You are asking me a question and I have nothing to say, I’m just not that interesting! Does that thought sound familiar?
When faced with questions like…
- Tell me about yourself
- Why are you interested in ….?
- What do you do?
- Tell me about a time when…
You need to have something to say that addresses the question but is also coherent and if at all possible interesting!
BUT….Your mind goes blank, you scratch around for examples that meet the brief then stumble through a few sentences or ramble on completely losing track of the question.
How do other people do it?
Comedians are famous for their storytelling. How do you think that story went down the first time they told it? Picture the scene… it’s open mic night they stand up tell the story and it bombs! They don’t never tell it again, they gauge what worked and what didn’t, try it with different audiences, ask friends for feedback and eventually it turns into something like the Eddie Izzard fruit bowl sketch.
Step 1. Gather your material.. and keep doing it!
- All aspects of your life can be rich grounds to draw on.
- Think about examples of where you or someone else has made a difference or learned something by their actions (we are not talking Nelson Mandela scale here, it could be as small as being kind to a customer who was struggling with something).
- It can also be things you have observed that help illustrate a point you want to make.
Step 2. Be curious
- Ask other people questions and investigate things that interest you. By doing this you will be collecting material for your stories and also presenting yourself as an interesting person.
- This is a great technique for networking events. Have a brief summary of who you are ready and ask people questions about what they do, before long you are having a completely natural conversation.
Step 3. Be interesting
- Vary your experiences and try new things. Even if you hate them it will give you material to talk about & reflect upon.
- That research you have done into the things that interest you will come in handy and will give depth to your stories.
Step 4. Reflect
- Ok this is a tough one, but you really need to get to the bottom of a few basics here. You might need to get someone to help you with this. The question is WHY?
Why are you applying for this job? Why did you choose your degree? Why do you want to be an astronaut? Why do you want to work for us?
- Often we make decisions in life but don’t think too much about them. You shrug and say “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. I ask again Why? You really do need to dig deep and think about what made you feel that way.
Now put it all together
- What is the question you are being asked? Have they specified something specific like a skill or an area of your life they want you to talk about?
- Start thinking about R = Result. What have you done that made a difference.
- Does it match the criteria for the question? If yes, great, put the story together.
- You can use these simple formulas for competency based questions CONTEXT ACTION RESULT or SITUATION TASK ACTION RESULT.
But how to make it interesting?
A story generally has a number of aspects that make it work.
- Characters (Who are the main players in the story you want to tell? You, a customer, your manager?)
- Goals motivation (What were you or they trying to achieve?)
- Crisis or risk (Was there a risk involved? What would have happened if you hadn’t taken action? Would the customer have been dissatisfied? Would you have failed to meet important targets? etc)
- Resolution (What was the outcome – what happened as a result of the actions taken?)
- Lesson (What did you or the organisation learn from this?)
- (Details) Sprinkle in some facts – numbers, specific product details something to make the person you’re telling this to visualise what was going on. (Memory glue!)
You haven’t got 2 hours to tell the epic story of your life or the narrowly averted customer service crisis. You may have a few minutes, lets say 1-3 for good measure, we know that in video interviews there are time limits.
Practise – tell someone your story.
- How long did it take?
- What was their reaction?
- What did they take away from your story – did it make the point you wanted?
- Distil the key points and messages so that you can tell it quickly and effectively.
Talk to us about any of these ideas or issues, maybe we can help you put your story together or edit it!
More resources for story telling as a technique