) were my escape–and they are for most other people, too.

Let me give you another example:

I was once on a flight back to San Francisco, and decided to pop in the old credit card for a movie. Poison of choice: The Fault in Our Stars.

What ended up happening?

Oh, just crying for the entire 2 hours and rubbing my tears away with my oversized sweater.

Do I fall for movie ideals and fantasies?

OF COURSE I DO. Welcome to real life.

But just like movies have the power to move us…YOU have the power to do the exact same with your stories so people light up like Christmas trees when they hear your ideas

Again, this is why no one sits around and thinks: “Ugh, I wish movies didn’t exist”.

But the question is: HOW do you use a great story to ‘sell’ your ideas? To get people to ‘buy-in’, and take action?

Let me introduce to you the ‘Rock Bottom Strategy’.

See, most people make the ‘Once upon a time’ mistake. They start a story by talking about every little detail–from the time they woke up, to what kind of cereal they were debating to eat, to how many emails they got.

I got bored just writing that sentence!

Here’s what’s better:

“It was the day after New Years Eve, and I was sitting on the floor in my room, devastated. I finally realized I had hit rock bottom and I had no idea what to do.”


Because now what kind of thoughts do you have?

Why was she devastated?
Why had she hit rock bottom?

Ironically, that ‘rock bottom’ I had is exactly what I mean by the ‘Rock Bottom Strategy’. You start your story with the moment you were the lowest of the low, experiencing the MOST pain.

Like these:

“I looked at my to-do list for the fiftieth time that day and I felt like I was on the brink of a small heart attack. Something had to change, so here’s what I did to stop feeling like everyone else controlled my time except for me.” (A great opening if you want to help someone manage their time better if they feel controlled by their to-do list)

“I was at my best friend’s wedding and I realized that I had been single for 5 years. I felt like such a failure. I needed to find a way to get over my fears and learn to date–for real this time. So here’s what I did…” (A great way to transition into sharing dating advice without making anyone feel bad)

“I was looking at our spreadsheets and I saw for the first time our numbers were a mess. I knew that if we’re going to be a profitable company, we have to find a better way of doing our books. Which is exactly why for the past 3 months I’ve been using this new system I came up with that I want to show you, which will help us save hundreds of hours every month and improve our bottom line.” (A great segue into talking about a new accounting process  you want to implement)

So what makes this work?

When you pull people into these ‘rock bottom’ moments, it grabs their attention. And not only that, it’s not demanding that people change right away. Your story is a way of leading them to the best SOLUTION…one that has THEIR best interests at heart.

Now, how can you use your own ‘rock bottom’ story in order to persuade someone to agree with your idea? Go right for the jugular by starting with your most ‘painful’ moment and find a way to make it about THEM. Leave a comment below and tell me what ‘rock bottom’ story you’re going to use. I’ll help you make it even more persuasive.

Talk soon!


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