Nancy Duarte on How Telling A Story With Empathy Leads To Business Growth

By Mo Bunnell

Nancy Duarte shares a simple three-step framework for telling a story in a way that creates empathy between you and the audience, as well as the one mistake that most business development experts make right off the bat that sinks their chances of making a connection with someone. Learn why empathy is the key to business development, what kinds of stories you need in your back pocket to create an instant connection with a client, and how working with your ideal clients can actually make business development easier.

Mo asks Nancy Duarte: What’s your big idea for people to grow their business that feels great?

  • LinkedIn does a study every year and each year the biggest skills gap is oral communication skills and the spoken word across all industries. How you show up, the presence you have, and how you deliver is how you separate yourself from your competitors
  • Communication excellence takes practice and the ability to understand  frameworks and models. We need to be adaptive to the situation and what we hear, and we also need to be intentional about what words we use when communicating.
  • The first step is always research. You can’t come prepared with good questions without research. The first thing a salesperson should do is understand the strategic initiatives and how things are going to be measured.
  • Empathy is a theme that runs through everything that happens in Nancy’s organization.
  • You can find a plethora of information about a potential customer in their newsfeeds. This can give you an idea of the kinds of pressure they are under.
  • Sometimes an external person can be a better student than someone within the organization. When approaching a prospect, you should take some time to try to understand their perspective as deeply as possible including the culture, the biases, and the budgets.
  • Nancy has a platform that enables her to invite people to part of it, which is a great way to initiate meetings.
  • One of the values of Nancy’s organization is generous experts. Nancy dropped over 100 customers during Covid to focus on 35 of her best, and subsequently, the organization grew over the last year.


Mo asks Nancy Duarte: What’s your best advice on creating and closing the meaty business we all want?

  • Anytime you’re speaking to an audience, no matter where that is, the first thing you need to do is think about your audience journey. You need to think about who they are when they walk in the room and who you want them to be when they walk out. Your role in that journey is the mentor.
  • It starts with a big idea: Your point of view on an industry and what’s at stake if the audience doesn’t adopt your point of view.
  • One of the most important things about the hero’s journey is that they start in the normal world and then something happens that moves them into the special world. You need to look at every communication as an opportunity to enrapture the audience, bring them into your special world, and then have them go back to their normal world with new tools and gifts or special powers.
  • As presenters, we often think that we are the central figure, but the truth is that each person in the audience is the hero of their own story. As the speaker, you’re Yoda, not Luke Skywalker.
  • If you deliver your material in a way that makes the audience walk out the door with your idea in their head and their heart, you win.
  • Even if the audience isn’t physically leaving when you’re not giving value, they are mentally checking out.
  • Authenticity is crucial and the best way to be authentic is to use the story structure to convey your perspective. Being able to show vulnerability is what makes you more likeable and connects people to you.


Mo asks Nancy Duarte: What’s your best advice to people for deepening relationships in an authentic way?

  • The simple answer is storytelling. Studies have shown that different areas of the brain light up during a story, and it allows people to feel your content, not just listen to it.
  • Storytelling is a powerful way to feel a sense of connection between two people. If the goal is to create a bond, the best way to do that is through story.
  • If you don’t have a great origin story, you should have a calling story. You should also have a collection of stories in your repertoire that shows how your product or service gets your customers unstuck.
  • Origin stories are reasons to believe, but there are also stories just meant to bond or influence. They can come in the form of I, We, or They, and the more distant the story is from your own experience, the more you have to build in performance and empathy.
  • The more you practice telling stories, the more you are able to inject your own genuineness and authenticity.
  • Even Nancy hires a coach to help her craft her story. In one of her more recent internal presentations, Nancy took her slide deck and noted what emotions she wanted her audience to feel and when, and then recrafted the message to facilitate that.


Mo asks Nancy Duarte: How can we stay focused and continue on the growth path while we’re busy with delivery?

  • It’s definitely a challenge. You have to deliver your highest and best work in order to get repeat business, but you also have to spend a lot of energy on growth activities that are very different from delivery.
  • One of the things that Nancy noticed by eliminating all the clients that weren’t ideal for her organization was that it brought those two things closer together. Calendaring and blocking out specific time is also a good way to ensure those activities get done.
  • To identify their ideal clients, the first step was to create a profile. It involved coming up with the right rubrics to understand which companies had the highest sales potential and biggest opportunity for growth.
  • One of the most challenging roles is to be doing both delivery and sales at the same time. Care and honest communication is what will bring your clients back to you each year.
  • Asking questions like “How can we help our clients achieve even more than they think they could?” is important to identifying those opportunities. Nancy also looked at how deep the penetration was into each organization and synergy with other services that Nancy’s organization had to offer.
  • Looking at each client from a utopian/dystopian point of view was a helpful exercise as well.


Mo shares his insights from the habits of Nancy Duarte.

  • Empathy was the common thread found through all the content of Nancy’s interview. When it comes to a first meeting, whether that’s meeting someone for the first time or with a new offering, most people start off with the intent of talking about themselves, and one of the biggest transformations Mo sees with his clients is to turn that around.
  • If we are truly thinking with empathy, our mind is not thinking about closing the deal. We’re trying to be helpful and get the client excited about getting our help.
  • Follow-ups like a give-to-get, video training, or books are great investments in the potential client’s success.
  • Follow-ups come in four main forms; technical, procedural, relational, and big ideas. Those four touch on the four ways that people think, and good follow-ups generally span all four and are framed in a way that gets the client excited.
  • Great relationships turn to commercial success over time. The problem comes in when you are going into a meeting trying to sell, because then you are less likely to be listening with empathy and securing the follow ups you want.
  • Story is the most memorable way of communication. When people are listening to a story, research shows that the areas of the brain light up in a way that mirrors the story.
  • If you tell your stories in the right way, you’re connecting with your audience in an empathic way where you are both feeling the same things at the same moment.
  • Get great at your origin story, a product story, and a client story. Deliberately practice them and hone your story telling skill. Build a list of the kinds of stories that you would like to use to connect with clients.
  • We communicate best with stories that involve you and another party. Your ‘We’ story allows you to harness empathy and allows the audience to come along the ride with you in a way they can identify with.
  • Empathy is the key to successful business development. It’s essentially about always serving other people, being proactive, and helping your clients succeed.
  • The more you help others achieve their goals, the more of your goals you can achieve.

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