tell-better-stories-make-more-salesStories are extremely powerful. Not only can they can be informative and persuasive, they can also be engaging, entertaining, and memorable.

That is, if they’re told well. A poorly told story can lose the audience, and even lose the sale.

So how can you improve your storytelling prowess?

1. Collect Your Stories In Advance
The time to work on your stories is not when you’re sitting in front of the prospect. Gather your company’s sales stories. Make an inventory and categorize them by client size, industry, problem, etc. Then you can work on honing them.

2. Open Strong
Your opening is your opportunity to grab your prospect’s attention. Don’t waste it with unnecessary words like, “Let me tell you a story,” or “Perhaps I can illustrate it for you.” Get right to describing the client and the problems they were facing. A simple, yet engaging way to start is to say, “We have a client who was in exactly the same situation you are…”

3. Go Chronologically
While starting a story in the middle (in medias res) can be a great technique for books and movies, it doesn’t work as well in a sales presentation. Keep the structure simple: beginning, middle, end.

4. Know Your Role
Everyone wants to be a hero. So it’s natural for salespeople to emphasize how they—or their company—saved the day. Except you’re not the hero—the client is. They’re the ones trying to solve a problem or achieve a goal. You’re the sidekick, providing ideas, support, and resources. You’re the trusted aide, enabling them to accomplish their mission. You’re the R2-D2 to their Luke Skywalker, or the Gandalf to their Frodo.

5. Highlight the Results
Don’t just say the business equivalent to, “And they lived happily ever after.” Be specific about the results. For two reasons: 1. The more details you provide about the results, the more credibility your story has. 2. Painting a picture allows your prospect to envision similar results for themselves.

6. Keep It Short
While most people will happily sit through a two-hour movie or devour a 500-page novel, you don’t have that kind of time to work with. The shorter your story is, the better. Edit out any and all extraneous details. Keep the story moving.

7. Practice!
No matter how good—or bad—you are at storytelling right now, you can get better with practice. And practice doesn’t mean merely memorizing your stories—it means practicing your delivery as well. Rehearse in front of your colleagues and managers, and ask for feedback. Record yourself and listen critically. Are you speaking too slow? Too fast? Is there enough emotion in your voice? Too much? Are you varying the rate, tone, and volume of your delivery? To really up your game, consider joining a Toastmasters club or hiring a presentation skills coach.

Stories are an integral item in a salesperson’s toolbox. And like any tool, they’re more effective when you know how to use them. Invest some time crafting your sales stories to make them as short and as persuasive as they can be. Then practice telling them so you can maximize your impact on your prospects. . The better your storytelling skills are, the better your sales will be.

Want to see a couple examples of sales stories? Check out “I got no value out of the program…” and From Order-Taker to Sales Star.