Monday, April 27, 2009

Using Stories to Demonstrate Your Personal Brand

If you want to see a group of children get quiet very quickly, just let the teacher pull out a book and proclaim it's time for story hour. Nothing seems to hold the attention of a bunch of wiggling little bodies more than the magic of a good story.

Several months ago, I blogged about the power of telling a story in your career. That prompted some great responses, including a book from Katharine Hansen called "Tell Me About Yourself."

I interviewed Hansen, curious about how job seekers and current employees in this tough and very competitive job market could learn how to be better storytellers.

While it is tough to tell a story in a resume, there are many more opportunities, Hansen told me, such as a cover letter than tells a story of your career interest and determination or stories about solving a problem.

Or, there are the opportunities to tell stories at networking events, or when you've got some time with a boss. He or she will be much more interested -- and you will be more memorable -- if you can tell a story about your ability to work with a difficult customer or why you are interested in a big project. (Remember no story should be more than a couple of minutes long.)

In her book, Hansen also advises people to use stories to communicate their personal brand. "Take a minute to write down what you are most known for," Hansen says. "In what area(s) can you offer yourself as an expert?"

She adds that while you may consider yourself an expert in a certain professional arena, "hobbies and interests can be fair game."

Once you've written your branding statement, then you can consider what stories would support it. Some examples Hansen gives:

* A story demonstrating your passion about your field.
* A story that shows your understanding and experience with your audience's needs.
* A story that demonstrates a pioneering idea you've developed.
* A story that shows how you fit in with the history of your field.
* A story that illustrates alliances and partnerships that support you.

The key, I believe, is knowing the difference between telling a story that makes sense to your audience, and holding them "hostage" while you ramble on about something they don't understand or care about. Practice your delivery and work on telling your stories to trusted colleagues until you believe you've developed your skills enough to use it in other professional contexts.

One final note: Be truthful with your stories. These are not fables for you to spin in front of a campfire. These stories are to be a testament to your abilities, to strengthen your career and make you memorable.

What are some other ways to use stories to help your career?


Michael R. Gaudet said...

Anita, this is a good solid post. I met w a 'life coach' a while back and he told me the same thing: Tell your story.
I agree that it's a good idea, and more to the point- people love a good story. We are hard-wired as a species to savor a great tale, especially as you say, if it is presented in a way that is both accessible and interesting!
Thanks for this, it reinforces what I believe to be a core truth.

Anita said...

So happy you found this useful. I think for me, I always have to think that I can't just have a cookie-cutter story -- I always have to be aware of my audience, and what they need from me. That has helped me learn to make stories more relevant.

Recruiting Animal said...

When I first started going out to make face to face presentations to companies (for business), I was tongue-tied.

I'm a headhunter. What more is there to say?

My partner was smarter though. He started telling the strangers across the table our history.

We knew the story well so it was an easy one to tell.

We were comfortable in the presentation and it gave the other guys a target, something could ask questions about so that we could find out what they were interested in.

Anita said...

Recruiting Animal,
That's a great example. Thanks for sharing it.

Kathryn/ said...

HI, Anita, this is a great idea. I do this already to some extent, but I'm going to give some thought as to how I might better incorporate this storytelling idea even more on my website. Thanks! Fun!

Joe Lavelle said...

Hi Anita
This is a great post and has inspired me to buy and read "Tell Me About Yourself" ASAP.

There is a chapter called "Mastering Storytelling" in my soon to be released book that provides strategies for professionals wanting to accelerate their careers, "Act As If It Were Impossible to Fail".

Here is a my favorite excerpt from that chapter:
"Establish a “vault”: Some great stories never go out of style, no matter how much time has passed: The Odyssey, Beowulf, Romeo and Juliet, Pinocchio, Moby Dick and The Wizard of Oz are all examples of stories that have stood the test of time, because they draw upon themes we feel in our lives and appeal to a wide range of people.... To tell a good story, you must know some other good stories first."

Thanks again for your post! I have been following your blog for about a month and I really am enjoying what you have to say.

Joe Lavelle
Follow Me

Anita said...

You bring up a good point -- we should storytell not only in person, but also in what we write. Look at the popularity of "Who Moved My Cheese" or the "Five Dysfunctions of a Team." All storytelling ideas in order to sell a brand and/or idea.

Anita said...

Glad you found this post useful, and I'm sure Katharine will be thrilled to know you're purchasing her book!
Your example from your book is excellent. People should study the pacing, the body language, etc., of great storytellers in order to use this most effectively.

Unknown said...

This is great. I'm writing a story right now.

Anita said...

Awesome! Maybe once you get one story, you'll see that it will be worthwhile to add more.

Dan Erwin said...

Last year one of our daughters got a great new job. After she started in her position, she talked to a number of those who'd interviewed her, asking why they hired her. The recurring response was fascinating.

Excellent education, superb experience, and GREAT STORIES! And that was from some of the top scientists in our country.

Anita said...

Wow...that's a great story about a great story! It just goes to show that everyone, no matter their profession, listens and retains information better when there are stories involved. Thanks for sharing that experience.

Scot Herrick said...

Make sure your stories incorporate the scale ($2 million budget) and results (under budget 5%) of the subject you are talking about in the categories suggested. The story is great, but the impact is much better to a hiring manager when scale and results are incorporated.

It's tricky, too, since those numbers don't normally just roll off your tongue like you were at a dinner party. But get them in the story -- it is a big differentiator to others looking to get the job.

Anita said...

You're right. Using numbers can be tricky, and you want to make sure you don't use too many of them because it might cause the listener to be focused on "what did he just say that number was?" instead of the point of the story. But when you can say you were only one of three people -- out of 500 -- that was selected for an award, that does make a bigger impact than just saying "I won an award." Great suggestions.