Storytelling your way to corporate success: Few simple steps to master the art
People who can create compelling stories out of their experiences have a definitive advantage over others who are only listing facts about themselves.Updated: Mar 20, 2019 13:48 IST
There was a time when the attributes that gave you a head start in a job interview or corporate pitch were excellent academic credentials, a crisp resume highlighting your achievements, and in case of a corporate pitch, a proven track record and appropriate endorsements. Sharp dressing might have worked as a bonus.
Cut to 2019. This stereotype of a successful student / corporate executive will no longer land you that coveted job. Your CV and endorsements need not make any great impression on recruiters since there may be others with the same or better credentials. So what is that something ‘extra’ that is going to set you apart from other aspirants?
The trick to gaining your interlocutor’s mind space is to tell a good story that has them riveted. It is stories that stimulate memories by creating an emotional connect with events. People who can create compelling stories out of their experiences have a definitive advantage over others who are only listing facts about themselves.
Storytelling is one of the best ways to build lasting relationships. Great personal stories expose our character and our struggles. They are inspiring, and sharing them is an instant connect with an audience. Stories are the bridges that connect generations through the sharing of collective wisdom. Now, most leading brands and corporations make use of the art of storytelling to engage customers. Even an advertisement has something called a “storyboard”!
The John Chambers story:
The legendary Cisco CEO, John Chambers, was dyslexic as a child. As the CEO of one of the world’s most valuable companies, Chambers didn’t want to signal that he had a weakness of any kind and he certainly didn’t view it as a strength. However, it was a chance meeting with a dyslexic child at a ‘Take Your Children to Work Day’ that made him reveal his secret and also explain how he overcame it. When Chambers returned home that evening, wondering whether he had revealed too much, he had several dozen voice messages and emails from employees who wanted to thank him for sharing his story. They told Chambers that he had inspired and connected with them in a way he never had before.
What Chambers had perceived as a weakness was actually the source of his greatest strength. In a world of increasing complexity, his brain was wired to visualize vast amounts of data, draw connections at a faster pace and see around corners that would help Cisco survive and thrive through five significant economic downturns and market transitions.
Personal stories of overcoming adversity not only inspire, they also help to build trust between leaders and their teams - exceedingly relevant in today’s scenario, where the success of leaders is measured in three variables: trust, relationships and track record.
Here are a few simple steps to master the art of storytelling:
The first is to line up a template of examples and anecdotes before going for an interview/pitch. This could be done while preparing answers for routine questions by dishing out revealing stories that highlight your competence. It is important to make your stories simple and short. Clearly explaining the key parts of a complex narrative in less than two minutes is an art that takes practice and discipline.
The next step is to give a structure to the story to ensure that the essence of the story is not lost in translation or details. For instance, if there are career/ education breaks, explain these by putting events in perspective. Do not fall into the “tell me about yourself” trap - put a positive spin on things, like how you added a degree in the gap, or were volunteering or learnt an art or a new skill.
Adapting the story to the situation is the next step. For this, you have to take cues from the information available on the company, online and otherwise:
Be all ears when the interviewers take you through company details or are dropping hints on the kind of talent they are looking for. One could make a great impression on interviewers by adapting one’s story to that larger plot.
Learn what market or internal pressures may be on the minds of your audience. Research what’s going on in their industry, find their blogs, and recent news stories about their organization. Find out what they need to hear from you. And don’t forget to lace the story with enough anecdotes and humour so as to make the narrative interesting. For example, if the company that you are interviewing for is notorious for being risk averse, you may want to start your story by an anecdote that states that failure is the grandfather of innovation and creativity.
And finally, be yourself. Mimicking others doesn’t work. The story has to be told convincingly and with a personal touch that mirrors the character of the storyteller. When faced with a difficult situation during a job interview or a pitch, there is nothing better than to be candid, as demonstrated by the now famous story of Sundar Pichai’s google interview. Back in 2004, Google had just launched gmail and the panel asked Pichai what he thought of it. The only problem was that he had thought of it as an April Fool’s joke and had never bothered to check it out! It was only after the fourth round when someone showed him the product that he realised they were in earnest and was able to answer the questions. Pichai’s response is now historic as he had the humility to accept failure.
If these steps are followed in letter and spirit, the chances of you landing the job get brighter.
(Author Ms Saloni Sinha is Asst Professor- Business Communication Area BIMTECH, Gr Noida. Views expressed here are personal)
First Published: Mar 20, 2019 13:48 IST