Published on January 28th, 2016 | by Nancy F. Clark0
‘The Story Of My Life’ Is Why Women Should Embrace Positive Storytelling
By Christine Bailey—
The spotlight comes up and Harry Styles begins to croon, “Written in these walls are the stories that I can’t explain…”
It’s September and I’m with my seven-year-old daughter at a One Direction concert at the O2 in London. That song, “The Story of my Life” – and the role that storytelling plays in our professional lives – has been replaying in my head ever since.
When I looked up the origins of this phrase, “the story of my life,” I was surprised to see that it has negative connotations. According to the Oxford dictionary it’s, “said when something bad happens to you that has happened to you many times before.”
Why does the story of our life have to be negative?
Why do women, in particular, tell stories in which we cast ourselves in an unflattering light? Why do we tend to qualify, and down-play, and self-deprecate? To dig deeper, I sat down with Philippa Waller of 4D Human Being, a consulting firm that helps clients communicate with clarity and impact. According to Philippa, “Women tend to be modest, and so to bond and connect we tell stories that pull us down to level the playing field. In fact, we need to tell the best stories of our life to pull everyone up.”
Now more than ever, professional women need to tell their stories in a positive way.
Why? As Philippa explains, “The greatest challenge for women in business today is how to make a personal and professional impact in an increasingly competitive, volatile, and unpredictable marketplace.”
This idea is echoed in a recent Forbes article on professional advancement in which Bruce Kasonoff likens a career without a good story to a suitcase without a handle. He writes, “Being competent isn’t nearly enough. You need to be clear and compelling. You need to position your career with as much expertise as you devote to your job.”
Storytelling is especially important in the social media sphere. Consider these two LinkedIn profiles. Which do you think is more compelling?
Need more evidence that positive stories deliver value? Take a look at the science of storytelling. In an article in the Guardian, Jennifer Aaker of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, concludes: “Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories.”
Telling a positive story need not be daunting. Use these top tips to get started…
Philippa encourages her clients to use these techniques to tell their stories – whether they’re preparing a quick 30-second pitch, a 5 minute chat, or a more formal presentation.
1. Accentuate the positive: Due to negative bias, when we’re asked to tell a story about a meaningful moment in life, we tend to go to the low points, the dark days. Do this instead: make a list of the 5 Worst Things that have happened to you and join those dots to tell one story of your life. Now list the 5 Best Things that have happened to you. Connect those dots to create a whole different story. Both are true but which would you rather people identify with you? Now you’ve exorcised your negative version, maybe throw it out and go with the one that features your life’s positive markers.
2. Stay on the trunk, not the branches: Women tend to veer off in different directions when telling stories. While this may work well for us when we’re communicating in a casual way, good storytellers edit out the extraneous and tangential details. Be sure to stick to the point.
3. Learn your ABCs: Intelligent women often want to “cut to the chase” of their story. But hooking your audience and letting the story unfold is key to creating emotional impact. Follow these steps to get your audience’s attention and make sure your message hits home.
- Attention – begin with an intriguing opening statement, image, or idea
- Benefit – tell people up front why this message is relevant to them
- Core message – remove the fluff and get to the heart of what you’re saying
- Detail – share stories or examples that support your message
- Expect – tell your audience what you want them to do, think, or feel after listening to you
4. Be clear about your intention: What effect do you want to have on your audience? The answer might be quite different if you are trying to convince a team of investors to back your business or if you are trying to create empathy in a room full of woman entrepreneurs. Remember: we don’t just have one story – we have lots. Practice adapting your stories based on circumstance.
What good things could happen if we told better stories?
Telling positive stories can help women secure a promotion, get a dream job with a new organisation, and engage new audiences. Case in point: Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of “The Mind Body Problem.” Goldstein, currently a Research Fellow at Harvard University and a Visiting Professor at New York University, could have written an academic work based on her research. Instead, she turned her studies into a story – a novel that explores one woman’s battle between emotion and intelligence. The result? The book became a New York Times bestseller and won the United States’ National Book Award – and Goldstein was recently awarded the National Humanities Award by President Obama.
So what’s your story?
Now it’s your turn. Use the tips above to get started. Crank up One Direction. And tweet your story – in 140 characters or less – to #PositiveStorytelling.
Let’s tell the world the positive, powerful stories of our lives!
Dr. Christine Bailey is the Cisco Marketing Director, EMEA & Russia, and is also the global co-lead of Connected Women at Cisco. You can follow her on Twitter.