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An expert Q&A on storytelling at work

Topic: 

Storytelling is one of humankind’s oldest art forms, but it’s only recently that it’s become a business buzzword, synonymous with professional growth and career success.

In our recent webinar, How to tell your professional story (log in to listen on demand), Pippa Isbell highlighted some of the key storytelling techniques you can apply to your individual circumstances. Here she shares her insight into some of the specific challenges facing everywomanNetwork members – and explains how telling true, authentic, well-crafted stories could be the answer.

 

Q: I feel like I am always overlooked within my company despite being more experienced than my colleagues. How can I use storytelling to get ahead?

A: When was the last time you took stock of your professional expertise? Conduct a thorough SWOT analysis, trying to pinpoint your exact strengths and talents, as well as any weaknesses that might be holding you back. If there are gaps that need to be plugged, formulate a plan and communicate it to your boss, demonstrating that you’ve self-awareness and are taking charge of your own career.

Where your strong points are concerned, you need to bring these to the fore. What is it you want decision makers to come to you for? What need do you want to service? Be clear about exactly what it is you bring to the team, and then work out how you can construct this into a simple message that others can easily grab onto. If you’re struggling to uncover your expertise, give yourself some distance: ask yourself how a recruitment agent would set about selling you in the marketplace. Or enlist the help of a mentor.

As you develop an area of expertise, you might find it useful to find brand ambassadors – individuals who believe in you and what you do and are willing to put themselves out for you, speaking up for you when opportunities come along, and ensuring your talents are known far and wide.

 

Q: I’ve done a lot of work around understanding my strengths. The problem is that I feel uneasy bigging myself up around others. How can I get more comfortable with “blowing my own trumpet?”

Blow your own trumpet

You’re not alone. 62% of everywomanNetwork members struggle with self-promotion. You’ve correctly identified that your reluctance is holding you back, so it’s crucial you do what you can to break that impasse. Add “because” to the end of your statement “I hate blowing my own trumpet,” and see what you can come up with. What is it you really dislike? Pick away until the real issue becomes clear.

A mindset switch is most likely in order. What you perceive as bigging yourself up is actually a way of helping others understand who you are and what you do. “If you’re going to get on,” says Pippa Isbell, “you need to be able to articulate your professional story, along with all your strengths and the unique value you add.”

Q: I’m just starting out in my career and don’t have tons of work experience to share. How can I begin to use storytelling at work?

No two paths are the same, so whatever experiences you’ve had up until now are individual to you. Think about the choices you made throughout your education, the life lessons you’ve learned, the journey you went on to get that very first role, what skills and talents won you the job over others starting out on the career ladder – they all mean something and give you the basis for telling your own, unique story.

As you progress, remember that past experiences all add up to the potential for story generation. Put yourself forward, speak up with ideas, volunteer to help with things, do everything you do to the best of your ability. Take notes, keep diaries, record unexpected lessons you learn along the way and in that way you’ll be collecting and curating your own story bank.

Q: I know what it is I bring to the workplace but I’m struggling to pack all that into an authentic and concise elevator pitch. Is there a winning formula I can use?

Winning formula

“I use my expertise at work to inspire and encourage women at work to give their very best and achieve their career ambitions (that’s how I add value). It helps people focus on their strengths and identify areas where they can improve and in that way, they move onwards and upwards and achieve greater job satisfaction.”

Executive Coach, 
Pippa Isbell

 

A: Rather than relaying your expertise by sharing your job title and then listing all your roles and responsibilities, think about the ways that you use your expertise and what happens as a result. Try filling in the blanks on this: “I use my expertise at work to _____. My expertise adds value by _____. This helps colleagues or customers to _____. The result is _____.” See Pippa Isbell’s example of using this opposite – note that she has tweaked the sentence prompts to fit with how she naturally communicates.

“The important thing here,” says Pippa, “is that those prompts just help you identify the bones. After that you have to create the flesh of the story.”

Q: I’m aiming for a promotion and am hoping to be able to use storytelling techniques when presenting to my boss.

A: “You need to be careful with this one because these conversations need to be natural,” cautions Pippa Isbell. “However, what you can do is prepare for the conversation by thinking like a business journalist.

“Imagine you are a writer and the goal of your story is to get your message across. The story has to have a beginning, middle, and an end, just like your business case for why you – rather than anyone else – should secure that promotion. Write out the story and then practice it out loud to make it natural, so that it can flow even if you feel a bit nervous.”

 

More like this on the everywomanNetwork

Using your life story to make you a better mentor

Workbook: Powerful workplace communication

Authenticity matters: why being yourself is best