The “in” thing in the sales world these days seems to be story; everyone is preaching story. And for me, to talk about the power of story requires a story of my own… I often get reminded of the real power of story through everyday, little encounters.
Last month, my Grandfather, Jack, celebrated his 90th Birthday and our family threw him a big party. The day before the party, I got a call from my uncle asking that I pick up one of my Grandfather’s long time friends, Mitzi, to take her to the party. Mitzi and my Grandfather had been friends since high school, more than 70 years. In fact, I remembered meeting Mitzi when I was a kid; I’m guessing when I was 10 or 11 years old.
So, my wife, two daughters and I shoot over to pick up Mitzi on the way to the party. My wife pulled the car up to the front of Mitzi’s Retirement home and I ran in to get her. I was pretty nervous walking up to greet here — what would I say to someone after thirty years? And, the day before, my uncle had warned me that she wasn’t doing well, and had lost most of her memory.
I walked into the lobby of the home, walked up to her and said, “Hi Mitzi.”
She looked at me and said, “Adam?” (Adam is another uncle of mine who is 20 years older than me – that should give you an idea how coherent she was).
I said, “No, its Ben.”
She asked, “Have we met before?” I said, “Yeah, I’m Jack’s grandson, and Andy’s son. We met a long time ago.”
I took her arm and escorted her outside to my car. I helped her get into the front seat – my wife was driving, and I sat in the back with my 2 girls.
She immediately confessed that she didn’t have a much of a memory. And then she asked me how she knew my grandfather, Jack. That was so sad to hear, and I didn’t know how to respond or what to say. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how without making her feel worse. So, it was quiet in the car for a few minutes and I felt terrible.
Then, she broke the silence by saying, “I’m sorry Ben that I don’t remember you.”
Now, I felt even worse. She was the one apologizing, and yet, I was the dummy who had nothing to offer; I was the inadequate one
I felt completely helpless, but then shared with her the only thing that came to my mind: that I remembered going to her house as a young child. She looked back, smiled and said, “Really?!?”
I then said, “Can I tell you a quick story?” (I wasn’t thinking of my work around storytelling or anything… those words just accidently flew out of my mouth).
She perked up and said, “I love stories!”
I told her the story of when my parents took me to her house when I was about 10 yrs old, and I how scared I was being left with stranger’s. She and her husband were my babysitters for the night, and I didn’t know either of them. And their house was so big, which frightened me even more. I had to spend the entire night in this big, scary house with two people I didn’t know. And I was hysterically crying for what seemed to be forever, once my parents left. But then she took me out of the house, and walked me up the street to a bakery a few blocks away and allowed me to pick out this little cake. It was a chocolate, single serving, fancy little decorated cake and it completely put me at ease. It was just a cake, but at the time, it was the best thing in the world. And, I never forgot about that cake.
As I was telling her the story, she was cracking up, and then…
…she said, “Do you like stories? Can I tell you some?”
The four of us, all together, said, “Yes.”
She said, “I’ll tell you a story about being in a big scary place…” and she told us a story about being on The Queen Mary: how she took her family on the Queen Mary across the Atlantic when she was in her 30′s. She described every detail of this enormous ship, and how daunting it was at first (as was the case when my parents left me at her house). But then she met the Captain, and because of the connection they formed, he upgraded them from Third class to a First Class suite with separate bedrooms for the kids. She described all the details of the furniture in the room, the flowers, the smells, all the details of the Promenade deck, all the people she met, and how over-the-top lavish that experience was.
It was amazing: five minutes earlier, she couldn’t even recall how she knew her long-time, dear friend – my Grandfather. And, now she was telling crystal clear stories about something that happened over 60 years ago.
Then, she told another story about how she went to Argentina as a young woman, also how scared she was being in a foreign country, but then she met and fell in love with an Argentinean man. And this story was even more colorful. She talked about how suave and handsome he was, and then even after she got married, she went back and had a rendezvous with him. I swear that if you had listened to the story, without seeing her, you would thing it was a young woman telling a crush story.
She was so coherent, so emotive, so clear, so full of life. EVERYTHING CHANGED in just minutes. Thank god there was traffic allowing us to listen to one story after another. Meanwhile, I’m in the back seat, a total basket case, in tears.
When we got to the restaurant, she owned everything, everyone. She was the life of the party. And then when we drive her home, she said, “Do you want more stories?” And she kept going…till we dropped her back off at home.
And, I was so sad to let her go.
Watching her turn on these lights was just… unexplainable. My tiny, little, accidental story about the cake she bought for me thirty years ago turned into a series of amazing stories that had been locked away for years, probably decades. I know Mitzi accessed emotions & memories that had been sitting on an abandoned shelf for who knows how long.
And for the next few days, I couldn’t get this whole thing out of my mind. It affected me in such a big way. About a week later, I shared this story with a psychologist friend who gave me the “professional” explanation of what had happened: how Mitzi was able to access neuro-clusters that had been… blah blah blah.
To me, there’s a simpler explanation: Mitzi’s life is better because of that car ride. Better because she was able to share those stories with another human being. Better because we were able to connect through those experiences.
Life is better. That’s it.
And now I’m thinking, what does this have to do with selling? Everything!