The Art of Storytelling

Whether you want to sell a product to a client or sell an idea to your boss, storytelling is the single most powerful way to capture your audience’s attention and to make the not yet tangible real in the eyes of others.

So how do you do it and how do you do it well?

Break it down into simple parts. Remember those story books from your childhood? Why where they so appealing? They were simple. A photograph here, one or two sentences followed. To be effective, you must break your story down into digestible parts. Even if you think it is simple, go even further.

Believe in it yourself. You, the storyteller, need to believe in your story or no one else will. Be passionate about what you are portraying and keep your energy up even if it is the 20th time you are telling your story. Remember that, for your audience, it is the first time they are hearing the story.

The all-important protagonist. Every story has one. Your story needs one too. If it doesn’t have one, you can reference a member of the audience and interlace them into your story so that they become the protagonist.

Set the scene. Create visuals that help you tell the story but do not take away from you telling the story. They should enhance the story you are telling be it a few PowerPoint slides, photos or videos. Sometimes a single photo will do the job.

Know your audience. Do your research and try to put together what the motivators will be for the audience you are telling your story to. This will require that you tweak your story as you go to fit each audience. Don’t be afraid to alter the script.

Watch the body language in the room. As you engage in storytelling be very observant of the body language in the room. Is the audience leaning forward? Has their expression changed? Both are good signs. Leaning away or checking their phones every several seconds; not a good sign. But don’t give up. Adjust your efforts – including inserting them into the story by mentioning their first name – to see if you can engage them.

Practice. Create practice that works for you and makes you comfortable. I tend to mentally run through what I will present in broad themes beforehand. This gives me the flexibility to create as I walk the audience through the story live. If you are not comfortable with practicing and get nervous presenting, contact your local theater. Most offer acting for non-actors and can help you get comfortable as a storyteller.

Starting Your Global Career

It is the one question I am often asked, “how did you start your global career?”

After university, I was lucky to work for a firm that invested in building global leadership skills among its staff. It is a great way to get started and many companies, like Alibaba, are actively training young employees on global leadership skills as part of their overseas expansion strategy.

Here are several skills that I have found invaluable working globally that will help you standout in a competitive global landscape:

Communication skills. An ability to speak clearly, write clearly and to listen intently will be the key to your success. Remember to slow down and be much more clear in your use of your native language than you would normally be to ensure all of your colleagues understand your message. Work to acquire a common second language at working proficiency (French, Spanish, Mandarin).

Critical thinking. An ability to analyze different scenarios, data and research as well as patterns in behaviors or systems is vital. You will constantly be assessing projects, goals and expectations across many countries; an ability to identify trends or outliers will enable you to be more efficient.

Cultural dexterity. This one takes practice and it is what I call “leaving your country behind on the tarmac.” You must be able to step outside of cultural constructs. A great tip for doing so is by telling yourself – constantly if needed – that you may be the only Canadian, Singaporean, South African that your colleagues and/or clients ever work with, so leave them with a positive experience.

Ethics. You may be surprised by the standard code of ethics in the countries you will work in and some of the conduct you encounter may be considered unethical or corrupt in your country of origin. My advice is to stay true to your moral compass and remain calm when faced with such conduct. Acting outraged and indigent will make you look somewhat dramatic and will get you nowhere. Use it as a way to start educating your team on other ways they may consider achieving their goals.

Global mindset. Being open to new ways of working and seeing the world is essential as well as being able to view challenges and opportunities through a global lens. It will also make your day-to-day interactions with your colleagues more pleasant; however, do not expect to be a pro at this from the outset. That comes with practice.

Team adaptability. Having a team mindset and experience leading teams is a must. Your management style may need to adjust depending on the business culture. Mastering an ability to be patient – observe and listen when in meetings and in your daily interactions with your team – will help you decipher expectations, cultural understandings and ways of working.

 

Conquering Your Fear of Public Speaking

Do you have a speech on the horizon? Do you feel prepared? Are you anxious?

It’s normal to be slightly anxious and nervous prior to a speech. It happens to everyone although it comes out in different ways. Some boast of how terrific they are, others ask other presenters if they are nervous, some go buzzing about, others sit quietly and everyone has their heart racing and rate of breathing increase. Anxiety around speaking is a normal human reaction and everyone – I mean everyone – experiences it, some have just mastered how not to show it.

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was by a director when I studied acting in my early days of college. He said to me “everyone gets nervous and anxious before a public performance, your job is to accept that as a normal human reaction and use that nervous energy to improve your performance.”

