Why is storytelling important? For one reason: People remember stories, not facts or slides. I once heard a story about a teacher trying to teach his American history class about Paul Revere. His students were struggling to memorize the facts (1775, the Old North Church, Lexington and Concord), so the teacher changed things up and took a different approach.
Did his students know that Paul Revere’s father died when Paul was 19 years old, and Paul was left to provide for his mother, 11 siblings, and ultimately 16 children of his own through his business as a silversmith? The students learned about how the economy then fell into recession, which was made worse by an oppressive British tax policy, and they understood the why of Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party as opposed to the what.
A recent example: I was once pitching Heroku, which was at the time one of Salesforce’s newer products designed for developers — and a much more technical product than our flagship customer relationship management (CRM) solution. I was struggling. I knew I couldn’t speak with authority about dynos and add-ons, so I decided to take a different approach. Instead of pitching facts, I told the story of an entrepreneur friend who started a software company in 2006 and then again in 2010.
In 2006, starting a software company meant renting a cage in a data center across town, walking over to that data center, unlocking the cage, installing hardware and software, tuning, patching — all before publishing a single line of code. In 2010 (just four years later), the world had changed with Heroku. My friend started his second company and didn’t have to deal with the old world of infrastructure. He could go to market faster, cheaper, and with more flexibility. The story hit the mark with the customer and gave them something memorable to take away, after we exhausted all their technical questions during the demo.