3 Tips for Telling Your Own Story

May 14th, 2015

A friend asked me to give her daughter feedback on her resume because her daughter had just learned about the job of her dreams–and, of course, she was eager to present her credentials in the best way possible. I, in turn, asked another friend–a former HR director and executive recruiter, for her input since she’s truly an expert on the subject.

As I looked at my recruiter friend’s best tips, I realized how they dovetail with tips on crafting a good story. That shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, a resume is a brief version of a person’s career story.

Here are three tips for crafting a compelling story, whether it’s a story you’ll be telling to your employees or one that you’ll be writing in the form of a resume:

  1. Know your audience — Who are they? What do they most care about? What do they need to hear from/about you to accomplish their goals? When you have a clear understanding of the audience’s needs and desires, you’ll be better able to create a story that’s interesting and meaningful for them.
  2. Edit ruthlessly! — After you’ve prepared your first draft, read it from the audience’s point of view. Which words relate key elements of the story? Just as importantly, which words are unnecessary to convey your message? Cut everything that isn’t absolutely essential.
  3. Use descriptive verbs — Enliven your story with verbs that clearly convey what happened. Did you learn a lesson, or were you struck by a lightning bolt of insight? Would you like a particular job, or are you excited by the challenge?

It’s difficult for everyone to determine what someone else wants to hear from them or about them. But when you start first by considering who the audience is, you’re able to see yourself from their perspective. With the audience in mind, you’ll be able to build a solid foundation for shaping and telling an engaging story, regardless of the format or the presentation mode.

 

Virtual Storytelling Is the Future

April 30th, 2015

The future of storytelling is here!

Rather than simply listening to a storyteller or watching it unfold on TV or a movie screen, virtual storytelling technology enables people to actually experience–and influence–the story. After years of experiments with so-called “Smell-o-Vision” and 3-D movies, people now can actually immerse themselves in the action virtually. “Sensory Stories: An Exhibition of New Narrative Experiences” is currently on exhibit at Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York. It runs through July 26th and then will go on tour.

4b768a2a6bdc19df6268ced9fd615380

Birdly Thanassi Karageorgiou / Museum of the Moving Image

As Margaret Rhodes writes on wired.com, the most sensational of the techniques in the show is Birdly, pictured above.  By lying face down on a padded platform and slipping your arms into a set of plastic wings, you can experience the sensation of flying over, zooming in between buildings with the wind blowing through your hair.

Other displays allow a person to get caught up in the emotion of the story and to actually participate in weaving the story. All in all, it’s a fascinating look at what the future of story looks–and feels–like.

Exceptional Leaders Enliven Vision through Infectiousness

April 23rd, 2015

In a recent post (March 26), I wrote about effective communication as one of the 12 behaviors of exceptional leaders  identified by Travis Bradberry, president of TalentSmart & co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Today’s topic is another of the 12: infectiousness.

Infectiousness isn’t a trait that usually is cited as a key leadership skill, but I suspect it’s because that trait is often described differently. It could fall under the oft-mentioned “charisma,” “charm” or “engaging personality,” or a number of other descriptors. Infectiousness also could be encompassed in other characteristics, particularly passion, which is another of the 12 behaviors on Bradberry’s list. But I like the fact that he calls out infectiousness to stand on its own because unless the leader’s passion is expressed in a way that employees “catch the bug,” it won’t have a lasting effect.

As Bradberry explains, “Great leaders know that having a clear vision isn’t enough. You have to make that vision come alive so that your followers can see it just as clearly as you do. Great leaders do that by telling stories and painting verbal pictures so that everyone can understand not just where they’re going, but what it will look and feel like when they get there. This inspires others to internalize the vision and make it their own.”

untitledStarbucks’ Howard Schultz is a great example of infectiousness. First, he looks for employees who share his customer-centered values,  including a desire to contribute to their community. Building on his belief that “people want to be part of something larger than themselves,” new employees, or “partners,” as Starbucks calls them, undergo 24 hours of classroom training. The company also pays for additional workshops and classes that partners choose to take.

New senior leaders are put through a four-month “immersion in the Starbucks culture” to ensure that everyone understands the coffee business from start to finish. And Schultz emphasizes the values that comprise the culture by sharing his “unbridled enthusiasm and love” for the company at regularly-held district meetings.

Quoting the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Employee Engagement, Culture, Leadership Top Issues in 2015

April 9th, 2015

2015 Predictions by Bersin In his “Predictions for 2015” report for Deloitte Consulting LLC, Josh Bersin underscores the need for organizations to re-direct their focus on employee engagement, corporate culture and leadership. Why? Many employees are “overwhelmed” and employee engagement and retention is at an all-time low.