Here are some tips on preparing for speeches and dealing with the anxiety that comes along with it:

Watch the pros. Before a speech, I often go straight to YouTube and watch several public personalities deliver speeches over the life cycle of their days in the public spotlight. You can learn a lot from their evolution – from speed, intonation patterns, emphasis points to speaking aids.

Practice to build your confidence. But not so much that you are emotionally divorced from your words while actually delivering the speech to your audience. We’ve all seen that happen. The person is there in body but their personality has left the room. Breathe, take a pause, and remember that your goal is to inspire, educate and motivate. Smile, make eye contact, release your hold on the speech and remember why you are there.

Connect with your audience. Interact with them by involving them in your speech. Mention several audience members by name, ask questions, or poll the audience through a show of hands. Constantly take the pulse of the room so you can react to the audience by changing your speech and your approach.

Know when to stop talking. Have you ever been in the audience when a presenter fell in love with the beauty of their own words right before your eyes and forgot you where there? Or perhaps it was a meeting. Painful, wasn’t it? Don’t be that person. Watch body language clues for audience reaction and respond appropriately.

Seek feedback either through videotaping your speeches or by surveying your audience afterwards. Incorporate what you learn into your next speech and remember that the more speeches you give, the better you will become.

4 Questions to Consider Before Launching Your Personal Brand

Deciding to launch a personal brand into the marketplace can be an exciting moment and one that also comes with some anxiety and apprehension.

The urge to stay in the safe phase of researching (or conducting due diligence among your peers) is powerful and many never move out of the research phase to actually launching their personal brand.

Here are four questions to help you assess whether you are ready for your brand reveal:

What will your audience gain from interacting with your brand? What is your audience most concerned with day in and day out – fulfilling their own needs. Think of your day today and how many times what you wanted was the priority – from choosing your morning coffee to deciding what music to listen to as you walked, biked or drove to work. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Talk to your potential audience and follow influencers in your field to develop an understanding of what is and is not appealing to them.

How is your brand unique from what is already out in the market? You know you are on the right track when you sense a market need that no one else is filling in a way that is unique. And it’s rare when that happens. It can either be how you approach an issue or challenge, your expertise and knowledge or who you are as a person.

Why you and why now? Life does not exist in a vacuum. Trends develop in industries constantly and public sentiment is along for the ride – watch the news in your field, speak to experts and your potential audience. This will give you an indication of when entering into a market would be most timely with the most long-term benefits for your brand.

Are you relatable? Probably one of the more difficult questions to answer and one that will involve external assessment whether from a public relations professional or an informal focus group. What is being measured is your likeability factor, which directly correlates to expertise. If you are able to back up an approachable brand image with a deep knowledge of your industry and the issues within your industry, you will have a winning formula.

Creating a Powerful Story

Whether you want to sell a product to a client or sell an ad campaign to your boss, storytelling is the single most powerful way to capture your audience’s attention and to make the not yet tangible real in the eyes of others.

So how do you do it and how do you do it well?

Break it down into simple parts. Remember those story books from your childhood? Why where they so appealing? They were simple. A photograph here, one or two sentences followed. To be effective, you must break your story down into digestible parts. Even if you think it is simple, go even further.

Believe in it yourself. You, the storyteller, need to believe in your story or no one else will. Be passionate about what you are portraying and keep your energy up even if it is the 20th time you are telling your story. Remember that, for your audience, it is the first time they are hearing the story.

The all-important protagonist. Every story has one. Your story needs one too. If it doesn’t have one, you can reference a member of the audience and interlace them into your story so that they become the protagonist.

Set the scene. Create visuals that help you tell the story but do not take away from you telling the story. They should enhance the story you are telling be it a few PowerPoint slides, photos or videos. Sometimes a single photo will do the job.

Know your audience. Do your research and try to put together what the motivators will be for the audience you are telling your story to. This will require that you tweak your story as you go to fit each audience. Don’t be afraid to alter the script.

Watch the body language in the room. As you engage in storytelling be very observant of the body language in the room. Is the audience leaning forward? Has their expression changed? Both are good signs. Leaning away or checking their phones every several seconds; not a good sign. But don’t give up. Adjust your efforts – including inserting them into the story by mentioning their first name – to see if you can engage them.

Practice. Create practice that works for you and makes you comfortable. I tend to mentally run through what I will present in broad themes beforehand. This gives me the flexibility to create as I walk the audience through the story live. If you are not comfortable with practicing and get nervous presenting, contact your local theater. Most offer acting for non-actors and can help you get comfortable as a storyteller.