Leading Through the Power of Stories
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Episode 23 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, Episode 23 − Leading Through the Power of Stories.
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at www.businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks Chris. I’m Pam Harper, founding partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. And with me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. It is great to be here with you, as usual. I want to remind our listeners that the purpose of Growth Igniters Radio is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to the next level of success. So Pam, what’s our topic for today?
Pam Harper: Leading Through the Power of Story.
Scott Harper: Okay.
Pam Harper: This is one of the oldest powers there is, to inform, engage, and galvanize your stakeholders, right?
Scott Harper: Okay, yes.
Pam Harper: Well, our guest today is Jim Blasingame. He’s one of the world’s foremost experts on small business and entrepreneurship. And I should say, an expert on storytelling, as well.
Scott Harper: Yes.
Pam Harper: He’s the creator and host of the weekday radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, which has been on the air since 1997. I appear as a guest on there every once in a while − I have that honor. In Jim’s award winning book, The Age of the Customer, Prepare for the Moment of Relevance, he devotes an entire chapter to the Power of Storytelling in Business. It seems like a good time to bring him back. He was, as you recall, our guest in Episode 2, talking about the Age of the Customer. Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio, Jim.
Jim Blasingame: Hey folks. How you doing?
Pam Harper: We are doing great. It’s been a long time already, since you first joined us.
Jim Blasingame: I know. I’ve missed you. Where have you been?
Pam Harper: Well, weekly episodes of Growth Igniters Radio, I would say.
Jim Blasingame: Right. Well you’ve been doing a great job. I’m proud of you guys.
Scott Harper: Thank you very much, Jim.
Jim Blasingame: For what you’ve been doing for your audience and for all the folks who you’re helping. I must say that you’re a perfect example of people who have taken storytelling to the next level.
Scott Harper: Thank you.
Pam Harper: That is high praise.
Scott Harper: Through our guests, as well.
Pam Harper: That’s right. It’s a shared experience. So let’s get to it.
Now, in thinking about stories, you’ve said, that in spite of, or perhaps, even because of all the high tech ways that we now have to send and receive information, that storytelling is more powerful than ever, as a means of connecting with and influencing people. Why do you think that it is that way?
Jim Blasingame: Let’s go back a hundred thousand years and bring it forward. All of the things that you and I know about history − the early stuff − we got from storytelling, right?
Pam Harper: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim Blasingame: Before people could write, they were talking, they were writing. They were putting images on the walls − petroglyphs and all those things. They were storytelling. Storytelling − the Bible right? How much of the Bible was recorded centuries later from the stories? So many things like that. Storytelling is primal; it is as original as the way human beings work together and think together and live together.
Pam Harper: I was going to say, one of the things that I find interesting is that there’s a renewed interest in storytelling. I wondered, since you’ve said it’s such an ancient kind of thing, which of course it is, why do you think it’s getting so much renewed attention right now?
Scott Harper: Especially for executives?
Jim Blasingame: The point I’m making, is that it’s never stopped being important. I don’t think it’s ever gone away, just like trust. Trust has never stopped being important in the marketplace. I do think that other things replaced it. For example, we’ve gone through a century where we allowed other people to tell our story. The stories that we, as business owners, as executives − we’ve allowed other people to tell our stories. Marketing firms and our marketing departments, and our ad agencies − we’ve allowed them to tell our stories. One of the things I want to remind you about was a prophecy that I’ve been quoting for thirty-five years.
Something from John Naisbitt’s book, Megatrends − this is classic, and many people know about this. In the early 1980’s he said, “The more high tech we have, the more high touch we will want.” That was a prediction that’s become a prophecy.
It’s true − the more high tech there is, the more people not only are increasingly having the desire to hear about the humanity of the people they’re doing business with, but we also now have the technology to produce, publish, and distribute those stories in multi-media ways. I think it’s the perfect storm for storytelling right now. People are gravitating more towards the humanity part of relationships in business, of which storytelling is one of the main components. And the ability, the technological ability, to produce, publish, and distribute stories has been democratized all the way down to the last mile of Main Street. That’s good news for any small business, any medium size business in the marketplace.
