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What’s your career story?
30 June 2015
At heart, we are all storytellers, and we live our lives through stories. A good story has the power to engage our emotions, and to inspire us while we absorb the lessons or concepts behind it. In changing times, crafting and telling your working identity through story is vital – inside your current workplace as well as with clients and when networking or looking for a job.
Storytelling might have once been regarded as a bit of a ‘soft’ skill, but not any more. In “Leading Minds”, Harvard Professor Howard Gardner says storytelling is the core skill of leaders because “only the leader who can both tell and embody a compelling story has the power to influence”. And whether you are running the show or sitting in the fifth desk along from the window, the power to influence those around you is key to career success.
So, how do you craft a compelling story? Good stories have these seven important elements:
1, They are authentic
It’s of no use to make up pretty tales for your audience, and it may be quite damaging to your credibility.
2, They bring in your real past and the lessons you’ve learned
They bring alive the obstacles you have faced and the struggle it took (or are still taking) to overcome them. Good stories engage with questions like, ‘What have been your most challenging experiences at work?’ and ‘How have you solved difficult situations?’
3, They are powered by your passionWhich then inspires and convinces the listeners. What do you love to do? What achievements make you most proud?
4, They answer the question: ‘What can you do that solves a problem for others, whether for clients, a prospective employer or your current boss?’How can your strengths contribute to their goals?
5, The subject matter and telling are in a form that’s relevant to your audienceSo the same story might be told differently for staff or key clients. The facts are the same, but the telling is (naturally) shaped by the occasion.
6, They use examples, metaphor and illustration to bring the facts aliveIt is these elements that engage your audience emotionally and help them relate to what you’re saying.
7, They sound polished (without being slick)So rehearse, think it through, but let the actual telling come from the circumstances and your audience, not a script.
You can use stories in meetings, job interviews, when wooing a new client, to highlight an achievement or show your suitability for a project. Of course, you could just tell your boss how brilliant you are, and that your contribution to her new project is vital, but how much better to add a quick story about a similar situation where you excelled.
Maximum two minutes is a good rule of thumb – and it doesn’t matter how clever or funny or well-told a story is, please don’t tell it if it doesn’t suit the circumstances or the audience.
It’s great to think about your key stories, so you can pull them out confidently and tell them with fluency when needed.