My Grandmother’s Funeral
Five years ago we buried my grandmother, a deliciously bold woman who lived life on her own terms. I was her favorite, or so she said. I’m pretty sure it’s true. Everything that makes me weird (which I consider a blessing, by the way) came from my grandmother. I miss her smile, her warm hands that smelled of buttermilk biscuits, and her green beans that would leave a sheen of lard gloss on your lips for weeks.
I had the honor of delivering her eulogy being the only professional speaker in the family. (Yes, Aunt Myrtle, it is a real job.) As I stood at the podium, trying to sum up this woman’s 88 years on earth in 25 minutes, I looked around and realized that this was all wrong. None of this was what she would have wanted. The setting wasn’t right. The music was all wrong. People were bored. I’m pretty sure even Granny had stopped listening hours ago.
A stuffy room with plastic mauve flowers, green shag carpeting, and faded watercolor prints – well, it wasn’t my grandmother. She deserved something more than that. Something more to honor the fact that she was here. Something as unique as she was, to close out her chapter on earth. I found it ironic that we had spent a year planning my cousin Nadine’s wedding and a day planning my grandmother’s funeral. I had loved my grandmother for 47 years. Nadine’s marriage didn’t last six months.
After Granny’s service, a group of us sat around the fire in the lobby of the hotel sharing stories that made us laugh and cry, stories about the woman we knew and the woman we would miss. I’m pretty sure Granny was there the entire time, laughing harder than any of us. At some point we stumbled into a conversation about how we wanted our own funerals to be. The typical kind of conversation that happens when death stops your normal routine and makes you face your own mortality.
We all described our most important last wishes ranging from “nothing fancy,” to “please put me in this dress,” to “sprinkle me across the lake behind the mountain cabin and make sure it’s not windy that day so my ashes don’t go flying back into your face.” I made it quite clear that I wanted a big turnout, with lots of music (a roaming harpist would be nice) and some professional wailers, just to make sure everybody is certain of how much I will be missed. I want high drama. Standing room only, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and please show clips from my best speeches. Make sure they give me a standing ovation, and you can probably sell some of my books in the back. Hey, what can I say? I’m a motivational speaker. It’s what we do.
My ability to make people laugh, inspire them, move them, teach them, change their perspective and heal their heart, has never been about the points I teach, but the stories I tell. My entire career and every amazing door that has opened, was opened because of my ability to tell a good story. No amount of data or information can impact on an emotional level like a story can. Master that skill and you can master any job.
As I sat there listening to the stories, I saw how passionate people were about how they wanted to be ushered out of this world – how they wanted their story to end. Each story was as unique as its author.
The funeral home did everything they said they would do for my granny. It was a perfectly nice service. They did all the right things. And yet, I’m pretty sure that not one person in that room will seek them out in the future. Why? Because the funeral home told the wrong story.
Why Story Matters to Your Business
Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.
Hello CANA. Kelly Swanson here. I’m a motivational speaker and a comedian, which means I tell you that you can do anything and then I tell you I’m just kidding. I’m delighted and honored to be spending time with you at your 2018 Symposium as your keynote speaker and strategic storytelling expert. I’m even more delighted that I get this opportunity today to say a few words about a subject I have been studying my whole life – storytelling.
There’s no question about it, no matter what our industry, we are all fighting for business in a crowded market – to get customers and keep them, to get our employees to do more with less and be happier doing it, to convince our buyer of a need they don’t realize they have, to be stronger leaders crafting a lasting legacy, and to keep our business relevant in the face of constant change and uncertainty. And, in your case, trying to make a lasting impression when often you are the last thing on their mind.
Wow. No wonder we’re stressed. I’ve faced these issues in my own business and so have hundreds of other audiences I’ve visited over the years. All of these issues have one thing in common – influencing people. Yep. Getting people to do what we want them to do. No matter how much the playground changes, the game hasn’t. Our business success is in direct correlation to how well we influence people.
