Dave Kerpen | 5 Keys to Great Storytelling: Lessons from Barbara Corcoran
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5 Keys to Great Storytelling: Lessons from Barbara Corcoran

5 Keys to Great Storytelling: Lessons from Barbara Corcoran

Barbara Corcoran wore a bright red dress the day I first met her, which, combined with my bright orange, may have looked from afar more like a fire than like 2 people. But fiery is definitely a great word to describe her. Corcoran, the real estate entrepreneur, celebrity author and star of ABC’s Shark Tank, is full of life, energy – and stories.

In fact, after I read her book Shark Tales and heard her on my friend Tim Healy’s radio show, I knew that she was one of the best storytellers I’ve ever encountered in business. So when I sat down with Barbara to interview her, we chatted about how to tell great stories in business and in life. We agreed that great storytelling is the best way to – essential because people remember stories, and use them to draw parallels to their own lives. Stories persuade people, and help people feel connected – two essential skills for any leader or salesperson.

Corcoran’s own success is an incredible rags-to-riches story – from one of ten children to waitress to real estate mogul. But I’ll let you read her book to hear that story. In the meantime, here are the 5 keys to great storytelling – for better business – according to Barbara Corcoran:

1) Have a purpose

Know your audience and your story’s purpose – is it to entertain, to educate, to put at ease, or to persuade, for instance? Understanding the purpose for telling your story allows you to keep it simple and effective. For example, in order to teach me how she became a great storyteller, Barbara told me the story of her growing up in “a large Irish family, where everyone was always telling stories and in order to get attention, yours had to be good!”

2) Share a beginning, middle and end

Every great story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Make sure yours moves smoothly through each section and don’t stick around too long on anything. “Delivery is important, too,” Barbara told me. “Enthusiasm is everything!”

3) Put skin on the bones

It’s the details – the color, sights, sounds, smells, and other descriptive language that really bring stories to life. “Describe what you were and the other people were wearing,” said Barbara. People want to be able to have enough details to picture the story in their heads – so the more details you give, the more meaningful and memorable your story will be. “When I told people I sold by business for $66 million, they shrug. When I tell them about my next visit to the ATM machine, and the smell of the money coming out, and the sound of the receipt spurting out of the machine with my balance, then, they get excited.”

4) Be the vulnerable underdog

Of course, you might not always be the underdog in every story, and you may not always be able to be humble or vulnerable in your recounting of the story. But whenever possible, Barbara says, include this. “People always identify more with the underdog than with the perennial champion. And vulnerability leads to trust and intimacy, and opens people up to what you have to say.”

5) Tell your own story

This was an important lesson I learned from Barbara. My wife and I happen to have an amazing story about a sponsored wedding that led to our first business. It’s a story we often tell when introducing Likeable Media to new clients. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great story, when we tell it. But Barbara helped me to realize, when other employees tell the Likeable story, they need to make it their own. People will always respond better to a story that stars the storyteller, not someone else.

If you take into account these five principles, you too can become a better storyteller, and a more effective business communicator. As for those of you looking to meet and pitch Barbara Corcoran in the Shark Tank, she was clear: “Storytelling is everything. Show me an MBA and your sales numbers, that’s fine. But tell me a great story about how you got started and your vision, and we’ll talk.”


Now it’s your turn. Which of these five keys to great storytelling do you think is most important? How essential overall is storytelling to you as a business person? What questions do you have for Barbara Corcoran? Let me know your story in the Comments section below, and please do share this post with yournetwork.

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