How the “What If” Method of Storytelling Will Help You Move Every Audience, Every Time

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Earlier this month, we took a deep dive into the science behind storytelling, exploring the way a good story affects listeners’ brains. We know that, thanks to the neurological and chemical changes they cause in our brains, stories are powerful motivators that make us more likely to remember and believe in a message.

But we also know that telling a good story is far from easy, especially when the audience is a room full of investors or potential customers and the story is a financial presentation or a sales pitch. So now let’s take a look at how to construct a powerful story that will inspire and move audiences, no matter the topic.

Here at QC, one of our favorite storytelling frameworks is the “What If” method, which helps speakers build strong connections with their audiences by unlocking innovative thinking, cultivating curiosity, and increasing creativity.

In essence, a “What If” story is a detailed look at a hypothetical situation, exploring how the audience members’ lives could improve if the speaker’s idea were a reality. (As you might imagine, this is a particularly effective framework for sales reps to keep in mind when they’re talking to potential customers.)

Let’s say you’re a sales director pitching a high-profile potential customer on your company’s next big idea. Signing this customer could lead to enormous revenue growth and a dozen incredible referral opportunities, so you have to get this exactly right. You know that a standard recitation of features and data isn’t going to hold their attention. So instead, you turn to the “What If” method to make sure your potential buyers are hanging onto your every word—and becoming emotionally invested in your idea.

The 5 Building Blocks of A “What If” Story

1.   A Familiar Hero

Every great story has a hero the audience can root for. Your “What If” story is no exception, and in this case, your hero—the customer persona brought to life—must feel utterly real to your audience. Give her a name, a job title, a history, and a set of deep-seated values and motivations. The more your audience can identify with the hero, the more invested they’ll be in her journey and her ultimate success.

2.   Relatable Goals

Next, establish your hero’s professional goals as they relate to the idea you’re pitching. What is she trying to accomplish, and what will it mean for her, personally and as part of her company, if she can accomplish it?

3.   A Big Problem

What’s in your hero’s way? What is she missing? What’s stopping her from achieving her goals? Here, more than anywhere else in the story, thorough homework is critical. Don’t make assumptions about your target customers’ problems. Really dig in and understand what they’re facing. If you’re guessing here, it will show, and your story won’t resonate.

4.   A Possible Solution

Offer up your idea as the perfect solution to your hero’s problems.

5.   Happily Ever After

And, finally, give your audience a glimpse at the hero’s happily ever after. She’s overcome her obstacles and achieved her most important goals—higher productivity, lower stress, more revenue, or new customers—all thanks to your solution.

See what you’ve accomplished here? By creating a familiar hero, you’ve given your audience someone to care deeply about. And as you’ve walked them, step by step, through that hero’s journey, you’ve forged an even stronger emotional connection to your story, empowering your audience to struggle against the obstacles, identify the solution, and reap the benefits right along with the hero. And because they’ve now shared that experience, the audience is significantly more likely to buy into your message, meaning you’re significantly more likely to see the results you want.