It was a Thursday night at 5pm. As I drove to pick up my 16-month old son from day care, I spoke to a client who was in a bit of a pickle. He needed help with an urgent sales proposal. It needed to be presented to a bigwig, potential client at lunchtime the next day. As he spoke, my mind raced to work out if, and how, I could fit in helping him. My fiancé was working late that night. I still had to go home, cook dinner, feed my son, bath him then put him to bed.
Time was critical, and I didn’t have much of it. But I agreed to help him because I could tell it was important. So after my son fell asleep that night, I made myself a cup of tea, sat down at my computer and punched out as much as I could of the sales proposal. Then I did what no person with a small child should ever do, I set my alarm for 5am to rise before my son and finish the job. By the time the client walked in to his lunchtime meeting, he had a polished proposal to leave with the prospective client thanks to my frantic efforts.
Now I could have just told you I’m the type of person who goes “above and beyond” for clients. I could have told you I’m the type of person who just “gets the job done”. But those phrases carry very little meaning because we have all heard them too many times before. It is just like when brands tell us about their “superior” products that are really “high quality”. No one believes it. That’s why brands are turning to storytelling to grow their businesses and it is why you should consider storytelling to help grow your career.
Storytelling is almost as old as time itself. Without going in to the science behind what makes storytelling effective, you should at least know the human brain is hardwired for stories. Stories help us connect with others, make sense of the world and understand foreign concepts.
There are a few essential ingredients needed for a compelling story. Firstly, there must be a point to it – a moral to the story. There also has to be an obstacle or challenge that needs to be conquered. And, of course, there must be a hero and an ending. While this all might sound too much, just think about it for a second. In the context of your career, has it not just been one big story? Have there been plenty of challenges, highs, lows, obstacles and triumphs?
If so, here are a few ways you could implement storytelling to grow your career.
Refrain from using buzz words in interviews. Rather than telling a potential employer that you are prepared to go the extra mile to get a job done, share with them a story about the time you worked back every night or spent your weekend thinking of creative strategies because you were so committed to the project.
Stories are a powerful tool to influence and inspire. As a leader you can share organisational stories to better communicate corporate values, mission statements and visions, as well create camaraderie amongst your team – leading to better productivity and results.
Stories show our human side. They showcase our struggles and challenges, as well as our triumphs, which allows people to quickly connect with us on a personal level. Not to mention, because storytelling speaks of struggles and challenges, you don’t come off looking like a bragging, perfect professional. No one wants to network with someone like that!
Performance appraisals are not just an opportunity for an employer to tell you how you are going; they are also an opportunity to remind your superiors of your best efforts this year. Don’t walk in to these meetings armed only with results; recount how you achieved these results. It must have taken some blood, sweat and tears. What challenges did you face? How did you overcome them?
Almost everything we achieve in life, no matter how big or small, is a story in itself. These stories are the essence of who we are. They underpin why we do what we do and how we do it. By harnessing these stories, you will be able to better communicate what makes you unique, which will in turn help grow and shape your career.
Nicole Thomson-Pride is a brand storyteller and strategic copywriter.