Happily Ever After or Horror Story?

"Tell Me About Yourself"
I still shudder at how I used to respond, when I was wet behind the ears and all-too-eager to catalog all my courses and accomplishments. When I am on the other side of the question, I cringe at asking. More likely than not, I will hear a collage of hopeful stories sprayed scattershot, hoping to hit the vicinity of the target. Now, when I tell my story, I like to start with a twist reminiscent of the fractured fairy tales I love. I always dreamed of capturing Prince Charming and taking my place in the castle. As it turns out, though, I am more saucy sprite and magical mentor in my story than simpering princess.

Where do you start? This standard prompt is not an invitation to begin your narrative from birth and bring listeners up to present moment. Rather, it is an invitation to give a brief overview of the highlights of your academic and professional career, including your key qualifications for the opportunity at hand. Consider your audience, and tell the story in their terms, using specific, strategic examples and language that will resonate with them.

Cinderella is a timeless story, but the key to its power is its translation across cultures and audiences. Little girls in the United States love the glass slipper because they imagine the day they will step into high heels of their own. Grown women in the United States relate to the overcomer who trades the cinders for the castle. Variations around the world cast the lead character as a lad (Irish), replace the magical mice with togkabis (Korean goblins), and substitutes a magical fish for a fairy godmother (Chinese), with language and details tailored to audience expectations.

Who is your audience? What matters to them? What do they want, need, and expect to hear? Imagine your story through their eyes to tell a masterful story. An employer will be listening for you to explain why you are their knight-in-shining armor, including past results that "prove" your value. A business partner will be listening for evidence that a collaboration will build their bottom line. An investor will need to know how you take calculated risks that provide solid ROI, with clear examples of how you have done this in past. A new customer will want you to answer their questions before they are asked and overcome their objections before they are voiced.

Tall order? Sure, but you should avoid telling tall tales that will give you a reputation for showmanship without substance. Stories spread fast, and you do not want to be the subject of a horror story. Reputations take time to construct but can be crushed instantly by embellishment and untruths.

Watch a few YouTube videos showing how to answer this interview prompt. You can start with Brian Krueger from CollegeGrad.com. Then, try crafting your own story, in your authentic voice. Aim for equal parts story splendor, audience connection, and personal flair.

Storytelling Basics
Remember the basics of a story: beginning, middle, and end. These elements, plus the foundation of character and setting, are essential to a well-crafted story. Lead with intrigue; a puzzle to solve or a question that goes unanswered as you unravel the yarn will engage your audience. Introduce some challenges to demonstrate your heroism. Build tension, and keep listeners guessing. Then, wrap it up with a clear statement of your offer and your ask (i.e., what you want from them). Keep the ask within the parameters of your relationship. 

Your story should be succinct and well-rehearsed -- but not memorized. The key is to be natural when you deliver your story, so you will want to think through potential questions and scenarios ahead of time. Beyond merely thinking of the story, practicing it aloud is vital. Stories in your head sound vastly different from stories in open space -- and if you don't practice speaking yours before the face-to-face event, you may stumble over your tongue. If you cannot gather friends, family, or neighbors to listen to your rehearsals, give your household plants, pets, or your mirror image a sneak preview.  As long as your tongue gets a workout, your practice session will be beneficial.

Are you ready to tell your story? You are invited to jump into the Get Ready, Get Set, Get Social group on Facebook. Take your story for a test drive in the group before your next big event.