The ability to articulate your story or that of your company is crucial to almost every phase of enterprise management. It works all along the business food chain. A great salesperson knows how to tell a story in which the product is the hero. A successful line manager can rally the team to extraordinary efforts through a story that shows how short-term sacrifice leads to long-term success. An effective CEO uses an emotional narrative about the company’s mission to attract investors and partners, to set lofty goals, and to inspire employees. Sometimes a well-crafted story can even transform a seemingly hopeless situation into an unexpected triumph.
Peter Guber, author, American film producer & executive and Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, from HR Magazine September (2008)
The way I see it, we are all sales people. Like it or not, we are trying to influence people all day long – whether it’s to get someone to date us, hire us, do business with us, trust us, give money to us, or simply getting our kid to clean up his room. We’re all in the business of persuasion. Every person who works in your company has the ability and opportunity to influence someone else – to affect the brand, the mood, and the culture of the business. Many of us already understand that. But where some of us miss the boat, is the next step…understanding that influence is emotional.
I’ll explain the science behind all of this to you when I get there, so let’s skip right to the thing you need to know most: If influence is like sales, then the cardinal rule of sales applies – that people buy from people they like, trust, believe, and feel like they know.
Like. Trust. Believe. Know. Take a look at those words. Those words have nothing to do with what you make people think and everything to do with how you make people feel – about you, your brand, and themselves. People buy based on emotion but many of us don’t get there. We stay on the surface. We miss that deeper opportunity to go beyond communicating to connecting.
Authentic connection is the key strategy in business today. No matter what you’re selling, where you’re selling it, or how you’re getting the message out – giving them the facts alone doesn’t work. It’s the reason why some win and some lose without ever understanding why.
Don’t Believe Me, Ask Around
I’ve been polling people in every audience where I speak. I just spoke for a college admissions group so I polled parents and students who’ve been on recent college tours. My goal? To find out why they chose the one they chose.
I’ve polled buyers of healthcare, insurance, beauty products, financial planners, attorneys – you name it – and while they were all looking for something different, their reason for choosing who they did were consistently the same. They chose the one they connected with emotionally.
As soon as I found out I would be speaking for you, I conducted another survey with my social media groups about you: your businesses and the services they’d experienced there. I gathered their stories and studied the reasons some were happy and some weren’t. Again – it was all about connection.
That’s what we’re going to talk about when I come visit. I’m going to share with you the best (and perhaps only) tool that will connect with anybody you want to influence – STORY.
Many businesses have already figured out the value of strategic storytelling, or at least they think they do. But they are still not connecting with their buyer. Why? First, because they don’t really know what a story is – how to craft it and how to use the tool to get a desired effect. They’re basically just telling stories because someone told them they should. Many people talk about storytelling, but few can really teach it. Second, many businesses are telling the wrong story or, at the very least, an unfinished story. You may think it’s just about telling the world your story. But it’s not. There are actually three stories you should be telling.
That’s enough for you to chew on today. If you understand why connection matters over communication, you’ve got enough to think about. The next step is how to use story to do it. We’ll go deeper into it later – my six secrets to connecting and my story formula to help you craft stories that convince and persuade – at CANA’s 2018 Cremation Symposium.
Just remember this: No matter how technologically advanced we get, or how much the playground changes and shifts quickly under our feet, the truth still remains the same – this is a people business. It’s about relationships. It’s about creating authentic connections. Focus on that, and the rest will fall into place.
Want to read some more articles or continue the conversation? Find me on LinkedIn.
I can’t wait to meet you at convention and swap stories. Buckle up, because it’s going to be an exciting ride!
Join Kelly and CANA at the 2018 Cremation Symposium to learn how you can set your business and yourself apart with the power of storytelling. Register soon for your chance to be in the “hot seat” and develop your story live, onstage with Kelly Swanson! Sponsored by Batesville.
Connect the Dots with us, February 6-8 at Paris Las Vegas at the 2018 Cremation Symposium.
Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, motivational speaker, comedian, expert guest on The Fashion Hero TV show, author of Who Hijacked My Fairy Tale and The Story Formula, and a strategic storytelling expert. In addition to making people laugh, motivating them, and helping them tap into the passion and purpose for what they do and why it matters, she teaches them how to use story to raise their level of influence. She is a keynote speaker and workshop presenter at the 2018 CANA Symposium. www.MotivationalSpeakerKellySwanson.com