Scott Harper: When we are thinking about ourselves as leaders − leaders of companies, talking not only to our customers, but also to all of our other stakeholders, our employees, our directors, the market and so on − what I hear you saying, Jim, is that in addition to just sending out information, which is dry and sterile, there’s this renewed interest in creating a more personal, emotional connection.
Jim Blasingame: What’s human about information? What’s authentic about information? More and more people want to hear the voice. They want to hear the humanity in messages. They want to hear the voice in messages.
If I go to a website and I’m looking for a company to help me with a particular thing, and I go to the website and I see a note from the owner, or I see a forty-five second, ninety second video from the owner saying, “Here’s why I’m in business and here’s what we stand for,” those are real things. This is what the premises of my book is − that long before people know whether you’re the cheapest or the most expensive, long before they know whether you even have exactly what they want, they’re evaluating you and your business based on − as you know, Pam, as I’ve said many times − based on whether you’re relevant to them. And a huge relevance factor is the humanity that you demonstrate. One of the ways you demonstrate that humanity is through storytelling.
Pam Harper: It’s also really a means of establishing trust, too, isn’t it …?
Jim Blasingame: There’s no question.
Pam Harper: When I can look somebody in the eyes, or I can hear them − hear their voice, even if I can’t look them in the eyes − I have a better feeling, like you’re saying, as to whether that person or that company is relevant to me, for sure. I agree with you.
Jim Blasingame: If you’re an executive, Scott, and you have a message for your team, for your stakeholders, or for your customers, I don’t have a problem if you write down that message in your words, in your voice, and you narrate those words in a video, or if you write it and you cluck over it, and you worry about it, and you put it into a blog post, or whatever it might be, or an article, I don’t mind that, as long as it’s your words. What I think is unauthentic, and is not storytelling, is when somebody writes it for you, because can’t you pick that out in a heartbeat, whether it’s authentic or not? Authenticity is relevance.
Scott Harper: Makes a lot of sense.
Pam Harper: The humanity… just to sum up, so far what I’m hearing − is that the more high tech we are, the more human we need to be.
Jim Blasingame: Right.
Pam Harper: Storytelling is that way to establish that …
Scott Harper: And connect, yeah…
Pam Harper: … And connect.
With that, we’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to speak more with Jim Blasingame, the small business advocate, about the power of storytelling, as a leadership asset. Stay with us…
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio, with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. We’re talking with Jim Blasingame, the small business advocate, and author of the award winning book, The Age of the Customer, Prepare for the Moment of Relevance. We’re talking today about leading through the power of stories, which is Chapter 18 in his book that I just mentioned. Jim, how can people find your book and the radio show?
Jim Blasingame: Thank you, Pam, for that. Again, I want to congratulate you guys on the great job you’re doing. I’m really proud, I’ve seen you guys blossom from an idea in your head to now multiple episodes of Growth Igniters. I just have to say, how proud I am of you for all the good work that you’re doing.
My book is available at Amazon.com, and wherever books are sold. Amazon is a great way to get it. You can to http://ageofthecustomer.com and can get an autographed copy from me if you want. We’ve got some special offers there. You can read more about the book; two or three videos on The Age of the Customer that I’ve done; my stories − me telling stories about my book. Those are good places to go. Of course, the radio show is on the radio, but also on the internet. We’re worldwide on the internet live, and podcasted at www.smallbusinessadvocate.com.
Pam Harper: Every day; every week day. All of the offers that you have going with your book are tremendous. We’ll have links under the resources section on the episode page.
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: People will be able to get to some of this.
Let’s go back to talking about storytelling. So far, we’ve been talking about this need − the more high tech you are, the more human you need to be. Storytelling is human, for sure. Let’s talk more about why storytelling is a powerful asset for leaders of all kinds. You have, in your book, four principles of storytelling that leaders can employ to increase the power of your communication. Can you talk to us a little more about that?
Jim Blasingame: Yeah, Pam. I call it the four C’s of storytelling. The first C is to connect with the prospects, customers − Suspects, prospects, customers, whoever you’re trying to reach − on an emotional level with a story.
Pam, Scott, we all know that in the 21st century, in 2015, there’s almost nothing that you sell that somebody can’t buy from a hundred places on the ground and a thousand places online.
Scott Harper: That’s true.
