First, you need to create rapport and build a relationship. Then you can sell your products and services. One of the easiest and fastest ways to establish rapport is with a story. So, the next time you’re standing in front of an audience, or sitting across the table from a prospective customer, tell a story.

Let me tell you how I discovered the power of story.

It was an odd reaction. I was in the middle of a leadership development training session when my entire audience put down their pens, leaned back in their chairs and looked up at me with smiles and childlike innocence. It was as if a switch had been flipped in the room and all of a sudden everyone was engaged and attentive.

Up until that moment, the 80 people who were gathered in our chilly hotel room were listening to me, some more intently than others, while at the same time writing notes in their workbooks. They were listening, but they weren’t really with me. I knew this because when I’d ask a question, it would take a minute for people to respond.

But when I said those magic words, “let me tell you a story about a customer that I had…” and I began telling a personal story, they all looked up and paid attention. They were hanging on every word. The only thing I can relate it to is a school of fish. You know how an entire school of fish turns left and then right and then left again at the same time as if they all have one brain? Well the minute I started telling my story, it was as if we were all one. All of a sudden and without warning–we were connected.

At the end of that day, a number of people came up to me to thank me for the training. One lady commented on the story I told and then launched into her own story. I didn’t think much about it at the time–but it kept happening time and again at every program where I told that story. My story was similar to her story, but now she understood her story better. And she felt compelled to come up to me afterwards and make a connection.

The same thing can happen for you when you do a seminar for your target audience. You can be technical and talk about the intricacies of estate planning, trusts or succession planning, or you can tell stories that illustrate what you do and how you do it. If you tell stories about the people who have chosen to put their trust in you, your audience members will come up to you afterwards and ask to make an appointment. That’s when you can run the numbers and talk about your products.

People relate to stories about other people who have problems or issues similar to theirs. They’re looking for someone they can trust with the intimate details of their financial life. What they seek is a trusted advisor. The power of story lies in its ability to paint a picture of a potential relationship with you. They’re simply trying to decide if they can trust and confide in you. They assume that you know your stuff.

Have you ever channel-surfed on the TV? You’re sitting there on your comfy couch with your trusty remote in your hand and you’re just flipping channels. There are hundreds of channels to choose from and they’re all sitting out there hoping you’ll pick them. And you’re looking for something that catches your attention.

Are you aware that your audience is doing the same thing while you’re talking? They’re sitting there a few feet away from you and they’re listening to what you’re saying. But in their mind they’re distracted, flipping channels, waiting for you to say something that catches their attention.

That’s why you’re not finished talking until you’ve told a story. When you start telling a story, and you really get into it by having fun and letting yourself go, they will listen with full attention. The story activates their imagination and stimulates what I call a “sympathetic experience.”

So what’s your story? What are the stories from your life and experience that people will immediately relate to? Depending on what you want to use the stories for, you have a number of options:

(1) Simply look for moments of crisis or obstacle in your life where something memorable happened. Then ask yourself, “What did I learn?” That’s your point.

(2) If you want to use stories to sell, identify the objections you hear on a regular basis and craft stories that overcome those objections.

(3) In a promotional seminar context, tell stories about clients who have worked with you over the years. Each unique story illustrates a different aspect of your business.

Strategic storytelling can be worth millions of dollars to your bottom line if you understand how to choose and tell stories correctly. There is a science to the art of storytelling that make stories your most effective tool for creating rapport, overcoming objections and closing sales.

When you’re sitting across from a customer, trying to explain all of the intricacies of estate planning, trusts or succession planning, it’s far more effective to tell a story about another customer who had a similar situation than it is to focus solely on the facts and figures. It’s the imagery and emotion of a story that will create the context for what you’re discussing.

Remember: First, you need to create rapport and build a relationship. Then you can sell something.