I just finished reading Jonah Berger’s book “Contagious – Why Things Catch On.” Berger shares his 6 step checklist for building contagious products.
I’d like to share all 6 steps in this blog post. But there’s so much in this book, it won’t fit in one blog post.
Today I want to arm you with a story so compelling, you’ll be telling it for years.
The number one reason people share is to make themselves look good. They call this social currency.
“How does it make people look to talk about a product or idea? Most people would rather look smart than dumb, rich than poor, and cool than geeky. Just like the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, what we talk about influences how others see us.” – Berger
Today I wanted to arm you with a story so compelling you have you try it out by telling your friends. Then you’ll see, first-hand, how this story boosts your social currency. You’ll look good telling it and your friends will be impressed.
Why are so many nail salons run by Vietnamese women?
“Ask three people where they got their last manicure and chances are good that at least one had a Vietnamese nail technician. But the story of how it got that way might surprise you. It started with twenty women and a set of long coral nails.
She’d been a high school teacher in her home country, but when Thuan Le arrived at Hope Village in 1975, she had nothing but the clothes on her back. The tent city outside Sacramento was a holding ground for Vietnamese refugees who escaped to America after the fall of Saigon. Teeming with new immigrants, the camp simultaneously brimmed with hope and despair. People had come to America with the dream of a better life for themselves and their families, but with little English knowledge, the possibilities were limited.
Actress Tippi Hedren, who had starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, was drawn to the refugee’s plight and would visit Hope Village every few days. Hedren wanted to help, so she became a mentor to some of the women. Former business owners, teachers, and government officials in Vietnam, these industrious women were eager to get to work. Hedren was enchanted by their stories of Vietnam. They in turn, noticed something about her: her beautiful nails.
The women admired Hedren’s glossy light pink fingernails, so she brought her manicurist in once a week to give them lessons. How to trim cuticles, wrap nails, and remove calluses. The women were quick studies and practiced on Hedren, themselves, and anyone they could get their hands on.
Soon a plan was hatched. Hedren got the women free classes at a nearby beauty school. They learned how to file, paint, and trim. Then Hedren asked around and helped Le and the other women find jobs in Santa Monica and surrounding cities.
It was tough at first, Manicures were not yet the rage and there was lots of competition. But Le and the other women passed their licensing exams and started doing business. They worked hard, labored long hours, and took the jobs no one else wanted. The women were diligent and kept at it. They made money and worked their way up.
Seeing Le’s success, a few of her friends decided to get into the business. They opened one of the first beauty salons owned by Vietnamese Americans and encouraged others to do the same.
The success stories soon spread. The thousands of Vietnamese who came to the US looking for new possibilities heard what others were doing, and they listened. Vietnamese nail salons started opening up all around Sacramento. Then through the rest of California. Then the entire country. These twenty women started the trend, but soon it had a life of its own.
Today, 80 percent of manicurists in California are Vietnamese Americans. Nationwide the number is greater than 40 percent. Vietnamese nail salons became contagious.” – Berger
When I first read this, I was floored. How can the prevalence of Vietnamese nail salons be summed up with such a succinct, bewildering, and empowering story?
Here’s the homework for this week: Go tell this story to your friends. It doesn’t even matter if they get mani/pedis. They will already know about Vietnamese nail salons.
How did it go? How did you feel when you were telling the story?
I felt powerful. I’ve told this story 3 times. Each time I’ve watched as the listener’s eyes get locked in at the prospect of learning this secret knowledge. You can actually see them thinking about who they can share the story with so they can boost their social currency.
Contact me if this was surprising to you. I’d love to hear about it!
When I was young I’d groan when an adult told me a long story. As they talked, my mind would wander through the details in their story, searching, scanning their words to find out that most important truth, “Why are you telling me this?”
Now that I’m older, I finally understand.
How do you get people to understand what you have to say? How do you even get them to listen in the first place? In “The Story Factor – Secrets of Influence from the Art of Storytelling,” Annette Simmons explains how.
The more I pay attention to the outcomes of my requests, the more I see that things I see as clear as day are not being heard or understood by the listener. This used to infuriate me because I’d get so frustrated at having to explain the same thing over and over again.
“People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith – faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.” – Simmons
I started taking it too far the other way and started to over-explain, repeat myself, and basically talk the point into the ground until I got some kind of signal that the other person understood what I said.
More often than not, I got the impression, after stating my point numerous times, that the other person resented being talked down to and treated as if they didn’t understand. This obviously wasn’t working.
So I started thinking about storytelling and the way adults were always telling me stories to illustrate a point when I was growing up.
“Narration simultaneously chooses and communicates a particular point of view.” Simmons
When I start to tell a story to someone I don’t know that well, I’m instantly concerned that they will lose interest in my story if I’m not making the best use of their time. So I inevitably speed up my story so they don’t get bored.
But, as the speed of the story goes faster and faster, the clarity of the point I’m trying to make gets lost because I’m speaking too fast. How do we know what kind of story to tell that will keep the listener tuned in?
Simmons shares six types of stories that will serve you well in your efforts to influence others:
- Who I am stories
- Why I am here stories
- The Vision story
- Teaching Stories
- Values in Action stories
- I know what you are thinking stories
Having tested out all of these stories types, the one that I’ve had the most success with has been the “who am I stories.”
“Personal stories let others see who we are better than any other form of communication. Ultimately, people trust your judgement and your words based on subjective evidence. Objective data doesn’t go deep enough to engender trust.” – Simmons
I’ll keep telling my personal stories as a way to get my point across. I’ll slow down and let my sincerity shine through.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Simmons
Did this post make you reconsider the power of storytelling? Contact me, I’d love the hear about it!