Storytelling is a superpower: Use it for personal branding with these 5 tips

A proverb says: “Those who tell the stories, rule the world”. Obviously history shows that skillful storytellers can use that skill to either create value for humanity or harm.

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of art and communication and while the digital revolution introduced a huge variety of new ways to construct and transport information, compelling narratives are still one of the most powerful communication tools out there.

Why are stories so powerful?

Good stories cut through mountains of content, create meaning where there was only data and have the power to change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Researchersfound out that character-driven stories shown on video, increased the oxytocin level in viewers. A hormone that is responsible for our empathy. When we hear or see a good story, we feel connected to it in a certain way and we are more likely to share information that is shaped as an engaging story!

No wonder that Marketers have discovered this powerhouse of influence to engage and win potential customers, build their brand awareness and reputation, court new talents like Heineken does impressively or reduce the damage of corporate scandals.

A recent Harvard Business Review article concluded that in our age of information saturation, telling a good story is essential to being heard.

So no matter what kind of business you are involved in, storytelling is an essential skill to build your own personal brand!

How to tell stories to shape and enhance your personal brand!

Whether you are writing a personal branding statement for your website, writing a key note speech or practicing public speaking: these hacks will help you to harness the power of good storytelling!

  1. Start with a message 

When you plan a story, you should ask yourself: Who is my audience and what is the message I want to share with them? Good stories are easy to follow because they have a good and simple storyline. Don’t try to put your entire life in one story! Focus on the key takeaways and your mission! That’s the core that people will remember after your speech or written story. Draw the basic lines first before coloring the rest in and around it!

Practice: Write down words and phrases that should describe your personal brand. Once you got that, you can start building a story around it that encompassed these words and underlines the key message they carry!

2. Make it stick!

We often think that in the business world, only facts and figures matter. But that’s only a small fraction of the things that actually matter. You won’t be heard unless you’re telling good stories because plain facts just don’t stick in our memory! It’s the emotionstransported via stories that make our words stick!

Practice: How does the story you’ve written so far feel like? Are these emotions in tune with the message you want to share? Share the story beforehand with friends or colleagues to see whether they feel what you feel!

3. Tap into people’s curiosity

Questions can be super powerful, especially in a key note speech. People are genuinely curious. Asking (provoking) questions does not only help you to get attention but also to structure a good story! Build in questions where they make sense to give your story a structure, bring listeners back on board who drifted apart for a minute and keep them engaged throughout the rest of the speech!

4. Picture perfect!

Good storytellers take their audience on a journey – even without video or slide support! They illustrate their stories by describing what they saw in that certain situation or what they could smell and hear. Using metaphors is also a great tool to do that!

Example 1: Upon entering the office building, I made my way to the receptionist who asked me where I wanted to go. I was super nervous!

Example 2: Upon entering the enormous, clean and sophisticated office building, I instantly felt even more nervous. I could hear my high-heels making unwelcomed noise on the cold marble floor. The handsome receptionist greeted me with a plastic smile and asked me where I wanted to go.

Pretty much the same facts but a different feeling, right? Through the visual style in example 2, the audience is basically following me and can “feel” the situation more easily. This is very valuable if you want to underline a certain message or make your story stick! Emotions stick as we learned in #2. Pictures do that, too!

5. Play with your voice!

The voice that transports the story can be just as important as the story itself!

When I was 4, I would watch Hollywood movies that were synchronized in Russian as I couldn’t understand a word in English by that time. The problem was: in the early 90s, Russia didn’t had a sophisticated sync tradition yet and therefore there was only one person for the entire movie synchronizing all the characters! What was even worse than seeing a young girl talking with the voice of a man: the tone and speed kept the same throughout the entire movie! You know people who put their audiences to sleep with such a technique!

The cure: play with your voice. See it as a piano! You’re telling a story with ups, downs, highlights etc. Practice this! I listend to audiobooks that help me to use my voice skillfully and consciously. Most of the time we’re not even aware of the importance of our voice – don’t make that mistake.