Jim Blasingame: Our products are more and more commodities. Why do people buy from us? It’s because of an emotional connection that I think people make and they’re looking for that. I think they’re increasingly looking for that. At least, that’s the first point of contact − “How do I feel about this company, these people?” If you can tell a story, I think you have a great advantage in connecting with them on an emotional level, because then they hear your voice in the article you wrote, or they hear your voice in the video you did, or maybe the podcast that you did. Maybe it’s just a short audio; it has to connect for them.
Scott Harper: Even beyond communicating with our customers − if we’re thinking about it from a leadership standpoint − that connection is really important in engaging and influencing, and getting people to understand what we’re thinking and why we’re thinking it, and why we want people to do what we want them to do.
Jim Blasingame: The thing is Scott, I believe the message that you want to give in your story is not about how to buy my products, but how to use my products. How to be safe with them. How your company is engaged in the community. Your commitment to your employees, whatever that might be, those are leadership. Leadership doesn’t mean that you take them into battle − it doesn’t have to mean that. It could just be a demonstration of your values. I think demonstrating values is an example of putting your leadership out there and putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak.
Pam Harper: That’s a great idea.
Jim Blasingame: I think telling stories about your commitment and your values, I think that’s a way of conveying leadership.
Pam Harper: That’s your culture, right?
Jim Blasingame: Yes, that’s exactly right.
Pam Harper: In fact, storytelling is one of the ways in which culture is conveyed and passed on.
Jim Blasingame: There’s no question about it. See, people want certain things from different companies. If you go to a big company, you don’t expect a whole lot of humanity. Not to minimize the people who work there, but you go there for a different reason. If you go to a smaller company − small, medium sized company − part of what you expect to get there is some humanity. I think you miss that opportunity if you don’t tell stories.
The second “C” word is convey. It’s convey your expertise, your humanity, values, and talk about that − but the expertise is another thing. That’s an important thing − to convey your expertise. If I ran a company that produced something or sold something that people use, I’d want them to be able to read or hear me − or maybe one of my best people, one of my key people − talking about how to use this effectively, see what I mean?
Those are all stories. You convey that to people. Again, I’m going to come back to what I said − the story is primal; the technology is new. Use the old and the new together, this is the beauty. Since small business owners and smaller companies, not just the big guy, have the ability to do this, we can all play on that field, just like … In fact, in my opinion, we can do it better than the big companies, because we have the ability to put more humanity into it.
Pam Harper: You’re saying that the story really levels the playing field.
Jim Blasingame: The story does, and the new technology − the democratized technology − gives us the lever that we didn’t have thirty years ago. You guys are too young to remember thirty years ago, but I remember it.
Pam Harper: Let’s move on to the third C. I would like to hear that one.
Jim Blasingame: Creating memory. All right, if I go to your website, if I see something that sounded like it came from you or from your people, then that’s going to resonate with me. Remember what I said about authenticity − when you hear somebody telling their story, is it authentic, or does it sound like they’re narrating somebody else’s words? I just think that you create a memory with a story that’s authentic; that means it has to come from you. Believe it or not, people remember those stories. They remember authentic stories.
Pam Harper: In other words, Jim, the fact that you’re talking about how you feel about these C’s − the principles − and that this is your voice talking, is that an example of that?
Jim Blasingame: Yeah, that’s right. If somebody’s trying to consider whether they like my ideas or not, they’re hearing me talk about my conviction that … You may not agree with me, but I don’t think you’d ever deny that I act like I believe what I’m saying.
Pam Harper: There’s the authenticity.
Jim Blasingame: It’s not scripted, it’s coming out of me, so it’s a story. Here’s the problem though folks − we’ve had a hundred years of Madison Avenue crafting our messages for us, right? As consumers, we allowed ourselves to be manipulated by those messages. Nothing wrong with that; it made the world go round. What I’m saying is, in the 21st century, in the age of the customer, more and more people are gravitating away from that and more towards authenticity. Let me give you a statistic that goes with it. Most of us know, I think, that people today are seventy percent more likely to believe what a peer says about a product than they do the marketing myth.
Pam Harper: That’s an example, again, of that memorable experience.
Jim Blasingame: That’s right.
Pam Harper: People out there are going to listen, and they’re going to say, “Oh, yes. Jim Blasingame, just gave this amazing statistic.”
Scott Harper: Yeah.
