Career success also depends on how well you tell a story: Here's how to master the art

How well you persuade someone depends on how well you tell a story. Mastering the art of storytelling can help you crack a job interview or college admission interview. Here is how you can master this art for your career success.

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The STAR is a time-tested formula that you can use extensively in a job interview or campus application.
By Devashish Chakravarty

Your friends in sales and marketing are paid storytellers. The rest of us are unpaid storytellers. Think about it.

We are surrounded by stories all our working lives—from interviewing for a job, negotiating with a colleague, advertising, news, business meetings, presenting data and fund-raising. How well you persuade someone depends on how well you tell a story. It’s time to master the art of storytelling.


Why it works?
Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, says humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Stories appeal to your emotional brain which is older and more powerful than your logical brain. Stories educate and entertain. Thus, you can use them to either share a new way of looking at a situation, bring people together, inspire them to take action or leave them with ideas to think about. The best stories are brought to life by a good storyteller. Learn and use common techniques and become one. You are not a reporter. Don’t document every fact. Reach out to emotions. Keep your storyline straight with a call-to-action at the end.

Audience first
Know your audience. Understand why they should care about your story. Then you know how to describe the situation, get them to the edge of their seats through the tension and lead to a conclusion. The secret lies in stimulating their imagination by removing as many details as possible. Let their minds fill in the gaps through their current beliefs and understanding while you keep their attention with a fast pace.

4 steps to begin
First, grab a sheet of paper and write down everything you can think about. Then step back and look for a framework to use. Then decide the medium —verbal, written, visual, digital/video or demonstration of an item. Finally, create the script and produce the story. Remember, your story needs to have a character, a challenge and a success/ failure to conclude.

The influencer’s art
Ever wondered why influencer marketing works at all? Why have people become famous sharing inane videos and then are able to charge money for promoting brands? That is because storytelling builds influence. Digital influencers invite you into their lives. By sharing, you create trust since human minds are wired to connect to personal stories. Once you are trusted by an audience, you exert enormous power to influence and persuade them.

The business presentation
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Look at Steve Jobs’ videos of product launches. Something as complicated as a smartphone or computer is sold through a story instead of technical details. Start with an anecdote to involve your audience. Create drama through your words. Involve them by asking questions. Tell them about important events that made you think. Then share an insight and pause for them to reflect. Leave them with multiple such ideas.

30 second ads
Observe great TV and digital advertising. In 30 seconds or less, they grab your emotions. A simple story, a person and props that create a context, a possible gain, the pain of a loss and the urge to own are the steps involved. Similarly, put the best parts of your story upfront and leave out the less important ones in short conversations and elevator pitches.
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New job or college admission
Both college admission essays and job interviews directly ask you to share stories. Crack your college admission by sharin a unique, deeply personal experience that draws in the reader, builds excitement and leads to a satisfying positive conclusion with a learning for you. In job interviews, go prepared with at least three stories for each question that you expect on the lines of, tell us a time when you failed as a leader or succeeded in making a tough sale. The interviewer will determine your attitude and ability based on how you narrate.

Entrepreneur dreams
An investor once said: “Entrepreneurs are either grinders or storytellers.” The former work hard but can’t raise money or get the best people because they are unable tell an exciting story. If you are in that boat, make a U-turn. Instead of sharing data first, start with a personal story, your special insights to make your listeners curious and then paint a big picture to get them excited. Use data later to support it. They are not looking for a perfect vision from you. When you share it vividly, they are confident that you have it under control. Use only your most important points because one weak point will create doubt and destroy your story.

A better leader?
Will storytelling make you a better leader? Not necessarily. However great leaders are always great storytellers. They keep their stories simple, can talk about personal failure and connect deeply with you. Like them, choose your words carefully and try it out on a couple of people before going to a large crowd. Get them to switch from logic to emotions. Ira Glass, a radio personality, says: “Great stories happen to those who tell them.” Master storytelling and lead an exciting life!

Use a proven formula
1. S.T.A.R.
The STAR—Situation, Task, Action, Result —is a time-tested formula that you can use extensively in a job interview or campus application. And it is simple enough for any other situation where you want to tell a story. First, describe the challenge within a context and thus the desired goal. Then lay out the actions that were taken or planned and finally the grand outcome.

2. STORY SPINE
Pixar, the makers of Toy Story and multiple other animated films, uses the story spine structure. Once upon a time... (describe characters and the world), And every day.. (their routine), Until one day... (a crisis), And because of this... (the initial goal), And because of this... (for each subsequent goal), Until finally... (the climax), And ever since that day (the changed world). Try this when you are introducing a completely new idea or convincing someone with a rigid opposite point of view.

3. HERO’S JOURNEY
Consider the story telling formula used since ancient times and adopted by Disney films. Firstly, describe the hero of your story and then paint the villain or the obstacle. Then describe the journey to acquire a super power, magic or tools that the hero will use. Finally conclude with how the hero succeeds and lives happily ever after. Video and television advertising show you how to use this effectively.

4. SELF, US, NOW
The public narrative technique, developed by Harvard professor and civil rights organiser, Marshall Ganz, converts values into action in three steps. Use three questions - if I don’t do it for myself who will? If I do it only for myself, who am I? If not now, then when? The answers lie in Self, Us, Now. Describe what you need to do, shared values and purposes of the community and what choice needs to be made to achieve a dream. Observe public leaders in action with this and use it to rally your team around or build a company.

(The writer is a career coach, mentor and the author of yoursortinghat.com)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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