Can I help you? Yes, you can, is your reply. Your eagerness to get my help would definitely depend on your condition at that moment, and the extent of desperation which is driven by the intensity of your problem.

We all need help at some time. How soon that that help comes depends on your need and the preparedness of the person offering help to provide solutions.

Can I help you” You have heard that several times, but have you really pondered over it to understand its real meaning, and to make the best out of it especially if you are the one making the offer. It is a simple question that is loaded with business sense and tells a big story that is: You are ready to offer service, satisfaction, or package solutions for customers/clients needs.

Can I Help You, provides an opportunity to spread the word about your business; to tell a good story about what you can do; and to increase the volume of your business. It offers a wonderful opportunity to apply storytelling to your business. It is so because the recipient may ask, How Can You Help Me? Then you tell a simply a story of how you will solve her problem and demonstrate it too. But hardly do many of us think of this question as a storytelling and more business  opportunity. Rather, we say it as one of those everyday expressions to do a favour for someone in need. Not so as we shall soon discover.

This offering, Can I Help You, can turn around your business if you understand it and apply it well. It  happened in Nigeria’s music industry more than three decades ago, when Nigeria’s ace musician Sunny Okosun’s Ozzidi, released a single titled, Help, on gramophone record. It became and instant hit, a bestseller among music buffs, teenagers and young adults, and the track dominated the airwaves of FM radio stations.

Sunny Okosun’s, Help, instantly became the toast of radio disc jockeys, and phone-in request programmes, the favourite play of adolescents and the delight of entertainment journalists who did rave reviews of that single play in newspapers and magazines.

Why was Help, such a hit? Sunny Okosun discerned what was dear to people’s hearts, wrote emotional lyrics and turned it into good music that told a moving story with good instrumentation. The market rushed for it. Can you see the power of storytelling, even in music? Every musical play you hear is a story, if only you can listen carefully to the lyrics. Even if the track is all instrumentation, it tells a story. There are so many ways of telling a story: through words, action, music, movies, and writing.

What about you dear professional? When you ask your customers, Can I Help You, does the market rush for your business? The starting point is to really understand that offering, and to know when and how to use it.

For many of us, when we say, Can I Help You, what we communicate is “I want To Do You a Favour. That is the instant impression we create in the minds of the recipient, putting her on the defensive. If it comes from a male boss to a desperate female job seeker, your guess is as good as mine. That help becomes very suggestive. The young hapless girl thinks that “this man wants to do me  the favour of giving me a job, but he wants instant gratification, upfront, before the job comes.”

Some bosses are even more direct: “Ye-e-e-es, what can I do for you? He blurts out, with a glint in his eyes as he reclines and swings in his executive chair. His verbal communication is offering help, but his non-verbals are very suggestive. He is the one that really needs help, but he is using his position to exploit the desperation of the young lady who badly needs a job. Big mistake.

What would have  become an effective communication tool that can turn around a business and improve balance sheet, or increase market share has been reduced to a suggestive one-on-one communications that cannot improve the bottom line.

If this is your trademark as a professional, time to make a U-turn because you are not using storytelling to improve your business. The day your business crashes, nobody will show up again for your “help,” and no one will offer you any “help” either. Why? Because for many of us, our understanding of that question (offering), Can I Help You, is flawed. What some of us are really saying is, “I Want To Do You a Favour. This is wrong.

Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as, and He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at

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