Tell Stories That Open Hearts, Change Minds, and Sell Big Ideas that Change the World
"Today, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you also have to be a storyteller." — Richard Branson, The Virgin Group
When you encounter pushback in business—whether it’s from investors who doubt the viability of your venture, customers who reject your sales proposal, or high-value employees who leave the company—the enemy is not those people, per se; it's their dispositions. It's their mindset, beliefs, and emotions that are waging a powerful resistance against your pitch.
So, how can you break through?
Two words: strategy and storytelling.
That is...to know what to say (strategy) and how to say it (storytelling) for maximum impact.
It's that simple ... and that hard. I know from experience.
My name is Sean Lyden, and it took a long and winding road in my career before I finally discovered (and embraced) this secret: storytelling is our "superpower" to achieve entrepreneurial success.
I've seen this superpower at work in my own business—and now I'm seeing it transform my clients' organizations. It can work for you, too.
Here's my story ...
After graduating from college and a one-year stint as a high school English teacher, I embarked on my own as a full-time freelance business journalist in 1997.
My first year as a freelancer, I wrote and sold over 50 magazine articles and eventually landed a monthly column in Entrepreneur magazine called "Guts," where I wrote stories about amazing young entrepreneurs who battled and triumphed over doubt, insecurity, self-sabotage, and other "inner obstacles" to build successful multimillion-dollar companies.
During this time, I also landed corporate gigs as a ghostwriter and collaborator for CEOs, helping them put together compelling articles, books, and speeches to enhance their credibility and position them as sought-after thought leaders.
Then, in early 1999, as the first "dot-com" fever was really heating up, I founded an internet company along with two other partners that raised a few hundred thousand dollars in angel investment and equivalent value in professional services. Not bad for only three people and an idea!
But as a naive 20-something CEO, I also made several strategic and communication blunders that created an uphill battle for our success—which I shared in a story for Entrepreneur magazine at the time, "7 Investor Presentation Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them."
Yet, despite the progress we were making, our startup couldn't survive the dot-com market crash of 2001, as the pool of venture capital dried up, and I stepped down as CEO.
IN THE WILDERNESS
During that 18-month struggle with the startup, I gained valuable, in-the-trenches experience with the power of storytelling, as I honed our messaging and my communication style to successfully raise capital, recruit board members, and build our team. But now, I needed to figure out what I was going to do next to feed my family.
So, to buy some time while I licked my wounds, I took a job as a car salesman.
That was July 2002, and it was only going to be a short-term gig. But it ended up becoming a major turning point in my career.
I struggled my first few months but then started getting the hang of the car sales thing. What I loved most about it was the instant feedback loop. If I said something stupid that turned away a customer, I'd figure out what I did wrong, and about 10 to 15 minutes later, I would have another opportunity to test what I learned. This fast-paced learning environment was like a "sales and storytelling lab" where I could experiment to determine what type of messaging works...and what doesn't.
My second year in the business, I moved to the commercial truck sales division, after I wrote a proposal to our general manager. My pitch went something like this:
"Hey, I appreciate that you invest a lot of money in advertising to drive customers to our dealership, but what if someone like me could bring the dealership out to customers -- business owners, executives, and fleet managers who really don't have time to spend at a dealership? This would give us a competitive advantage and position us to tap into new high-volume fleet sales opportunities that we might be missing right now."
SUCCESS AND SETBACK
The pitch worked. And by the end of the next year, I was ranked among the top sales reps in the nation in GM medium-duty truck sales. It seemed like I finally found my niche.
But then, a few years later, came The Great Recession of 2008, and my "success story" took a dramatic turn. When I called on customers, they weren't interested in buying new trucks—they were trying to sell me their trucks because they needed to offload vehicles to weather the storm. And my most profitable product line, GM's medium-duty trucks, was being phased out by the automaker that year.
Back to square one.
With little to lose, as the market seemed to be crashing around me, I left the dealership, taking the experience I gained from the automotive industry and returned to my roots as a journalist, writing magazine articles as a full-time freelancer for various transportation and fleet industry publications.
And years later, here's where I stand today.
When it comes to storytelling, I am a practitioner...a journalist who writes about the future of transportation and its impact on business and society.
And much of my work has been to tackle complex technical subjects and make them more compelling to wider audiences through the power of story.
But in recent years, I have discovered that the same storytelling techniques that I use as a journalist can also help entrepreneurs become more effective and persuasive communicators—to grow sales, attract top talent, and secure venture funding.
That's why, in 2013, I launched Lyden Communications LLC, an Orlando-based communication strategy and storytelling consultancy: To teach and coach entrepreneurs on what to say (strategy) and how to say it (storytelling)—with their elevator pitch, website, presentations, and articles—to help them grow their business.
BUILDING YOUR STORY MUSCLES
So think of this blog is my professional development "gym," where I regularly work out my ideas, sharing what I'm learning from my study and my work as a professional storyteller.
My hope is that Strategy & Storytelling can help spur you on to dig deeper, work harder, and learn faster to become a more effective and persuasive writer, speaker and leader for your business.
Ultimately, my mission is to make this superpower accessible to any entrepreneur who is willing to learn and practice the craft—so you can tell stories that open hearts, change minds, and sell big ideas that change the world.
So, if you'd like to learn how to build up your story muscles, then join me on this journey to becoming a stronger communicator by subscribing below to receive my best posts sent to your inbox.
Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, which provides consulting services to help companies grow faster with better strategy and storytelling.