“While many people are still looking for work, more and more people are getting fed up with the 24/7 work environment…so they go to social websites like LinkedIn or Glassdoor.com”– and they get job offers. The companies that win the competition for the best and brightest employees are those that are “focused on mission, culture, and leadership,” Bersin says.  “They understand that people are not ‘talent'”; rather, the most desirable companies to work understand that employees are fully-developed people who have “their own personal needs and aspirations.”

I would add that the following leadership communication practices are highly effective tools for accomplishing Bersin’s recommended goals:

  1. Establishing personal connections with employees through regular direct contact
  2. Communicating clearly and consistently about mission, values and goals, and
  3. Demonstrating vulnerability by sharing stories from the leader’s own experiences to impart important lessons learned

A writer on the ever-changing landscape of business-driven learning, HR and talent management, he bases these views on a survey by Glassdoor.com. It reveals clear differences between companies where employees are highly engaged and those where employees are actively disengaged.

Bersin says that the transformation he sees in today’s workforce is the most dramatic he’s seen in years. He says the main drivers for business success are “Engagement, Experience, and Environment… because ultimately employee engagement is all a business has.” He calls on leaders to direct their energies to building “highly engaged teams” along with achieving the desired business results, and his report includes guidelines on how to make this critical shift.

Leadership Requires Effective Communication

March 26th, 2015

Communication is the chief responsibility of a leader according to many management experts, and that makes complete sense. If a leader isn’t able to communicate his/her vision for the organization, anything else s/he does is wasted effort because people will be confused about the overall direction of the company and heading toward different goals.

Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and president of TalentSmart, agreed in his article, “12 Habits of Exceptional Leaders.”  While he ranks effective communication at the #2 spot, behind courage, he calls communication “the real work of leadership.”

His point about courage is that “people need courage in their leaders. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show courage themselves when their leaders do the same.”

In discussing the need for effective communication, Dr. Bradberry points ot that people need to be inspired. They also need to feel a connection with their leaders that is “real, emotional, and personal, regardless of any physical distance between them. Great communicators forge this connection through an understanding of people and an ability to speak directly to their needs.”

All those desired results of effective communication are exactly what stories do. They reach people’s hearts as well as their minds and create lasting connections between individuals. That’s why corporate storytelling is a crucial skill for highly effective leaders.

How would you rank your own leadership communication skills? Are your people inspired? Do they feel a real connection with you and a desire to follow you wherever you want to take the organization?

Great Corporate Storytelling at Microsoft

March 19th, 2015

Microsoft-Stories-1-600x370

 When I saw the Google news alert about an article on Microsoft’s great use of brand storytelling, I was immediately intrigued. As a long-time contract writer for Microsoft, I helped create the company’s intial collection of corporate stories, but that’s been a few years ago and I haven’t checked their website for months to see how the storytelling efforts have grown. Not only that, but I helped a colleague with a book on technology branding more than 20 years ago–before most consumers were familiar with technology products by brand.

When I checked out Arik Hanson’s blog discussion of the Microsoft Stories site, I was captivated even further by the screen shot included in the post (shown). As Arik points out, you’d expect to see the program manager being featured to be show in the office working on the development of great new software. But instead you see a dominant photo of the employee in a barrel room sipping wine. That drew me in even further because my husband and I have been part of a wine-making group for the past 11 years–and we live in Washington near the largest collection of tasting rooms in the state!

So you’ll understand why I agree with Arik that it’s a great example of corporate storytelling. Employees are brand evangelists, and they’re also interesting people whose non-work activities are at least as fascinating as their professional involvement. By helping co-workers and customers get to know the whole person, Microsoft is creating deeper, more lasting connections than work-related topics alone ever would.

Key point: When people develop deeper connections, they become more committed to one another’s success. Stories that help people get to know one another more fully result in a win for everyone involved.

How about you? How well are you telling corporate stories that do that?

How Siemens Drives Results with Storytelling

March 12th, 2015

“Storytelling is a really powerful add on that helps you get a message across in a way that resonates and connects to people. It should be something that all companies…use,” Keith Ritchie, storyteller at Siemens, told Marketing magazine.

Citing a range of technology developments and products for a number of uses–from energy, healthcare, and industry to city infrastructure, Ritchies says that Siemens’ content is “extremely rich…. It’s a matter of picking out what the great stories are and which ones the customers will allow you to work with them on. Some customers don’t like to share what the technology has actually done for them.  But there is no shortage of great stories here.”

Siemens uses corporate storytelling internally as well, identifying employees who relate life experiences that apply to workplace situations, such as safety concerns. And business stories, such as those about customers whose operations were greatly improved by Siemens products, Ritchie points out, can be made relevant to customers in totally different businesses from the one featured. It’s all about highlilghting the company’s ability to develop solutions.

Measuring the effects of stories can be tough, but Ritchie says it’s often as simple as watching how people react. When people clearly are touched by a moving story and start talking about it, you know it’s had an impact. And when you hear about business increasing after customers hear solutions-based stories, it’s clear that the stories are having the intended results.

