Professionals rely on anecdotes to make their abstract services more tangible to prospective clients. Claims like:
- Our experience helps us see things that your people might miss.
- We will really fight for you.
- We do the tough jobs for you.
- We can access people you can’t.
- There is a better way to look at your problem.
- We are creative.
- We really listen well.
may sound boastful or argumentative or simply sound the same as the way all your competitors sound. And they certainly aren’t memorable.
A well-told anecdote overcomes all of these problems. As described by Peg Neuhauser in her book, Corporate Legends and Lore, well-told means it contains four elements: plot, character, action and outcome. In an earlier post, I showed how changing the character can change the message of an anecdote. Here I will discuss action.
By action, Neuhauser means just that, usually in the form of somebody doing something. An action, unlike an abstraction such as a “business unit” or “increased market share,” can be visualized in the mind’s eye. The little movie it creates makes the anecdote sticky, because a client will remember it well after she has forgotten the abstraction.
This is easily seen by these two descriptions of the same event, which could be alternative sentences in a longer anecdote:
- The RIF (reduction in force) affected 50 people.
- She met with the three supervisors individually and then with the other 47 employees in a group in the cafeteria to tell them that they had all been let go.
Or by these descriptions of a thing, a new headquarters:
- It increased their visibility and enhanced their reputation for innovation which is a critical element of their brand.
- For a week after the building opened traffic actually slowed down on the expressway, it’s so unusual. When people read the newspaper or see a story about the company on TV, they always see a picture of the building, it has become so much a part of their identity.
Adding an action isn’t always easy, because professional services don’t always center on actions. What are the actions associated with a contract or an audit? When faced with this situation, try having the character in the anecdote (The CEO stood before the board and . . .) or the client’s customers (Customers stood in long lines for over . . .) do something.
Put an action in your anecdote and your clients will listen in rapt attention.