5 Steps to Transition from Story-Teller to Story-Seller

Denise Kaigler, Brand Elevation Strategist

“Marketing is telling a story about your values that resonates enough with people that they want to give you money.”

– Seth Golin

It is said that every individual has a story to tell. But do we each have a story to sell?  As someone who has experience in telling and selling stories, I say, “probably.” In this article, I outline 5-steps designed to help you transition from being a story-teller to a story-seller.

Step 1:  Write out optional themes

Me, Myself and I

It should come as no surprise that most people like talking about themselves and their journey. And audiences love listening to stories about the journey of others, as long as those stories are compelling.

  1. As you contemplate the transition from telling to selling, think about your journey and aspects of it that could captivate an audience. Once you’ve given some thought to your journey, write down a few themes.
  2. Next, write a headline for each theme. Even if the theme leans more towards sadness than happiness, the headline should be aspirational and inspirational. You want people to believe your story will leave them feeling uplifted, empowered and strong.
  3. Under each headline, outline several supportive messages that bring that headline to life. If you are unable to identify at least five compelling messages, your theme may not be strong enough to capture and hold someone’s undivided attention.  If that’s the case, move to the next theme.
  4. Consider leaving one key takeaway when you’re done telling your story. What will people listening to your story learn and what actions can they apply to their own lives?

Stories that have the most potential to generate revenue are stories that are emotional and relatable, and ones that inspire and motivate. In my book, Forty Dollars and a Brand: How to Overcome Challenges, Defy the Odds and Live Your Awesomeness, there are numerous mini-stories that chronicle the evolution of my personal brand from a shy introvert growing up poor in Washington, D.C., to an award-winning corporate executive, business owner, college professor, author, and mother of two.

Step 2:  Test your theme

Don’t believe your own hype

Far too often, we get caught up in believing the story we’re telling ourselves. From this moment forward, stop believing the hype.

  1. Make sure the story you’re planning to tell touches the hearts and souls of people other than your parents and kids. Spend more time in familiar environments such as schools, churches, hair salons or barber shops, and any other place where your target audience might gather. What stories are being told, and are they captivating the listeners?
  2. Test a snippet of your story. This can be planned and organized or unplanned and impromptu. Watch the reactions and take note. Perhaps ask a confidant, such as a friend or family member, to watch as well. Look for signs to determine the following:
  • Do the listeners want to hear more?
  • Are they focused and listening intently?
  • Do they ask questions afterwards?

You might want to test multiple themes and see which ones generate the most interest.  Most likely, there will be one theme that rises to the top.

Step 3:  Map your formula

Follow the road

Take the feedback you’re receiving during your trial runs. Some of it may be expected, but some of it may be surprising. Whether or not you agree with the comments is not necessarily relevant. All feedback is helpful feedback. Use it to your advantage.

  1. Analyze what’s working and what isn’t. Then map your formula:
  • How are you beginning and ending?
  • Is your story interactive?
  • Do you ask questions?
  • How are you dressing the part – casual or business?
  • Will you carry business cards?
  1. One fun element you might want to include is a giveaway. Consider producing an item that is engraved with an inspirational message from your story.
  2. If you have a book, you might also think about including a book signing in your formula. Signing copies of my book following a speaking engagement has become part of my formula. Most recently, I produced wristbands to give away during some of my speaking engagements. Each wristband is engraved with an actionable message that represents the core of my story. If you choose to distribute giveaways, be sure to qualify this perk with the words, “while supplies last.”
  3. Think about the vibe you want to create and the aura you want to spread. These details matter. They will become a key element of your brand.
  4. During the beginning of your storytelling journey, it’s a good idea to write out your script. You may, however, choose to only jot down a few bullet points. The key is to use whatever strategy makes you feel comfortable and doesn’t create any unnecessary anxiety.

Step 4: Be visible

You are a brand

Now that you’ve tested your theme and mapped your formula, it’s time to start seeking out opportunities to tell your story. Until you become known as a compelling storyteller, chances of selling your narrative are slim. Don’t shun the freebies.

  1. In the beginning, volunteer to share your journey to benefit others. Nonprofit events, student activities, church socials and other gatherings may be looking for stories just like yours, but may not have a budget. Let it be known that you exist and are eager to share.
  2. Make sure people have a way to find you. Grabbing your name domain and creating a simple web page is a great way to build your brand. It’s a relatively modest investment that could generate a nice return. I am a believer in people owning their signature URL. You may never use it but at least no one else can use it either.
  3. If you haven’t yet created your LinkedIn profile, now is a good time to do so. If you already have one, make sure to keep it updated.
  4. As you start telling your story, ask the event organizer if you can record your session. Some organizations will let you, some will not. So, it’s best to ask so you don’t create any avoidable issues. If you’re allowed to record your storytelling, you can either hire a professional videographer or find a friend who will record it for you. Sometimes, all you need is a smart phone and good lighting to make a decent video. Once you have the goods, upload photos and video (excerpts or full) on your social media platforms.
  5. If you have a Vimeo or YouTube account, consider uploading a full or partial recording of your storytelling. As you start marketing yourself for paid events, some interested parties may ask to see you in action.
  6. Depending on how much you want to invest, you may want to create promotional cards. These are 4×6 or 5×7 postcards with images on one side and information on the other. I use Vistaprint, but there are numerous services out there. Staples is another good option. Promo cards are a great way to market yourself as a storyteller.

Step 5: Register your availability

The world is your stage

Once you have a few volunteer storytelling events under your belt, take a look at your formula:

  • Is your story opening connecting?
  • How’s your close?
  • Are your giveaways being well received?
  • Is your attire working?

If you need to make any tweaks to your formula, now is the time.

After reviewing and finalizing your formula, creating a video sharing account and uploading videos, and creating other promotional marketing materials, it’s time to take your game to the next level. Research speakers’ bureaus and get ready to throw your hat in the ring.

Below are links to a few speakers’ bureaus. Some provide opportunities to attend pop-up events, usually for a small fee. Those events could provide you with a platform to meet other speakers, learn public speaking tips and review upcoming speaking opportunities.

Before signing up and paying the possible membership fee, do some comparison shopping. And be aware of the risks. I don’t believe any of the bureaus will guarantee your placement, but ask if they’ll at least guarantee your profile will be on its pitch list. Then check out the profiles of speakers who do get placed:

  • Are your backgrounds and experiences similar?
  • Do the bureaus have an ideal speaker profile?
    • Women?
    • Entrepreneurs?
    • Authors?
    • Specific ethnicity or nationality?
  • What kinds of events do they book for?
  • Do those events match your interests?

You’ve done your research and gathered the materials you’ll need to register as a speaker. You’re now on the path to transforming your story-telling into story-selling.  Go for it!

Do you have any public speaking tips?  Consider helping others by sharing them.