“It’s not information overload; it’s filter failure.” Productivity in the Industry 4.0

Our work environment is designed to distract us. In a highly interconnected world it feels as if everything and everyone is seeking your attention – you are a small part in someone else’s long supply chain! But not only of one person – but maybe of 10, 30 or 100…If the number of supply chains we’re involved in reaches a certain threshold, we tend to suffer of “information overlaod” and the typical feeling of stress that comes with it.

With around 929 million Business email accounts worldwide and over 100 billion emails sent and received each day in a business context alone, it is no wonder that we juggle with more information than the brain is configured to handle. Our conscious mind can focus on three, maybe four things at once. If we are forced to focus on more things simultaneously, we begin to exercise poorer judgment, lose track of things and lose our focus.

But is it really the information overlaod part that makes us feel overwhelmed, unfocused and stressed? Or is it maybe the fact that most of us haven’t learned yet to establish a proper filter that helps us navigate the many requests, opportunities and informations that we receive on a daily basis? The information balloon is going to blow up over the years tremendously, so what can we do?

1. Clear your mind

Productivity guru David Allen and author of the book “The organized mind”, recommends to throw out everything out of your head that is floating around there. What are the to-do’s, questions, calls etc. you keep thinking about? Ease your mind by creating an extensive list of everything floating around your head.

Also, be prepared to immediately note down thoughts that interrupt either your work flow or leisure time. Writing things down gets them out of your head, just like cleaning your desktop or dropbox. You see a clearer picture and reduce the level of stress.

Once written down, prioritize the items into these categories: do today, delegate, do this week, and drop.  Make those items actionable and break them down in smaller, more concrete tasks if necessary.

2. Combine similar tasks

It may sound tempting to switch after 10 min when doing a routine task that is not bringing you flow but has to be accomplished anyway – everytime you switch though, you loose efficiency and time. In order to use the synergy of those small tasks, group them into categories like “paying bills” or “catch up by email after networking event” – this way you finish them faster and also they disappear from your to-do list, which helps to achieve #1!

3. Be a master over your emails 

Psychologist Glenn Wilson found that having an unread email in your inbox while you’re trying to complete a task can chop 10 points off your effective IQ.  According to his research, multitasking is even more of a detriment to memory and our ability to concentrate than smoking pot is.

Many people have their e-mail programs set to put through arriving e-mails automatically or every five minutes. Let’s assume you’re checking every 5 minutes – that makes 200 times a day!

Set aside 3 or 4 times of day for email. Yes, sometimes there are emergencies which require quick correspondence – maybe that’s the time to reach for the phone instead?

4. First things first – take advantage of your morning energy

Despite individual preferences, our biological clock claims: concentration and focus is highest before noon. Make the best out of it by starting your working day with the most important and difficult tasks on your daily to-do list. It can be also the most unpleasant task – which certainly will clear your mind for the rest of the day.

5. Really do use that timer…

You make have heard of the Parkinson’s Law before: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” or put differently: set yourself a timer for a task that is predictable and try to finish before the alarm goes off. This is not only satisfying when you finish earlier but also increase your productivity and decrease distraction – the same effect as during tests. Many productivity apps and online to-do lists like Trello have an integrated pomodoro timer.

6. Reset your brain

Each decision we make today, consumes a bit of our glucose. Our brains operate in two modes: One mode directs your thoughts, the other has no script so your thoughts run themselves. The directing mode allows us to get work done but we can’t stay in that mode all day long. At some point our thoughts start to wander. In daydreaming mode one thought melds into another without us consciously directing it. You may regard this as an unwelcome thing during your working hours but daydreaming is like a reset button and refills some of the glucose you use up in making decisions and staying on a task.

It can also spark creativity. The thoughts wander from one to the next, creating links between ideas we might not have seen as linked before, and from that may come the solutions to a problem.

Instead of fighting it, allow yourself to daydream if you feel that your concentration is decreasing. Again, a timer can be helpful here. Take for example 10 minutes between tasks…in addition to being more concentrated, you may even come up with an innovative solution!

