There’s always a temptation in formal bidding to ‘stick to the facts’. Facts, of course matter. Clients and contracting bodies expect to see facts and statistics to justify their decisions.
But facts and stats also have significant limitations when it comes to powerful communication and being remembered. People like stories – but why?
Think back to school. Was your favourite subject all down to the fascination with the factual content? Or was is because of an inspirational teacher who somehow brought everything to life and explained everything in a way that you could relate to?
Storytelling is a powerful and engaging way to communicate key messages so that they stick in people’s minds. Why is this? And how can you use the power of stories when you’re bidding for contracts?
Stories affect our brains
Since the dawn of civilization communities have passed down knowledge and experience through stories. Before we could write, stories told orally were the main means of transferring learning and wisdom from one group or generation to another.
Religious texts are based around stories.
Technologically, we’ve moved on. We don’t just have writing, we have visual media, presentation tools and the internet to share information and experiences. But the power of stories persists.
Evolution has hard-wired our brains to become more active and receptive when we hear a story. And now we have the neuroscience tools to reveal exactly what happens in our brains when we’re communicated with in different ways.
Stories and metaphors activate the same areas of the brain as when we are experiencing the events for ourselves. They enable the hearer to engage themselves within the narrative, and allow imagination to fill in the gaps. People can relate what they are being told to their own experiences.
Research at Princeton University showed that stories can cause patterns of brain activity to be synchronised between storyteller and listener.
Factual presentations and bullet points on your PowerPoint slides, on the other hand, only engage the small functional parts of your audience’s brains that are associated with processing language. Put more simply, they are plain boring, unengaging and thus less memorable.
Stories are also about situations, actions and consequences. The sort of stuff that makes up a large part of our normal social interactions.
Stories in Business
In business, stories (based on personal experiences) play a crucial role in communication. When someone shares a story about a real event and how they dealt with the situation it makes the scenario very “real” to the hearer. And it feels inherently true.
For most of us it’s difficult (if not impossible) to accurately and consistently lie about events. We know this from our personal experience, which is why we’re inclined to believe a story told plausibly.
Stories also help people relate successes you’ve had to where they are on their personal journey. Because they are emotionally and creatively engaged in the narrative they can start to imagine a future where you have solved their problems too.
So the next time you are preparing a presentation to help win a contract, instead of piling in more statistics to support your case, think about whether you can focus on stories that your audience will relate to. And save the numbers for the appendices.
Hugh Graham, The Bid Coach
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I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.