Jim Blasingame: I believe that an authentic story from the company, even though that’s not the same thing as a peer, gives you another view of the product. I think an authentic message from the company, or somebody in the company, whether it’s the owner or not, I think that is tantamount to a message from a peer.
Pam Harper: Jim, there’s a fourth C in there, right? I think we’ve only done three.
Jim Blasingame: Yeah, it’s simple, convert prospects into customers with stories. I started out in Sales; I’ve been in Sales all my life. I’m always trying to convert prospects into customers and ring the cash register. That’s the thing that I try to attempt to help small business owners do, help my audience focus on − “What can we do to ring the cash register?” Your story should help you convert people, but not in a call to action way. In a way of drawing people closer to you, so you get through that relevance firewall. You get through the relevance firewall with a story, and then you can talk to them about doing business with you.
Pam Harper: Jim, it sounds like what you’re talking about is almost a magnetic field, in the way that you’re talking about it. You’re converting them …
Jim Blasingame: That’s right.
Pam Harper: … To being open to them talking about what it is that you would like to see happen.
Jim Blasingame: I don’t think closing people to do business with you has changed much in a hundred years. I do think the prospecting part of getting people to let you tell them about your product − I think that part has changed. I think people have put up a firewall, and I think the way to get through that firewall is with relevance, not with being competitive. Competitive comes later. Part of that relevance is storytelling.
Pam Harper: That’s a really good place for us to take a break right now. When we come back, we will talk more with Jim Blasingame, the small business advocate, about leading through the power of stories. Stay with us…
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio, with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re talking today with Jim Blasingame, the small business advocate, and author of the award winning book, The Age of the Customer, Prepare for the Moment of Relevance. Jim, how can people find your book and radio show?
Jim Blasingame: Thank you Pam. www.Smallbusinessadvocate.com is where you find all the things we do on our website or on the show, and from my writing, and to feature our brain trust members, like you Pam. You’ve got a great suite there, a body of work, you and I’ve done over the years on that.
Pam Harper: Yes.
Jim Blasingame: Then, also, for the book, it’s available wherever books are sold. Amazon of course, and then, of course, on the book website, which is www.ageofthecustomer.com. It’s available in hardback or e-version.
Pam Harper: It’s a very thought provoking book. Thanks Jim.
Jim Blasingame: Thank you.
Pam Harper: Now, let’s get a little more practical, even. We’ve talked about the importance of the human and technology aspects of leading through stories. We’ve talked about the four C’s. What are three things that leaders can start doing, right now, to increase the power and magnetism of their storytelling? We want to take them one at a time.
Jim Blasingame: I think the first thing is just to believe that you have a story to tell − and you do. Don’t argue with me, you do. To believe that, and to believe that somebody wants to hear it, and that it’s worth hearing. I think the first thing is you just have to believe it. Believe it or not, a lot of people have a hard time with this. Again, I’m going to come back to what I said before − they’ve hired people to tell their message for so long, that they are uncomfortable sometimes with telling their story.
Pam Harper: It seems like they feel like they’re bragging or boasting, or whatever it is.
Jim Blasingame: It could be that way, or they’re self-conscious; they don’t think that they’re good at it. Look, guys you know that people would rather pick up a snake or a spider than do public speaking. It’s been proven for years − the fear of public speaking is the strongest phobia in the world.
Scott Harper: They say that people would rather be in the coffin at the funeral than to give the eulogy, right?
Jim Blasingame: That’s exactly right. I’m telling people, “You got to get over that, and there’s no excuse, because I’m not going to give you any quarter, I’m not going to let you off the hook at all. There’s no excuse for not becoming a storyteller, because if you’ve been around the block at least one time, you’ve got stories to tell and you have the ability to … What I’m going to say, Pam and Scott, is if you don’t become a storyteller you will become uncompetitive.
Pam Harper: Right.
Jim Blasingame: You’ll become irrelevant and ultimately uncompetitive.
Pam Harper: That’s pretty profound. We all have to get our stories together and be clear about …
Jim Blasingame: Tough love, Pam.
Pam Harper: … And to also be very clear about what those stories are that are most important to convey.
Jim Blasingame: Right.
Pam Harper: Because there are so many, when you stop and think about it. What we’ve seen is, that we have a lot of stories. Some of them are more relevant to our clients and our prospects than others.