7. Authorize and delegate

The last one if for managers and/or perfectionists who suffer from information overlaod because they want everything to be “done yesterday” and overdeliver- learn to delegate and authorize others. Trust subordinates and colleagues -you can’t oversee everything and you shouldn’t. Besides, most people like to have at least some autonomy at work – even when they are interns. Learn to trust and – very crucial – to communicate tasks/request accurately and briefly. Also, most people like to help – so get the help from colleagues if you feel that there is too much on your plate. Sometime even the best filters are not enough to deal with the information overlaod processing!

Dear HR: Stop chasing “Gen Y”

It’s one of the most discussed topics in the world of work and beyond: Generation Y. In an attempt to nail down what this “Y” actually means, numerous big corporations conducted one study after the other, hoping to “get a clear picture” about this new workforce. What are their beliefs, how do they want to work, what motivates them and how are they different from past generations?

Sociologist, Marcel Schütz claims: “The discussion around Gen Y is affected by subjective judgments, speculations and is full of contradictions: some experts claim that Gen Y lacks solid work ethics, some say exactly the opposite. Some say they are individualistic hedonists, others say they are anxious over-thinkers.

I am classified as part of the so called Gen Y, based on my age and degree of education only (yes, there is no classification that is more accurate than that).

Here are some of the characteristics that apparently define “my generation” based on popular studies by corporations, universities and other institutions:

  • Value time autonomy more than money – flexible working hours and “me-time” are more important than a steep career curve
  • Request openness, transparency and tolerance. Also from institutions: Open Data, Open Science, Open Education, Open Innovation, Open Government and much more
  • Digital natives that can’t live without a smartphone and internet
  • Hedonistic and want to enjoy life “to the fullest”
  • Wish for an autonomous and self-determined life
  • Personal fulfillment, family and purpose in life is more important  than a marvelous career
  • A good relationship with colleagues and supervisors is a top priority in the job environment

Funny enough, some studies say on the contrary that money matters more than flexibility, purpose and a nice working environment. This doesn’t particularly allows for a clear picture of the Gen Y.

According to my personal observations, my Gen Y peers can be divided up in two main groups when it comes to work:

1.Hard-working, ambitious and ready to climb the corporate career ladder. Value a good income and security in their job, but also life-long learning. Want to become experts in their field. Value security and stability (good income, secure job). Practical and traditional – the careers of the past generations are a role model to some extent.

2. Ready to take risks, start their own business instead of pursuing a corporate career. Also value life-long learning but prefer to stay generalists. Value flexibility and home-office opportunities. Value excitement and change in their job as well as having  a purpose instead of only a good paycheck. Likely to move to a different country and experiment with “alternative” life models.

Some other things that describe Gen Y beyond the 2 groups just mentioned:  tech-savvy and aware of the importance of “work- life balance” – but these things are only “natural” and also apply to other generations as technology and social trends develop. If people are given new opportunities like better technology, they will take it. This is not a Generation thing.

When it comes to the work environment, these two groups require different things So, let’s assume an HR manager wants to attract Gen Y. If he plans campaigns to show how fast-paced, purposeful and exciting working at that company is, he will likely attract those who value excitement and change in their job, especially if there is a chance to travel. Those who value security though and value money more than purpose will look for a different company. And this is how it’s always been! Poeple are different, even within one generation. What have changed is that there are more job opportunities and paths than ever before in history. Naturally, people will choose what they see a good fit for themselves.

So what’s the lesson? Companies shouldn’t go crazy about the “Gen Y” – and focus on what makes their company unique. They will attract the right people if they communicate their values right – independent of trends. It’s more important to think about the global trends like new technology and work-life balance – as this is a new standard that all workers expect.

 

Body language at work: the neglected power

We all know how important our body language is – after all, about 80% of our communication is non-verbal. The crossed legs, our shoulders, the position of our chin – people need only 1/10th of a second to make a judgement, even before you open your mouth! And several studies have shown that we are very accurate in our judgements about other people – even if we have only facial expression and body language as our yard stick. But how much does body language account for who we actually are? And how does it influence our work life?

