Apples have become my metaphor for pitching. When you develop a pitch, it’s like buying a basket of apples. You pick out the best apples of the season. You polish them individually. You even ask a couple of friends to taste your apples and tell you if they like how they taste.
Then you take your basket and start tossing apples at people. You can toss them at crowds, large and small. You can toss them at individuals or small groups. You can toss them in meetings or networking events or even in elevators. You’ve got a bottomless basket.
What’s the dream? The dream is that one or a few people will catch your apple, fall in love with it, and asks if you can bake apple pie.
Storytelling is different. Storytelling is holding up your favorite variety apple from your favorite orchard and showing it to your audience. You let them take it in for a moment. Let them see your apple’s beautiful shape and perfect shine.
“This is an apple,” you say, “It’s my perfect apple. It’s shiny but not waxed and as ripe as it will ever be. When you bite into this apple, that first crunch dissolves into the ideal blend of sweet and tart as you chew. It’s juicy and firm all at the same time. You’ve never tasted a better apple than this one.”
Who won’t want a bit of your apple now?
My anti-pitch stance didn’t start as a well-articulated or even defensible position, but a feeling. Pitching feels wrong to me the same way pick-up lines feel wrong. They feel like a poor substitute for really getting to know people and their ideas.
Sure, we don’t all always have hours to spend getting to know people better, asking them every question you can think of, too. We do have a moment to be real, to dig as deep as we can or dare in an effort to connect.
Stories have depth, they have meaning, and they foster connections between people. Stories make our brain waves sync up! Has a pitch ever done that?
Most people tell me they find stories scary, though. They don’t know where to start. They’re worried about finding the perfect form. They aren’t sure whether they can tell a personal story in a professional context. They ask me, will I be bragging?
When you tell a story, you’ll be sharing something personal even if the story is professional. You can share your dreams and goals and the path you plan to take to get there. You can invite your audience to join you on the journey.
So, how do you start preparing a story? You’ll need to gather your material, which is your life experience, and figure out which parts you want to use. Then you take a good story structure and start filling in the parts. You chose a hero and figure out what their journey will be.
Then you practice. The joy of a story is that you can stretch it out over hours and pages or compress it if you don’t have time. In December, I read Charles’ Dicken’s Christmas Carol. It took me about a week to meander through its 110 pages. Then I went to a live one-man production where Ashley Ramsden told us the story in 90 minutes, with breaks for Christmas carols. Last week, my kids watched the 40-minute Disney version. Are they all the same story? Yes, absolutely they are! But they are for different purposes and different audiences.
How would I tell the story of the Christmas Carol if pressed for time? I’d tell the short version.
Let me tell you about Ebeneezer Scrooge, a curmudgeon who’d rather skip Christmas all together, until the ghost of his former business partner and three ghosts of Christmas; past, present, and future, scare the dickens out of him and defrost his heart.
I didn’t try to cover everything and even used a big old word in there. Why? So that whoever hears the story will be more likely to ask me a question. What does that do? It moves from pitch to a story and invites a conversation to boot.
You can do it, too!
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