Selling narrative

  @FortuneMagazine August 29, 2013: 7:55 AM ET
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(Fortune)

For the past three years Kate Tellers has been talking to rooms of executive vice presidents about how to tell the truth. It is slow going. "Crafting a story is editing, ordering information, and -- yes -- what's true is always the best story," Tellers says. She works for the Moth, a nonprofit "storytelling organization" best known for its live shows, which air on National Public Radio. "You can tell how corporate a company is by whether or not they think 'Moth' is an acronym," Tellers says.

It's a strange marriage that has brought these professional bards into the boardroom. The Moth partnered with MSLGroup, the public relations division of the French advertising and marketing company Publicis Groupe. Three years ago MSL was repositioning itself to help navigate social media. "It's not just advertisers who have a voice in the marketplace anymore," says Brian Burgess, head of MSL's brand and talent team. "Everyone is creating content, so people need to learn the skill of how to tell an effective story."

Enter the Moth, Tellers, and her workshops. Tellers begins by explaining some key concepts, like story arc, theme, and the stakes, before opening it up to the group. Each participant stands up and shares; the audience gives feedback at the end. Tellers, too, asks questions, looking for more details and the underlying, deeper lesson in everyone's story. The trick is to reach a level of specificity and authenticity, she says. After one session a group of 100 salespeople from Mass Mutual saw a 10% increase in their rate of closing deals. Tony Osborn, a supervisor at MSL, says that it's the authenticity that really makes the difference in the age of social media. "It takes something simple, like a purchase you make as a customer, into a meaningful experience," he says.

This story is from the September 16, 2013 issue of Fortune. To top of page



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