How a red backpack helped create the world’s youngest self-made billionaire
1: Every time Sara Blakely put on white pants that hung in her closet, she didn’t like what she saw in the mirror.
Traditional women’s undergarments didn’t help. They felt “uncomfortable and unsightly,” Carmine Gallo writes in The Storyteller’s Secret.
Then, inspiration struck. Sara got out a pair of scissors and cut the feet from a pair of pantyhose.
Voila. Problem solved.
Sara was selling fax machines door-to-door at the time. She had never taken a business class. Still, she was convinced she could turn her invention into a business.
One day, a buyer at Neiman Marcus agreed to meet with her. Sara “left her Atlanta apartment, which had doubled as her factory and global headquarters, carried a red backpack that held her samples, and boarded a plane to Dallas,” writes Carmine.
Sara had 10-minutes to make her pitch, the buyer told her. As soon as she started, she felt the buyer was losing interest.
“Then the light switch flicked on. She would demo the product herself, explaining her product through her own story. She dragged the buyer into the bathroom, where she modeled the product, and sure enough the buyer agreed to stock Sara’s footless pantyhose in seven stores.
2: “Twelve years later Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, appeared on the cover of Forbes as the youngest self-made billionaire in the world,” writes Carmine.
Sara sold 10 million products without spending a dollar on advertising. Instead, she capitalized on her personal story to make her product “relatable and irresistible.”
Sara invented a product. Sold it in a department store. And made a fortune.
While the preceding paragraph is a “story,” it fails to draw us in. It certainly doesn’t inspire.
What’s missing? Struggle, conflict, and resolution.
“Sara didn’t just bring her samples to Dallas, she carried them in a red backpack,” Carmine observes. She “didn’t just pitch a buyer. She dragged a buyer at Neiman Marcus into the bathroom to demonstrate how the footless pantyhose looked.”
3: Generalities don’t motivate us to take action. Why? Our brains aren’t good at processing abstractions.
“Specifics add credibility to the story and transport the listener” into the world of the presenter, writes Carmine.
When we hear or read about sights, sounds, tastes, and movements, our brains make vivid mental simulations as if we are experiencing what is happening in real life, says Professor Jeffrey Zachs of Washington University.
“The more detailed the description, the more vivid and evocative the story, the more deeply it sears itself into the listener’s brain,” Carmine writes.
The Storyteller’s Secret?
Stories which are rich in detail “fire up our collective imagination” and “breathe life into products and ideas,” Carmine observes. “Leaders inspire movements and they do so with stories that provide specific, tangible, and concrete details.”
Reflection: Think about what details I can add to a story to help bring it to life during my next presentation.
Action: Add them. Deliver it.