Promoting Yourself with a Great Story

Ginny PulosSo, you are doing great work but fail to get noticed by upper management at work? The remedy is promoting your brand and knowing how to blow your own horn. But how?

It's important to know and effectively tell interesting stories about yourself at just the right moments to get the notice of others. It takes practice, preparation and the ability to look for opportunity. You need to be able to tell a story about yourself successfully without being a bore. But, if you prepare, you can do it.
 
Use a vignette (a quick picture) when you make a self-introduction or answer a quick question. I often say when asked at cocktail parties how I started my business that I felt like the natives were chasing me to the cliff, the sharks were swimming down below, so I took a leap, held my nose and outswam the sharks. That's a snapshot. If someone's really interested this is the opportunity to tell more. Creating pictures for your audience is the best way to get people to experience what you're trying to impart. 
 
You might reveal a story to your team when telling about something you achieved will help the team get to the goal. Or, have a few stories ready when you attend meetings or conferences, take long flights with colleagues or work on special projects for your boss. Your stories must already be prepared, fluid and current in your mind so they can be delivered with the ease and brevity of someone asking you your name or where you went to school. This isn't the time to go searching for words, for dates, for names, for just the right words to describe what you mean.
 
The Elements of a Great Story
 
Great stories need to be brief, be about a person, engage an emotion and end on a high note. For instance, you can tell a story about a huge mistake you made, the emotional turmoil it caused you and the others involved, and end with how you squeezed the lemon and made lemonade, or tell the price you paid for the mistake, what you learned and how it changed your life.
 
The very best stories are also told in present tense, and they are a little bit acted out. To get you into present tense to describe something that happened eons ago, simply say, "Picture this: It's the end of the 80s, and I'm walking down Broadway". Great persuaders do this all the time, consciously or unconsciously — and successfully.  
 
Where do I get these great stories?
 
Each of us has overcome challenges, learned hard lessons, achieved a goal or passed through rituals of our culture. On a piece of paper, list in one column the major events in your life. Next column, briefly write about each, then write your age at the time, and most important, in the last column write what you learned from the experience. What was the outcome?
 
Then, put your true life event in a problem/solution format. For instance, "This is a story about taking risks," or a story of "learning from mistakes," or "how my husband persuaded me to marry him," or "how I got my last promotion." Then, go back to the elements of the story and tell it. 
 
Ask yourself: Is the story brief? Keep telling it till you can make it brief, no more than three to five minutes max! Cut out all the unnecessary words. Tell portions of it to friends. See how they receive it. Do their eyes glaze over? Are they engaged? What emotion does it engage? Keep going.
 
If you focus on a negative emotion, like loss or failure, make the story end on a high note. Each of us has experienced painful experiences, but if we live long enough, we realize that we learned something valuable, or that this was a turning point in our lives toward something new, better or different. 
 
Think of Steve Jobs in that famous commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. He tells just three stories: being given away for adoption at birth, being fired from Apple and about facing illness and death. These are not easy subjects to come to terms with, yet he bravely reveals himself to thousands of complete strangers. Each story ends on a high note. Or has a moral. He creates real pictures with each story. His delivery could be improved and some stories might benefit from being told in present tense, but the stories are powerful nonetheless. Yours will be too if you take the time to learn this vital skill and begin to fashion a few compelling stories from your life experiences.
 
How Should I Start?
 
People say that we are all the heroes of the movies we play in our heads. So, first, learn to collect and fashion a few key stories about yourself. Next, look for links in a conversation where it might be natural and appropriate to share one of your stories. It might be when you're just getting to know a person or a team, when you introduce yourself or to offer your struggling team a real life story of a difficulty you overcame. Another entry point might be during a coffee break and some conversational tipoff occurs. And a great time to have a great story ready is when a boss focuses on you and you know it's your opportunity to shine.
 
What's amazing about one good story is that there are always twists and turns in it, and those twists and turns permit us to target one great story differently for different audiences, if necessary. The story can fit several opportunities once you really know it and are confident about telling it. Jobs' story about being fired from Apple could be focused on the humiliation he suffered, the loss, the freedom of starting over, or even of meeting and falling in love with his wife. All those twists and turns are in that story, so for a different audience, Jobs could have heightened one aspect and muted that same aspect for another audience.  
 
Why Perfect this Skill?
 
Here's what's in it for you: CONFIDENCE TO SHINE IN THE SPOTLIGHT! All great leaders need to educate, inform, persuade, motivate and inspire others. And almost any key interview begins with the dreaded command, "Tell me about yourself". You'll never be able to tap into opportunities to be in the right place at the right time without telling a few great stories about yourself. And if you know someone who has managed to get there without telling a story, know she won't stay long without storytelling ability. So I urge you to begin today. Practice, practice, practice. Tell, tell, tell. Edit, edit, edit. Create pictures. What did it look, taste, feel and smell like? Be brief. Engage our emotions. End on a high note. Just like that, you'll win us over and doors will open for you!
 
NYWICI member Ginny Pulos, Ginny Pulos Communications, is a specialist in presence, presentation and persuasion skills in corporate environments.
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