1. We can fake it!

When we meet poeple that communicate non-verbal power, we tend to rather make ourselves smaller than to mirror their dominant body language. This applies especially for women. But what if you’re just not the typical Alpha (fe)male? Can we fake dominance and power just through our gestures and posture? Amy Cuddy, a famous social psychologist, analyzed the effect our body language has on our awareness and confidence. She came to the following conclusion: Hormones play a major part! Two of them in particular- testosterone that is important for the feeling of confidence and cortisol that is in charge of our stress level. People with power have ideally both qualities: they are self-confident and stress resistent. Amy Cuddy instructed the study participants to take either a dominant pose or a low-power pose. Before and after the two minutes, she took saliva samples. It turned out that the participants who took the dominant pose had higher testosterone (more confident) and lower cortisol levels (less stressed) than before. So what can we take away from it?

Our body language is a two-way-street and by being aware of it, we are not only able to influence how we are perceived by others, but also to influence our own feeling.

Posture autopilot

We all know about the power that our body language has and how folded hands for example are perceived in a discussion. Despite our knowledge, we rarely use our body language consciously in the work environment and therefore neglect a powerful tool. Most of us have tailored certain postures for different situations – which we take almost automatically and unconsciously – because its convenient. When we see our colleagues holding a presentation with hanging shoulders, we instantly think: he or she doesn’t look very self-confident or convincing – the boss won’t buy her idea! However, recognizing our own body language blind spots is more challenging! How do I walk, how do I stand and sit vis-a-vis other people? It’s worth the time to think about those questions! After all, colleagues, clients and your boss are just as quick to spot your body language signals. Why it matters and how you can train your awareness:

2. Observe to understand group dynamics

Observing the body language of colleagues interacting with each other, helps you to understand group dynamics – especially if you’re new in a team. You start to see which colleagues are dominant, which are less confident, which colleagues really like or dislike their job etc. It also tells you about the “inofficial” hierarchies in a team. It doesn’t mean that you have to “use” this information, but it certainly helps you to train your awareness and don’t step on somebody’s feet unconsciously.

3. Observe to understand yourself better (and improve relationships)

Observing yourself in certain situations throughout the work day, helps you to recognize situations in which you adopted “unconscious” body language patterns. Some of these patterns may not fit the situation. This allows you to change your posture pattern and take control back over how other people perceive you. Maybe you never realized that you look very tense when you talk to one particular colleague, giving him the signal, that you don’t like/trust him (even if that’s not the case). In turn, this colleague is pretty closed up in your company, because he thinks you don’t like him. Ask yourself why you look so tense in his company – maybe it’s only because of the way he talks or the dialect, which makes it necessary for you to concentrate very intensely. Once you know the reason for your uninviting posture, you can decide to change it and probably remove obstacles.

 

4. Body language is sometimes more important than knowledge

Several studies have shown how accurate we can predict outcomes just by looking at people’s body language and facial expression. In a study conducted by Alex Todorov from Princeton University, people had to decide within a second whether the shown politician will be elected for the US Senate. 70% of the estimated outcomes were correct. What does this say about your organization? To what part does management account it’s position to body language? Or the other way around? A former colleague of mine was smart and easily as knowledgeable as his superiors. Nevertheless, he was always left out in the yearly promotions – partly because of his hanging shoulders, shy look and lack of assertiveness.

What can we take away from these learning? Body language is a tool for:

  • influencing your own emotional state (fake it till you make it)
  • influencing how you are perceived by others
  • Analyzing how others feel and how groups work

USE THIS TOOL – IT’S A GIFT WE ALL HAVE EVERY SINCE WE WERE BORN!

It’s the age of talents: engineer your own job opening

Industry 4.0, talent shortage, employer branding, demographic shifts and candidate centricity. All buzzwords which we see a lot when we read about the labor market of the future and especially in these days, when the world leaders are meeting to discuss the outcome of these trends at the World Economic Forum 2016. Undoubtedly, the world is changing at a speed and scale which we never have seen before, bringing lots of change. As with so many changes, this one poses an opportunity – or an obstacle, depending how you deal with it.

