Monday, April 27, 2009

Using Stories to Demonstrate Your Personal Brand

If you want to see a group of children get quiet very quickly, just let the teacher pull out a book and proclaim it's time for story hour. Nothing seems to hold the attention of a bunch of wiggling little bodies more than the magic of a good story.

Several months ago, I blogged about the power of telling a story in your career. That prompted some great responses, including a book from Katharine Hansen called "Tell Me About Yourself."

I interviewed Hansen, curious about how job seekers and current employees in this tough and very competitive job market could learn how to be better storytellers.

While it is tough to tell a story in a resume, there are many more opportunities, Hansen told me, such as a cover letter than tells a story of your career interest and determination or stories about solving a problem.

Or, there are the opportunities to tell stories at networking events, or when you've got some time with a boss. He or she will be much more interested -- and you will be more memorable -- if you can tell a story about your ability to work with a difficult customer or why you are interested in a big project. (Remember no story should be more than a couple of minutes long.)

In her book, Hansen also advises people to use stories to communicate their personal brand. "Take a minute to write down what you are most known for," Hansen says. "In what area(s) can you offer yourself as an expert?"

She adds that while you may consider yourself an expert in a certain professional arena, "hobbies and interests can be fair game."

Once you've written your branding statement, then you can consider what stories would support it. Some examples Hansen gives:

* A story demonstrating your passion about your field.
* A story that shows your understanding and experience with your audience's needs.
* A story that demonstrates a pioneering idea you've developed.
* A story that shows how you fit in with the history of your field.
* A story that illustrates alliances and partnerships that support you.

The key, I believe, is knowing the difference between telling a story that makes sense to your audience, and holding them "hostage" while you ramble on about something they don't understand or care about. Practice your delivery and work on telling your stories to trusted colleagues until you believe you've developed your skills enough to use it in other professional contexts.

One final note: Be truthful with your stories. These are not fables for you to spin in front of a campfire. These stories are to be a testament to your abilities, to strengthen your career and make you memorable.

What are some other ways to use stories to help your career?

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