When it comes to attracting an audience, there’s a lot of advice out there for coaches about how to build your following. We can get lost for hours in understanding social media algorithms, the pros and cons of paid advertising, and how to utilize content management systems. And while all these things may be important, at the end of the day it’s the story that counts.
Drawing people to your site is one thing. Keeping them there, engaged, and interested in what you have to say is something else entirely.
If you’re familiar with JRNI Coaching’s co-founder John Kim (“The Angry Therapist”), you may have heard him say “Your story is your gold.” It’s something every aspiring coach coming through our training program learns. But what do we mean by that?
Hint: Clients choose to work with you, not your resume.
Odd are, there are many coaches out there offering services similar to yours. Whether you’re a career, health, or relationship coach… you probably won’t be the only one. What makes your services unique is not your training or the coaching packages you offer, but YOU. Your life story. Your lived experience. The challenges you’ve faced, joy you’ve experienced, lessons learned, and who you’ve become as a result.
Your voice and perspective is the single greatest asset you possess. Your style and unique way of seeing the world is what draws prospective clients to you. Your take on things is why clients hire you. Those clients will rightfully expect you to draw from your own lived experience alongside the coaching training, techniques, and tools you have to offer.
But isn’t it supposed to always be “about the client”? Where does your story fit in? How do you convey “who you are” in a way that’s professional, and feels right for you?
Why Your Story Should Influence Your Coaching
Human beings have been using storytelling as a powerful way to teach and learn for thousands of years. We’re wired for stories - both telling and hearing them. There are many reasons why coaches, mentors, and entrepreneurs use storytelling as an essential ingredient in their marketing strategies. Here’s why we recommend this to all the coaches we train.
It makes your message clear and relatable
Coaching is experiential, not academic. As a coach, it’s important to understand theories of change, models for supporting people through that process, and techniques to help people achieve their goals. But most people don’t actually want to hear about “how” you do what you do.
Clients want outcomes, not process. And the best way to demonstrate positive outcomes is by way of example. That’s why your own story is so important, and why client testimonials are also useful. Both illustrate that you know how to walk the talk, and coach other people through the change process. A story shows how we move from Point A to Point B in real life. Unlike theory, people can easily see themselves inside a story.
Stories give people a taste of who you are as a person and a coach
As much as people may want to know your rates and packages, experience and certifications, they also want to get to know you. The only way for us to really know one another is through our stories. Think about it for a moment. What it’s like when you are building a new relationship, or falling in love? We swap stories as a way of building trust, intimacy, and letting one another in.
Coaching requires vulnerability on the part of the client. It also requires some vulnerability from you in return. Clients want to know they can trust you, and that you understand where they are coming from. Knowing something about where you’ve been in life makes you both relatable and credible as a coach.
We can’t expect clients to open up to us if we're a closed book ourselves. This is one of the important distinctions between the practice of coaching and therapy. For a variety of legitimate reasons, therapists are trained to not share their personal story with patients. Coaches, on the other hand, are not only allowed but encouraged to bring their whole selves to this work.
How To Craft Your Story To Make An Impact
Not sure where to begin? Here’s nine ways you can weave storytelling into your business messaging.
Start by mastering the 6 C’s: Circumstances, Characters, Curiosity, Conflict, Conversations, Conclusion
Good stories have an arc. They open with a starting point and context (circumstances). If you’re telling a story about thriving after divorce, the circumstances might be what your life was like inside an unfulfilling marriage.
The story is told about someone and through a particular point of view (characters). Is this story just about you? Are others involved?
To draw people in, there’s an element of intrigue (curiosity). Is the storyteller relatable? Why are we interested?
Next, we need an element that drives the characters into action or exploration (conflict). In the divorce example, it might be the discovery that your spouse was cheating, or the realization that the relationship had gone emotionally cold.
What is the interplay between characters (conversation)? What are the dynamics between people? What did you learn from the relationship? If the story is about you alone, what was the dialogue inside your head - the beliefs or “aha’s” that drove you forward?
And finally, talk about what you learned or how you changed as a result of the experience you’re recounting (conclusion).
Emphasize desired outcomes
The point of storytelling in your coaching practice is to demonstrate change and growth. To engage and inspire prospective clients, your stories must move from an undesired state to a more desirable one. It’s that simple!