Well-told stories are “conversation starters,” Ritchie says. “I think for us, this sort of thinking is a bit of a game changer.”

How about you? Are you ready for a game-changer? If you want to explore how stories will drive results for your organization, let’s talk!

Storytelling and Listening for A Collaborative Culture

March 5th, 2015

Do you have a collaborative culture? One where people are open to others’ ideas? Where individuals consider how their colleagues’ ideas can work, rather than instantly pointing out why they won’t work? A culture where people are comfortable expressing even “far out” thoughts,  knowing that it’s safe because everyone realizes that sometimes the farthest out ideas are the ones that spark absolutely brilliant new products or services?

If you don’t have a collaborative culture but want to build one, storytelling is a tool you can’t do without. By sharing stories with one another–where you came from, why you believe what you believe, how you learned valuable lessons about work and life–you get to know one another, discover shared values and interests–and Speakingbuild strong connections. The bonds developed over time through workplace story swaps lead to a strong sense of “being in this together” and motivate people to listen carefully to one another. They will begin to treat treat one another with more respect and will develop a ready willingness to collaborate and help one other. I’ve seen this happen time and again when leading work teams through my Corporate Storytelling® system.

Listening to others’ stories is a crucial component of the process. As Nelson Farris, Nike’s official storyteller for many years, says the company’s success “is based on collaboration, and the only way you’re going to collaborate is to talk to each other. That means you have to talk and then listen.

“Listening is huge. If we don’t listen, then the collaboration begins to disintegrate.”

Here are a few steps to get started with storytelling to build a collaborative culture:

  • Tell a well-developed organizational story, or a personal “lesson learned” story that conveys your values, your mission and your specific goals
  • Tell this story–and others you develop–repeatedly and systematically
  • Train others in your organization on how to tell stories
  • Underscore to your employees and other stakeholders the importance of telling values-based stories
  • Incorporate storytelling in regularly held meetings

3 Effective Ways You Can Engage Millennials

February 26th, 2015

Because the Millennial generation is expected to comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025, you must learn how to keep this “digitally distracted” group engaged with your organization–fast! Millennials are already noted for changing jobs often, sometimes after just one or two years. More than anything, Millennials crave training, and if you don’t give them plenty of opportunty to learn and advance quickly, they’re gone!

Here are three secrets to keeping this bright, accomplished generation committed to your mission by adapting your corporate training programs to their preferred modes of learning. As reported by newrow, a company that provides an interactive video platform “purpose-built for instructing large groups of learners online,” you must revamp your training to

1) Make learning mobile for these “digital natives” who have grown up using computers and intuitively know how to use new devices. They see mobile devices as the most efficient way to learn, connect with friends and get things done. Video conferencing and video-based instruction enable them to work remotely, too, which seems basic to them and is expected to become the main delivery system for training in the future.

2) Keep learning social so that this generation who stays connected with friends on social media can access training when they’re ready, collaborate online with co-workers and converse with instructors by posing questions as they arise.

3) Make learning personal by providing mentors who can help Millennials gain the knowledge and cultural insights required to advance. Career development is more important to them than salary growth, and they value the wisdom of those with more experience–so they can become their mentors’ peers as quickly as possible!

Personal Values Trump B2B Brands

February 19th, 2015

In Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational, he describes his research that led to this conclusion: despite their protestations to the contrary, human beings make decisions based on emtion, then justify those decisions by developing a rationale after the fact. This process held true in a wide range of case studies that Ariely conducted involving insignificant decisions, such as choosing a beer or a dinner entree when out with friends, to more significant choices, such as buying a new car or selecting from an offering of business tools.

His findings are confirmed in a study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board in partnership with Google. Based on a survey of more than 3,000 B2B buyers, as well as 70 marketers and 15 academics, thought leaders and consultants in different industries, the research revealed that the power of brands’ “unique selling propositions” has greatly dimished. Instead, the ability to connect with customers through personal values makes all the difference in a company’s ability to grow and prosper.

In the summary statement reporting the results of the survey, the CEB and Google point out that 1) only 14% of B2B buyers see a valuable difference between brands’ business value”, and 2) personal value will provide 2x as much impact as business value will on a B2B purchase. In other words, connecting on a personal level enables a company to cut through the increasingly cluttered marketplace. To learn more of the data and the compelling reasons to emphasize emotion rather than features and benefits in your marketing, download the complete survey report, “From Promotion to Emotion.”

The bottom line is, as more and more businesses realize the necessity to connect emotionally with their customers, the use of values-based stories in marketing and sales will grow even more dramatically than it has in the past 10 years. As I’ve been teaching Corporate Storytelling clients for the past 21 years, stories are far more powerful than most people–and especially business leaders–realize. Among the many reasons are that they help us make sense of the world, they illuminate values, and they help people remember essential information, which sometimes means the difference between destruction and survival. Stories have always fulfilled a multitude of purposes. They do so by touching people’s hearts.