When you tell clients about your experiences with past customers to demonstrate your expertise, don’t make up happy endings that never happened. Buyers and sellers can see right through dishonesty.

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When business challenges hit, the life of a real estate professional can feel like a comedy of errors. But you don’t have to succumb to the pressure. By turning your mistakes or flaws into stories that resonate with potential clients, you can help them see your true value as an agent.

This was the central focus of speaker and comedian Kathy Klotz-Guest’s session Sunday at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in San Francisco. In her energetic, one-hour long presentation, Klotz-Guest worked to explain how practitioners can leverage three comedy principles to power their storytelling and foster deeper connections with prospects.

1. Identify an empathetic protagonist. A story that produces empathy, Klotz-Guest said, is one with a central human character who is wanting for something. That means your company—or any business—can’t be the main protagonist of your story because “you can’t hug a company. You can’t high-five a company. Pick a human lens, and aim your story through that protagonist.”

Be sure not to gloss over the character’s flaws or quirks. Comedy is the art of telling an imperfect truth, explained Klotz-Guest. “Nobody wants a perfect story because nobody is perfect.”

Klotz-Guest used audience participation to flesh out a character that real estate professionals might be familiar with: the unrealistic seller. In under a minute, the audience helped to flesh out the flawed central character of the session: Married with two kids at age 42, Jim is a structural engineer who likes skydiving and pineapple on his pizza. He’s unrealistic about the price of his home because he believes it’s worth more than his agent’s professional opinion. While he’s “a super nice guy,” Jim is detail-oriented and research-obsessed, and he believes that in under and hour, he can Google anything and become an expert.

It’s good to have an in-depth profile of your character like this, said Klotz-Guest, because it can help people to identify with your client base. “If by the end of the story, you’ve made Jim happy, then prospects may say, ‘I’m kind of like Jim. Can you make me happy, too?’”

2. Create the tension that moves your story forward. The next step to telling a great story is to add tension. Humans are hardwired to pay more attention when something doesn’t come easy, explained Klotz-Guest. In fact, studies have shown that “more gray matter lights up in the brain when conflict is introduced. We are pulled into the story because we want to see how it’s resolved.”

In other words, if there’s no challenge, there’s no story. To raise the emotional stakes, work with the comedy principle of the rule of threes, said Klotz-Guest, by introducing three potential roadblocks to your character’s desired outcome. Again polling the audience in real-time, Klotz-Guest asked: “What could happen to Jim that would get in the way of him wanting to sell his home for more than it’s worth?” The audience offered these options:

  • Three comparable homes are listed nearby, all for less than Jim’s desired price.
  • His wife has fallen in love with a new house and wants to make an offer, but their current home hasn’t sold and Jim is holding fast to his high list price.
  • He finally gets an offer, but the home doesn’t appraise.

3. End on a human note, not a perfect note. When it comes to a story’s resolution, Klotz-Guest cautioned against tying everything up neatly with a bow. “Too often, our stories become bland because we think we have to have a perfect ending,” she said. Instead, she recommended focusing on the change you created for the character—the customer—and how you helped them improve their circumstances.

Working with the audience one last time, Klotz-Guest wrapped up Jim’s story like this: In one instance, he sees that the other comparable homes have sold at their lower list prices. Perplexed at first, he then realizes that it may be time to trust his agent to set the price. The home sells immediately.

Another audience member crafted a Hollywood ending, complete with an unexpected twist. In this scenario, Jim gives up his price, accepts a lower offer and moves into the house his wife loves. It feels like a concession until he finds out a skydiving instructor lives next door, and because of this connection, Jim can go skydiving for free—for life.

When telling client stories, Klotz-Guest urged, don’t be afraid to embrace flaws in the characters and their journeys. “Flaws make us human, and they’re what make stories great. Imperfect is the new normal.”