Monday, April 6, 2009

The Art of Storytelling

Whether in a job interview, cover letter, on the job, when networking, or in your personal life, the ability to tell a story well can be very helpful.

Actually, I decry storytelling's power because anecdote is the weakest form of argument, playing on emotion and a sample-size of  one rather than on solid data or reasoning.  But our shallow populus is more likely to be swayed by emotion than by fact or data, so storytellers we must be.  Principles of  compelling storytelling:

1. It's no more than two minutes long. 

2. In that short time, your story must include, as in a screenplay, a character you care about and a vivid retelling of how that character deals with a difficult situation.  

3. Include sufficient detail (interesting detail if at all possible) to make it clear that this is a true story--specificity is the antidote to listeners' skepticism.

4. A capstone sentence that ties it all together.

Here's an example that I believe would build rapport with coworkers, networking contacts, or friends:

My parents wouldn't let me play Little League or high school baseball because they were afraid I'd hurt my fingers. (I used to play piano at weddings and bar mitzvahs.)

What was the first thing I did when I went to college? Try out for the baseball team. 

I am not a laid-back person by nature and when I was trying out--with no organized baseball experience--my heart was leaping from my chest. But the manager let me on the team mainly because--so the manager told me-- I ran full tilt every time he called us over and because I cheered-on the other players who were trying out. Except for a strong (but wild) arm, I was talent-free. Indeed I was a near-permanent benchwarmer but I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. Somehow, putting on that uniform--including the sanitary socks--you know, those white socks that go underneath the stirrup baseball socks--was always exciting.  

And I had one success: We were playing Army and we were ahead by one run in the 9th inning. The manager brought me in to play left field as a defensive replacement. Army had a runner on second with two outs. The next batter hit a shot deep down the left field line.  I speared it and threw a strike, on the fly, to home plate to get the runner out, and we beat Army.  No matter what else I've accomplished in my life, that will always have a special place in my heart. 

Moral of the story: I invite you to always leave room in your life for that thing that--beyond the rational--you just love the heck out of.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is the story of the dumbest thing I ever did.

On one Sunday afternoon, when I was 9 years old, I was bored, looking for something to do. I came up with an idea: give myself a third leg.

So I searched the house for some potential legs. My best bet was an old tennis racket, and I began walking around the house with it.

Things were fine for the first few minutes. Then I attempted to climb the stairs, and I was still fine ... until the very last stair, right outside my bedroom. I fell on the racket handle.

I thought I was okay, until I used the bathroom. It hurt for a whole week.

I told my mother what happened. She had absolutely no sympathy for me, and rightly so.

Moral of the story: be very careful about what you put between your legs.

It's not suitable for a job interview, I know, but the right people might get a laugh out of it.


blogger templates | Make Money Online