They all feel uncomfortable sharing their story.
They can pitch ideas and business models like the pros they are, but when faced with the most simple of questions: ‘What’s your story?’ or ‘Why do you do what you do?’ . . . they freeze up. Which leads them to call me. Which leads me to write this for you.
It’s all connected.
Here are three reasons that telling your story is important:
Take a moment to think about all of the data out there that’s available about you and your work.
Beyond your website, there’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, that article from your High School Newspaper, a review you were tagged in on Yelp, that furniture you posted for sale on Craigslist using your real name (don’t do that, by the way). We literally go through life streaming trails of data and it’s all accessible with a few taps of the keyboard.
I guarantee you that anyone you’re meeting with has done a quick Google search on you. It’s 2016, this is what happens.
Our brains have evolved to create narrative based on available data. So based on whatever turns up, people have constructed a story about you before you even walk into the room. Due to a bit of cognitive trickery called the anchoring effect, our brain fixates on the first story about someone that it constructs. Any subsequent stories array itself around the initial anchor.
So if the story they’ve built is accurate, great. If not, then you will spend the entirety of your interaction battling against the false story.
By taking the initiative to put your story out into the world, you get to control how people connect the dots. You get to create the anchor.
Pro-Tip: It helps if the story is authentic. Because the only thing worse than allowing others to tell your story is getting caught in a web of BS.
2. Stories Create Powerful Connections
Every workshop I facilitate includes at least one storytelling exercise. Strangers pair up and share a story based on a simple prompt. The entire exercise takes less than 5 minutes and, at the end, I ask folks about their experience. Invariably, everyone in the room reports feeling a strong sense of connection with their partner. This works across generational, ethnic, and class divides. Story fosters connection by revealing a sense of shared humanity.
Whether we’re pitching, asking for a contribution for a nonprofit, or looking for professional (or personal) partnership, we need to connect before we convince. When we lead with broad ideas, statistics, or studies, we engage with the rational part of the brain. That’s the part that salivates over the prospect of poking holes in arguments and picking stats apart. It’s not the best part to start with.
When we lead with a story, we form a connection, a bond, that build empathy and inspires curiosity.
Pro-tip: Working with entrepreneurs, I’ve come across a tendency to separate their personal narrative from the product narrative. This results in a profoundly disjointed approach. The challenge is to seamlessly link the two!
3. Discovering and Telling Your Story is Hugely Empowering
This is one that most corporate or branding folks don’t get into: the process of discovering your story, crafting it, and sharing it with others is deeply empowering.
This connection between storytelling and growth or power stretches back thousands of years. Ancient rites of passage involved sending young people off into the wilderness on a quest (say, for example, hunting a wild animal or spending a month alone). The process concluded not with the return to the tribe, but with the sharing of the youth’s story with the community and the community’s acceptance of that story.
In our modern world, we tend to gloss over, ignore, or elide connections between periods of our lives. This can lead to a sense of disenfranchisement from the way our life and work develops. If we don’t consciously tell our stories, it can feel like we’re small boats being buffeted about by a sometimes raging sea.
When we start to explore the contours of our life, threads of connection begin to appear. After all, we’re essentially the same person at 6 as we are at 46. As we start to follow the threads, connect the dots, and assemble our stories, we take on an active role in authoring the stories of our past and begin to realize that, following the threads of narrative that have always been present (if unseen), we can similarly author our future.
It’s all connected. And it’s really powerful stuff.
If there are so many reasons we should be telling our stories, why don’t more people do it? Why do so many of us default to resumes, lists, or data?
Because storytelling done well is really challenging. It’s a form of connection and communication that we don’t engage in that often, particularly not in a professional setting. It requires a deep courage and willingness to look at moments (data points) that may bring up tough emotions or shame. It asks for boldness and trust as we share these stories that feel at times a bit vulnerable. And it demands a faith that humanity is, at its base level, universal.
The question that we each have to answer is: is the challenge worth it?
I think it is. If you agree, let me know. I’d love to work with you.