In the interview process for my organization, we ask candidates for high potential roles to give a presentation. The guidance is open-ended: present for 20 minutes on a business problem you faced and how you solved it.
Since I mentor many people who apply to our company, two friends reached out to me yesterday for help and feedback on the presentation they’re planning.
It was amazing the difference in their approaches to this assignment.
So I’m reflecting today on the challenge of choosing the right story. Here are a few steps I’ve noticed that make stories more compelling.
- Connect to your priorities. By choosing a topic to share, we are indicating it’s importance to us. Everyone has limited time and energy, so the problems we choose to solve are a huge part of our long term success. Both of the friends I spoke about an optional assignment, but they explained it completely differently. The first said it was something he’d been told to do. The second talked about growth: he had wanted a challenge beyond his engineering role, so he’d reached out to his network and found a way to help with the funding strategy for a large organization in the non-profit sector. Because he’d enjoyed it so much, this project was part of what convinced him to pursue his MBA. By connecting to his long-term priorities, he made his story more compelling.
- Demonstrate specific behaviors. The first friend I spoke to solved his problem by buckling down, putting in a bunch of overtime, and getting it done. The second friend talked about building relationships, analyzing what was happening, and creating a convincing case to help others influence their organization to take action. I am sure both worked hard to solve their respective issues–but only one recognized and highlighted the specific behaviors–learning, building relationships, and influencing others–in achieving his goal.
- Show your time horizon. Do we expect immediate returns to our efforts, or are we willing to invest for long term? Do we solve problems for the long term, or only to get through the next week or month? One friend was solving an immediate problem in the course of his work; the second was making an investment, outside his normal role, for his long term development. And, though both led enduring change, only one talked about how the solution they built was still important years after the fact.
- Connect your beliefs, to actions, to results. When we tell a story, it’s easy to only talk about our results, or the actions we remember. One of my friends took the time to explain his beliefs–to talk about the why behind his actions. This simple technique shows that he will be willing to explain why to others in the future–an incredibly important skill in any effort involving people.
Here’s the most fascinating thing: both the friends I spoke to faced equally interesting problems, and they both solved them effectively. But one told a much better story, and I’d bet on his future success because of what I learned about his mindset in the process.
I hope these ideas help you tell better stories as you go through your day. Stay encouraged!