Leveraging Your Story’s Low Point

Cynthia’s heart sank as she drove by Madison Elementary School on her way to work at the hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. Her ten-year-old son, Will, wants to be an anesthesiologist when he grows up and he’s working hard to get good grades. Sadly though, Will is in a bad school, by almost any standard and next year he will enter the middle school, which is even worse, and where Cynthia’s older son dropped out because of his involvement with drugs. Cynthia wants to send her son Will to a Madison County public school, where education appears to be a higher priority and the kids are succeeding. But she is not able to because Mississippi does not have school choice. Cynthia can’t afford to send Will to a private school, or move into the Madison County Public School District. She fears the same fate for Will that swallowed her older son. She feels trapped, trapped by her own zip code.

Grant Callen of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy uses this real-life story when speaking to civic clubs about Mississippi’s dire need for school choice. Grant told me, “When I use this story, the response is tremendous. People will stay long beyond the allotted time telling me they know a ‘Will’ and asking how they can get involved to help Cynthia and her son, Will.”

Last year I was invited to attend some classes at the Harvard Business School. I was fascinated about their use of the case methodology in teaching. Students would read a case story, which was always incomplete with the chief executive at a professional “low point.” Working in teams the students would strategize how they would handle the case’s business dilemma. When the class would meet together, the Professor would lead a discussion of the various team approaches. The incomplete story and the solidarity they felt for the executive of the case fired the passion of the students. Only in the last 15 minutes of a two-hour class did the Professor share how the dilemma was dealt with in real life.

There’s something about leveraging the low point of a story that makes you want to get up and do something! Whether it is a plea to give money to a family whose father has terminal cancer; a software sales person talking about a plant manager who cannot get his product out on time; or a pharmaceutical rep telling a story of a multiple sclerosis sufferer who cannot afford the $4,700 a month treatment cost. Each one of these stories has a “low point” with potential energy. We as human beings are naturally empathetic to one another, what happens to one potentially could happen to all.

The “low point” is where the hero (the analog for your client) in your story has exhausted all their efforts on trying to reach their goal; the goal that only your solution can provide them. Paradoxically, the “low point” occurs at the height of tension in your story, a type of seesaw correlation, and the lower the low point, the higher the tension.

Imagine your power when you know what “low point” to look for in your prospects. Think how that will affect who you talk to, what questions you will ask, and how you will sell to your client.

Below are seven tips to help you better leverage your hero’s “low point:”

  1. TRY FOR REAL-LIFE: Find a real-life hero and their low point; otherwise create an analog patterned after the ideal client you can uniquely serve.
  2. DON’T EXAGGERATE: Avoid hyperbolic stretches; keep your hero’s low point credible and believable.
  3. PORTRAY FULL IMPACT: Portray the full impact of the low point on your hero both professionally and personally. Many times it’s a small personal impact that tips your hero to action.
  4. MIRROR OPPOSITE: Your hero’s low point should be the mirror opposite of your hero with a “happy every after” ending; poor and friendless becomes rich and popular.
  5. EXHAUST ALL OPTIONS: Make certain your hero has exhausted all options to attain their goal, their back is up against the wall; this is where you want to riddle your competitors with holes. Everything has been tried and nothing has worked… except you and your solution.
  6. START, PAUSE or FINISH: Consider starting your story with your hero at their low point, then go back to show how they got their; or start from the beginning and pause at their low point to create suspense; or finish at your hero’s low point for a very unsettling story.
  7. SERVE, DON’T EXPLOIT: These storytelling techniques are effective persuasion tools. Make certain your intention is to serve your client and make their life better, not to exploit them for your sole benefit.

My experience with sales people is that they short cut the painful part of a story being too anxious to get to the “happy ever after” of their product. I believe there is danger in this. Your clients are in some type of pain; they want to know you understand where they are, and then they will be more likely to explore your solution.

As the great story expert, Robert McKee, said, “conflict is to story as sound is to music.” Leverage your hero’s low point, and you’ll be adding a wonderful symphony to your presentation… and closing more business!

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