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Tips for Telling Your Story

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Whether you’re launching a job search, lobbying for a promotion, taking over as the new team leader, or bonding with colleagues and customers, you may want to tell your story. Doing so builds people’s trust in you.    

The ability to tell your story is vital in your life, both personally and professionally. Below are tips to help you tell your story in today’s business world.

What is your story?  From a business perspective, I think it’s telling your listeners about an incident or a time in your childhood or adolescence that helped shape you as a leader.  The ability to tell your story is key, because either implicitly or explicitly, you must be able to answer the question: Why would anyone want to follow you? Hire you? Do business with you? 

In my teaching leadership communication to MBAs from around the world, I’ve heard many students’ inspiring stories—from being a wide-eyed child coming to America to a courageous adolescent forced to grow up fast because of a family tragedy, a natural disaster or war, from overcoming a childhood stammer to refusing to let a near-fatal sports injury sideline a determined soccer player.      

Yes, I know: This exercise is a challenge. But just thinking about how you tell your story will help you present your self.

Mach Creative

So here are the key elements to help get you started:

  1.  Analyze yourself: What are your unique traits as a leader?  What do you want your listeners to know about you?  Are you someone who takes initiative?  Do you have a strong work ethic?  Are you calm in a crisis?   

  2. Set the stage: Concisely describe the time and place, but avoid generalities.  For example, “When I was about 10….” Is not as interesting as “When I was a fifth grader at Spring Garden School, in Keokuk, Iowa.”  It doesn’t have to be long and drawn out; however, you should paint a vivid picture.  Help capture your listeners’ imagination. 

  3. Demonstrate the challenge:  What was the struggle?  What was it that stood in your way?  What was the conflict? A schoolyard bully?  A family tragedy? A strange culture? A new language? A high-school prank gone wrong? What did you have to overcome?  

  4. Share what you learned: Tell your audience what you learned as a result of the struggle. How did the struggle make you stronger, wiser, braver, more compassionate.

–Susan Mach, PhD

Susan Mach, PhD, is a communication coach, trainer, and strategist. She teaches management communication part time at major NYC-area business schools, and investment research report writing at NYSSA.

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