The opportunity for talents lies within flexibility, lifetime learning, mobility, developing an individual career path etc. The downside could be a lack of job security and the need for constant qualification as technology and labor market requirements are changing rapidly. In this new realm, we, the talents, have gained a new power. A power that we suddenly “gained” through the global talent shortage that is about to get even bigger. Already today, about 38% of companies worldwide say they have difficulties filling jobs!

So, what do we do with this power? The first step would be to get a job that excites you everyday, right? Talking of which – how did you get your last job? Was it a contact that could make an introduction to your current employer? Did you skim several hundrets job ads and applied online? Have you attended a job fair?

This is the conventional path that most people choose to find a job – and there is nothing wrong with it – it worked after all for many people. There is only one thing that makes these methods seem quite at odds with current labor market developments described above and therefore inefficient: Talent Shortage, the so-called “war-of-talent” or the “Human Age“, which describes “talents” as the main resource for companies to increase their competitive advantage. Finding, developing and retaining talent is not only part of the HR department anymore. This task started to appear on the agenda of CEO’s, CTO’s, CMO’s and other management departments. Employer Branding is the keyword of the year with many companies trying to identify every benefit they have to polish it and afterwards “sell” it to potential candidates.

So if we, the talents (let it be a good college degree or a good training paired with drive), are so in demand, then why are we choosing application methods that mostly suck? Filling out long application forms on websites that might crash any minute while you’re thinking to yourself: “Why can’t you (#%&/)), (fill in corporation of your choice) just look at my carefully prepared CV? The same applies to tedious career fairs.

“But there is no other way to reach my dream employer” you say? Let’s think about the unconventional path for a minute.

  1. You know what you want to do, in which industry and where. This is enough to find several companies you can imagine working at! Make a list.
  2. Take a close look at the companies. What is their culture, their main topics? Can you find the pain points of the department you’d like to work at?
  3. Define what you can bring into that company. Clear, precise, pro-active and goal oriented! Write it down. Why wait for a job opening for your dream job? But please do not call it an unsolicited application (especially in the subject line) –> it goes right into trash at most HR departments.
  4. Research the head of the department of interest. LinkedIn is a great resource.
  5. Write him or her a message with the content of #3 and explain how you can help – and why you’re the right fit. Explain your interest in the company (which is the reason why you’re writing even if though there is no job ad. Include your CV and some good references. What else can you bring to the table besides good grades? Example: you see that they have a corporate blog or facebook page which needs some polish. Mention it! The trick here is to make is actionable. If you say you speak French but the company obviously doesn’t need it, then it’s useless (for them). This bold approach shows an employer that you have drive, guts and will to take the unconventional path. Innovation is a sought after skill after all!
  6. Take some risk! Include something personal. Of course you shouldn’t go overboard with very private details of your life, but give the other person something to identify with.
  7. Polish it! Your first, second,thirst and probably even 10th draft will suck and still contain grammar mistakes. Take the time to go over it until you feel it’s you speaking in the email.
  8. Comment: Of course this approach works better in certain industries than in others. Finance and management consulting might not be the right industries to try this approach. But many other industries, like HR, marketing, etc. are worth the fun.

How did I came came up with this and why did it work for me? When I just finished my Master’s in marketing in London, friends of mine invited me to spend the summer with them in San Francisco. I was thrilled and ready for the adventure. At the same time I wanted to explore the start-up scene in Silicon Valley and get some first hands-on experience in the marketing world. So I started applying. Most of the start-ups there either did not have the job ads I was looking for or required a US citizenship/work permit. I couldn’t offer neither of it. I had to find a start-up with my envisioned internship opening that would at the same time organize a work permit for me. My chances seemed slim, but I got started. I wrote to more than 80 start-ups, following the steps described above. I got some rejections, but most of the companies didn’t answer at all. Except for 3. I had a skype interview with all of them and then decided on one.The feedback I got from all three of them: we had to talk to you – your “application” was bold! I spend three wonderful month at WahWah networks, a startup in the heart of San Francisco, gaining first marketing experience while enjoying the bay area life.

So, what are you waiting for? The power is your’s!