Scott Harper: What particular point we want to make.
Pam Harper: Right. It’s almost like you have to have a library of key stories that you want to take and convey out there. Would you say that’s right?
Jim Blasingame: Yes, absolutely. Another thing I want to point out though, is that I don’t care how you deliver your story. If you’d like to do it in a blog, if you’d like to do it in an article, if you want to do it in an audio, you just want to record some ideas, and even record them and have somebody transcribe them, if you want to do it in a video, I really don’t care the medium you use, because some people might be … I know that sometimes people would rather write what they think, and they’d better say it, or vice versa. I don’t care how you do it, as long as you get the story out.
Again, I’m going to come back to the technology. We have the technology now that will allow you to get that message out any way you wanted to. Even ten years ago we didn’t have the video capability, it was hard to get an audio message out, but now, you got multi-media options, get the story out.
Pam Harper: It’s interesting though, going back − the more personal that the medium is, the more I’ve seen people engage. For example, a CEO in one of the companies that we worked with, was very big on getting up in front of all the employees. It was a mid sized company, there were probably a few hundred employees in the company, and they were relatively local. Then, there were some that were out of that area and they could connec…
Scott Harper: By video, yeah.
Pam Harper: … By video, right. This CEO would tell stories about why his values were so important, and those same stories could be converted to what they would tell customers and prospects …
Jim Blasingame: Absolutely.
Pam Harper: … And some of their partners. It was the same story but maybe worded a little differently. Is that what you said?
Scott Harper: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And in different media.
Pam Harper: Right, and in different media. Is that what you’re saying?
Jim Blasingame: Yeah. You guys transcribe your interviews, don’t you?
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: Yes.
Pam Harper: This is going to be transcribed.
Jim Blasingame: That’s a different way of telling the story. You could pull out some of the pieces of what we’re saying and it could become a story. Any little piece of this can become a story.
I have a broad brush when I talk about what a story is. Some people are maybe a little tighter than I am. That’s one thing I’m doing with my tough love, is I’m giving them a broad brush to decide what a story is.
Pam Harper: Okay, Jim − what is the “broad brush” definition of a story? We should make sure that we have that in here.
Jim Blasingame: I just mean that, some people will say that a story has to have a beginning, and a middle, and a moral, but that’s old news as far as I’m concerned. A story is when you can convey an idea, or an event, or something that’s relevant to the audience. You can explain what you did in your life, something that happened in your life, or whatever it may be, or your idea about something, and you just tell them what you think, and you come to a conclusion. I do think that you need to come to a conclusion, but that could happen in a hundred and twenty-five words.
Scott Harper: It’s relevant, it’s emotional, it’s authentic, it engages, and it has a conclusion, is that it?
Jim Blasingame: Yeah, I don’t want to get … You can get hung up on the emotion. The telling of the story, in your voice, the humanity that you instill and infuse into that story will create the emotion.
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: Okay. Is there another final point that you would want to make about leading through the power of stories?
Jim Blasingame: Well, as I said, just believe that you have the stories, and do it. Just tell them, get started, do it informally, just believe in yourself − but also you just have to believe that it’s important. How many times have we all just needed a discipline, that we didn’t really want to do, we didn’t want to study for it, we didn’t want to focus on it, but we did it because we knew we had to. It was part of a college curriculum or whatever it may be. I’m saying that if you’re not comfortable with telling stories, you need to work on that. I believe one of the important jobs of a CEO of a small or mid-sized business is to become the storyteller in chief.
Pam Harper: The storyteller in chief. That is very, very important.
Jim, thank you so much for being our guest today. We’ll have to have you come back to talk more about publishing all of those stories. I know that’s a chapter all by itself.
Jim Blasingame: I love to be with you guys.
Scott Harper: Thanks Jim.
Pam Harper: Excellent.
Jim Blasingame: Thank you for having me.
Scott Harper: Okay, well. Thanks for listening to Growth Igniters Radio, with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, including points from Jim’s book, to share on social media or open a conversation with us, go to www.GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and select Episode 23.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with these questions to discuss with your team:
Scott Harper: What are the most important stories that we have about our company? How can we adapt to them to be more relevant to our customers, employees, and other stakeholders?