The One Type Of Story That Establishes You As An Expert

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Photo by Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash

When you need a new roof, would you rather hire a licensed contractor who’s been in business for ten years? Or would you choose your well-meaning brother-in-law who’s got some time on his hands?

Most likely you’ll pick the contractor and invite your brother-in-law to celebrate the new roof when it’s done.

After all, a roof pretty important. If it’s installed wrong, you’ll have water dripping into the master bedroom every time it rains. You might even have birds flying around the attic.

And even though the bro-in-law will be cheaper, you’ll pay more because you’ll need to have the whole thing patched up or done over.

As a smart consumer, you understand the value of paying for expertise.

When you’re a service business, you need to position yourself so buyers will instantly see the value of paying for your expertise.

How do you send the message, “I’m an expert!”

One of the best ways to establish expertise is to tell a story that surprises your listeners, creating an “Aha!” moment for them. This story will be even more powerful than a credential or testimonial, because you’re not just telling: you’re demonstrating.

As a service professional, you’re in the business of transformation. So you’ll need to show that you know how to make transformations happen.

Transformation almost always begins with an awareness of what’s happening now and what needs to be changed. As a change agent, you often create this awareness by delivering what’s come to be known as “aha” moments.

Let’s review two examples from one of the best books I read last year: The End of Average, by Todd Rose.

At first, I thought the book would be more self-help, along the lines of, “These Days You Can’t Afford To Accept Yourself As Average. You Have To Be Outstanding.” Instead, his message is, “The concept of ‘average’ can be dangerous to your business, education, and life.”

Wow…that’s a pretty strong statement. And he goes on to justify it.

Most systems, products and institutions are designed to target the “average” person. It seems reasonable…until you realize that targeting the average person means targeting nobody. And that means you deny admission to many highly-qualified people.

So Todd Rose goes on to demonstrate — not just tell — the danger of average.

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Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Back in the 1940s, the US Air Force took measurements of pilots across several body dimensions, such as arm span, waist, hips, neck, and shoulders. They used the average of each measurement to design and build cockpits.

Following a series of air crashes, the Air Force went back and measured thousands of pilots on ten dimensions. Not one pilot even came close to the “average” measurement on all ten. Ultimately, they learned to create adjustable cockpits, with seats, backs, and armrests that could be adjusted for each pilot.

Rose concludes this story with a stunning episode of a fighter pilot who saved a plane that was nearly destroyed in combat — a small female who didn’t fit the averages.

You can read an excerpt here.

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Photo by Simon Fitall on Unsplash

Rose uses body size as an example of what he calls”jaggedness.” Nobody will be average on all dimensions of body size. And nobody will show a personality trait through all situations and activities. I’m very comfortable speaking to groups but I avoid most parties. Some children behave well at home but not in school, or vice versa. So, Rose, suggests, it’s better to say, “I’ve got this personality style in this situation but not that one.”

— it fits the purpose: It’s intended to show the importance of respecting jagged edges and not rejecting people who don’t fit the standard (because maybe nobody does)

— it’s relatable: Many audiences will know someone who’s been in the military and many will relate to the hero as someone they could admire. Strongly anti-war or anti-military audiences won’t respond.

— it’s undeniably true

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Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

Rose was such a poor student in high school that his options for college were extremely limited. Bored with classes, he achieved poor grades and was known as a problem to many of his teachers.

When Rose got to college, he decided to figure out how to make academic life work for him. His advisor recommended getting the basic courses out of the way freshman year.

But, Rose knew, he wouldn’t do well in boring classes. He needed to build up his study skills with classes he enjoyed. When he realized a certain math class would bore him to tears, he found a way to test out of the required math classes.

But Rose also considered his own temperament and quirks.

He avoided classes where he’d be seeing his high school friends. He knew he’d slip into his old “class clown” role and become a problem rather than a success story.

Even more remarkably, Rose talked his way into the college honors program. He discovered these classes encouraged free-wheeling discussion — something he enjoyed. And he learned how to pass a critical thinking exam by building on his own analytical style, with diagrams and pictures.

Ultimately, he earned graduate degrees at Harvard. Not bad for a kid whose teachers had given up on him.

— -it fits the purpose: clearly demonstrating that an environment geared to the “average” will produce failures.
— it’s relatable: reaches many readers who recall frustration with an educational system that didn't meet them where they were
— it’s undeniably true

When you read those stories, it’s hard to avoid concluding, “Todd Rose knows a lot about the subject.” So when you want to demonstrate your own expertise, you can apply the same ingredients:

(1) Choose a story that demonstrates what you know — a story that couldn’t be told unless the storyteller was an expert.

(2) Pick a story that will resonate with your audience.

(3) Make the story completely accurate. An audience saying, “I don’t believe that” will not believe you’re an expert. If your story is somewhat far-fetched, you may need to find another one.

When you assemble a collection of these stories, people will begin to perceive your value. You’ll find greater response — and greater success — as you share them more widely.

Cathy Goodwin is an author, speaker, and consultant. She teaches business owners, independent professionals, and corporate executives how to use strategic storytelling to reach their goals.

Originally published at on February 2, 2020.

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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