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.

You are a brand! Tell your story right in 5 steps!

For a very long time the word “brand” was only used in the context of companies. The goal of branding: create an image that identifies a product and distinguishes it from competitors. Over time, people associate this image with a level of quality, value and satisfaction. Once this image is manifested in people’s minds, it is hard to change. Therefore companies put millions in ads and creative agencies to build or change their image.

With the birth of social media and professional social networks like LinkedIn, we all became human brands! Even not being active on certain platforms tells something about you! Today we have an endless number of possibilities to build, strengthen or recreate our personal image. The question is not whether you want to be a brand, but whether you want to shape it yourself or let others do that for you!

Read the full article on my linkedIn page:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/you-brand-tell-your-story-right-5-steps-marina-zayats?trk=prof-post

5 steps to meaningful connections at work (and everywhere else)

We are social creatures, so connecting with others is a basic human need. If we feel unconnected, rejected or alone, we feel the pain in the same part of the brain as physical pain.

Some people seem to be born socializers. They look self-confident and relaxed while connecting with others easily – at networking events, at pool parties or in the office. But the fact is: everybody can learn how to be a people’s person. Emotional intelligence is the key and is, unlike many think, trainable.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.” -Ralph Nichols

Social thinking and analytical thinking happen in two different parts of the brain. When you think analytically, you’re social neural network shuts down. Once you’re finished with the analytical tasks, the social brain kicks in again – it’s our brain’s autopilot, our natural state!

As highly social creatures, we all should be perfect at socializing one might think. But our ability to connect with others is disturbed by shyness, pride, competitiveness, feelings of inferiority and self-criticism.

If you leave those disrupters out of the game, you can connect with anyone.

1. Look for the good in every person.

If your perspective changes, your world changes! Always try to approach people without initial judgement and expect the best from them. Usually people feel this and act accordingly. They feel “safe” and understood, which also helps them to open up and connect. It also prevents you from writing off great people too soon. Don’t burn bridges too soon.

2. Positioning

We know how first impressions can make or break a relationship. Seven seconds are usually enough for a person to make a snapshot. After that, people are looking for justifications of their first impression. Hereby, your body language plays a major role. If you’re aware of your facial expression, gestures etc., it is easier to get the result you want (i.e. positive, open body language if you want to draw people to you). Positive body language can entail an enthusiastic tone of voice, eye contact and a firm stand. Those things form an entire picture about your character and it’s by far more holistic than only WHAT you’re saying! An Israeli research team even created an app (moodies) that after recording and analyzing the pitch of your voice can tell what mood you’re currently in.

3. Leave the superficial island first!

Usually, we start conversations about very safe topics, like basics about ourselves, looking for common ground with the other person. If you really want to “click” with somebody, try to open up more. Show what you’re passionate about or even share some recent failures (as long as you still feel comfortable enough disclosing them). Vulnerability can be powerful and allow others to open up, too as people are naturally looking for (social) balance. I.e: if you share something personal, they will share something personal, too.

Once people open up to you, never criticize or judge! If you make people feel uncomfortable or even rejected, it’s quite likely that this relationship ends before it even started. Show respect, empathy and ask! I often learn more from people I don’t agree with – they bring in a new perspective which can be very eye-opening.

4. Master the art of questions

This brings me to point #4. Dare to ask questions that are deeper after you established some initial trust. Especially “substantial” questions that help you to understand what makes others tick. People who share thoughts on life philosophy or personal goals, connect faster and stronger. But it doesn’t have to be such global topics like life itself- you can also ask for an opinion in their field of expertise. This makes them feel valued and more connected to you instantly.

5. Switch off the inner voice

Listening is one of the most crucial skills when it comes to bonding with others. Many times though we catch ourselves drafting what we will say next or simply drifting away in our mind and thereby missing out on what the other person is saying. We hear the word, but the meaning is lost. Turning this inner voice off leads to deeper connections – not only because you listen more actively, but also because the other person can feel and see whether you are truly listening or just trying to make your point.

Conclusion

Sincere interest in others is already half the way. If you have that, you automatically listen, ask questions and approach the person with a positive attitude. Substantial questions and a good posture can be trained. Bringing everything together, you can create meaningful connections with everyone!

 

 

 

 

“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.