Make it relatable
Choose stories that speak to the circumstances your ideal clients are facing. They don’t need to have the exact same story, or an identical experience to yours. The story should simply touch the same type of emotions that your potential client may be feeling. For example, it’s possible to tell a story about being stuck in a dead end job in a way that would be relatable to someone who feels stuck in a dead end relationship.
How do you do that? Focus on the emotions you wish to evoke, and the steps toward resolution of those challenging feeling states.
Have a clear point
Have you ever been told a story that didn’t seem to go anywhere? This happens all the time on social media. You can “image-craft”, or you can speak for impact! Do clients really need to hear about what you did today? Only if it drives home a clear point that’s relevant to them.
If you’re talking about self love, it might be totally on-point to post a picture of your dog as you reflect on how walking your dog is a strategy you use to settle yourself during challenging times.
Does posting a picture of you holding a cocktail on the beach serve your clients? It's up to you to determine! Know what messages you’re trying to deliver, and stay on point.
Keep it snappy
People don’t always have time to digest a lengthy story. With all the information coming at us every day, most attention spans are very short. You’ve only got a couple seconds to make an impression, making it critical to hook people right away. In order to do that, you might start in the middle or even the end of your story and work backwards.
There’s no rule as to how you do it. Start wherever is most intriguing. Just begin in such a way that your audience might actually pause to read more, or watch your entire video. Present content that is relatable, and compels people to want to step in. Give them a taste, plus an action they can take such as a link to your website if they want to go deeper.
Don’t sugarcoat or exaggerate
People can detect inauthenticity, and most of us have strong BS meters when it comes to content online. Remember that the only person you need to be is you. Without embellishment, or putting a bow on it. Your clients don’t need you to offer over-the-top awakenings, or Pollyanna-positivism. They need real life - this is what it means to be human. To be with what’s real. Model authenticity in every story you tell.
Avoid gratuitous oversharing
Is it possible to say too much? Absolutely. One way to know is to ask yourself: who am I telling this story FOR? And what do they need to hear to understand my point clearly? Let’s go back to the divorce example. If you were in an abusive relationship, it may or may not be relevant to share that detail. Ask yourself what the purpose is, and how it will serve your audience. Is your aim to help free people from the societal taboos and shame surrounding a particular topic such as domestic violence?
What’s necessary to share in order to be credible and trustworthy? If you’re not sure, let your story sit for a day or two before publishing.
Are there times when it feels like you may have shared something more for yourself than for your audience? It's OK, we’ve all been there! Figuring out how to tell your story in a way that truly serves other people is a learning process. We make missteps along the way. This is what it means to be vulnerable - we learn by doing.
For more on this tricky topic, check out John Kim's blog Transparency vs. TMI in Coaching.
Tell it in 100 different ways
Your storytelling techniques should be flexible. Not every story you tell will hit the mark. But if you tell enough of them, in a variety of ways, you stand a better chance of landing.
If one of your core offerings is mindfulness for example, construct 10 stories that all make a point about mindfulness. Use an array of hooks to draw people in. Some people will react best to video. Others to images. Still others to the written word. Some people relate to sports metaphors, career experiences, or examples from the natural world.
In this example, you have one key message: "the power of mindfulness". And if this were your area of expertise you could probably think of dozens of ways that mindfulness had produced positive results in your life. Tell all those stories! Seven of them may not land (or even be seen)... but the eighth could very well hit the sweet spot.
Let the audience recognize themselves in you
Your story can lead your coaching practice, but this doesn’t mean the spotlight should always be on you! Welcome your audience into the dialogue. Invite their thoughts and reactions. However they might respond to what you’ve shared, create a safe space for learning and growth.
Actively manage your social media platforms. Ensure that there’s room enough for diverse points of view. If there are people in your space who comment in ways that make others uncomfortable or unsafe, or that run counter to your own message and values do take appropriate action as a facilitator.
If you’re working online it will require patience, skill, and a thick skin sometimes. Welcome your audience into your personal story, and learn how to skillfully deal with both positive and negative reactions to your work. Model leadership that builds trust and confidence in your core audience.
Ready for Liftoff As A Coach?
Coaching is a rapidly growing field that is continuously evolving. If you’ve not already earned your ICF coaching certification, there’s no better time than now to get started! Come check out JRNI Life Coach Training - a program that's every bit as unique as you are. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business instruction to prepare you for liftoff as an entrepreneur, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.