We know we deliver value. But we don’t do a good job telling our story.”
You do meaningful work. It makes an impact. It delivers real value. And you know this because some of the people you serve absolutely love you, and don’t hesitate to tell you.
You know that if only more people understood your work, even more people would love you.
But what you do is complicated. It’s nuanced. And you’re struggling to get people who haven’t experienced it first-hand to really get what you do.
This problem is similar to the “I can’t make more me” problem described above, only instead of your story being trapped inside a dynamic leader, it’s trapped inside a first-hand experience.
Key to solving this problem is understanding those people who love you — your advocates.
Who are they? What is the origin story of their love for you? How do they talk about you, and the meaningful work you do?
Investing time and energy in understanding why and how these people came to love you is the key to breaking the Curse of Knowledge — the cognitive bias that makes it hard to imagine not knowing something we already know. As Chip Heath and Dan Heath write in the Harvard Business Review, once we know something, “Our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.”
The Curse of Knowledge explains why so many companies and organizations explain what they do in broad, generic language — because to the people on the inside, that language has concrete meaning. It’s rooted in years of experience, and so it conjures specific projects, specific people, specific stories.
But to the target audience, it’s just broad, generic language. It doesn’t conjure much of anything.
Sometimes businesses turn to customer or client testimonials to try to get more people to understand what they do, inspired by the business advice to “use storytelling in your marketing.”
But too often, they mistake simply having customers sing their praises for telling customer stories — which generates glowing testimonials filled with more broad, generic language, this time in the form of platitudes. And here again, that broad generic language carries more meaning for the people speaking it, because they have first-hand knowledge.
But to the target audience … it’s still broad, generic language. The passion may be genuine, but the testimonial sounds contrived. That’s not because it’s fake, but because it skips to the happy ending.
That’s why having an advocate tell their story can break the Curse of Knowledge, and help more people truly get what you do.
That story needs to be honest about the struggle. It needs to be specific, using concrete language, so people can imagine being in the storyteller’s shoes, feel what it felt like to experience that struggle, and understand that you, the potential problem-solver, understand that struggle. That story needs to walk the audience through the storyteller’s transformation, so they can understand through the vivid illustration of a specific example what it’s really like to work with you, and solve that thorny problem.
If you want people to get what you do, so they too can love you like your advocates love you, let your advocates tell their story.
I can tell the story. But I can’t make more me.”
Founder. Co-Founder. Executive Director. CEO.
If that’s your title, then you also have another, unofficial title: Chief Storyteller.
You’re a dynamic leader. Perhaps you started your company or organization, or you have grown it into something strong and viable. You’re making a difference to the people you serve. When you ask for the meeting, you get the meeting. And when you make the case for your organization, people get it.
That’s great. But there’s only one of you, and only 24 hours in a day. In other words, you don’t scale — or as one leader put it, “I can’t make more me” — and so the story of your organization is trapped inside of one person: you.
Having one dynamic leader who can transmit the story can be enough to get you off the ground. But to get to the next level, the organization needs to be able to tell its story, even when you aren’t in the room. And it needs to be able to tell its story clearly and consistently, even when there is no person and no room — like when people visit your website or find you on social media.
Because if the story doesn’t work without that dynamic leader — without you — telling it in person, then you don’t really have a story — you have an experience.
Understanding how to tell that story beyond the physical presence of the dynamic leader starts with understanding what happens when you’re in the room.
When you’re in the room, you:
- Bring all of your experience, knowledge, energy, and passion to that room, enabling you to ask probing, productive questions that get to the heart of people’s pain points; quickly synthesize answers to those questions to deepen the conversation and communicate your understanding of their challenges; answer unexpected questions thoughtfully and thoroughly; and engage in a responsive conversation that feels like a give and take, not a sales pitch.
- Read other people’s body language and tone of voice, helping you listen patiently and openly, and respond appropriately based on their level of comfort and enthusiasm.
- Express through body language your empathy, warmth, and compassion, enabling you to make a human connection and transmit your genuine excitement and enthusiasm, all of which leads to trust — and when people feel understood, heard, welcome, and recognized, they are willing to trust, and therefore open to investing their limited resources in what you have to offer.
It’s natural that the better you are at making those connections and telling the story in person, the more you’ll do it — because it feels good to connect with people in that way, and because you start to feel like you’re the only one in the organization who can do it right. The more you do it, of course, the better you get at it; but the better you get at it, the more others in the organization defer to you to do it. This ends up making the organization more and more reliant on you to be the vessel for the organizational story.
But there’s still only one you. And still only 24 hours in a day.
How do you grow without having to be in every single room?
To recreate the story so that it works when you’re not in the room telling it, we have to first understand what’s working about that story when you are in the room.
Our goal is to then translate the experience of you in the room into a story that can scale — that can spread without you, and that someone without your depth of experience and expertise can share and tell. There will always be tremendous value in you delivering that story personally. But if the organization can learn to tell an effective story outside of that one context, it becomes both less reliant on face time with the dynamic leader (you), which frees you up to take on other challenges; and more effective at getting people to more deeply understand the value it delivers, so you can more easily prime people to say “yes” to whatever you’re offering.If this challenge sounds familiar, and you’re ready to finally untrap your story, let’s talk about how we can help.