This famous quote was written many decades ago by world-famous Danish author Isak Dinesen. Storytelling has been an instinctive part of the human race since we first developed language. From the cave paintings of the Neanderthals, religious tomes like The Bible, to the vibrant stories of Native American Indians and other indigenous folk, to J.K. Rowling – stories have been helping us with understanding, learning and connection. What stories really do is help us bring meaning to something, and humanity into the work that we do, helping us to build strong connections and empathy with others. And yet still people in business don’t seem to have any sense that to be a ‘person’ – i.e. to have a reputation – is to have a story.
So here are some of my best tips on how to tell your business story in such a way as it accurately displays who you are, what you believe, what you can do, and what you want to be known for.
1. Explore Your Business Story
When I start work with a brand – global or start-up – I start right at the beginning with a Core Brand Narrative. We take out the jargon, the precise mission statements and catalogue of values that are un-lived and unexplained, and put human heart and soul into the language that surrounds their business.
It’s no different with people.
What are the things that have shaped and defined you in your career? What were the deep learning experiences that stood out, the people that influenced you and made a difference to your life? Ask yourself these questions:-
- What do you believe, and believe in?
- What are the things you really value; what triggers that itchy feeling of ‘I MUST change that’?
- What’s the purpose behind your efforts: what is the impact that your work achieves in the world?
- What difference do you want to make in people’s lives? In the world?
- What have you always found yourself championing, fighting for, struggling to change?
- What is it that you value most about yourself as a person?
- What do you find most meaningful and fulfilling about the work that you do?
- What are you here to do?
You have to really know who you are; no pretence, no preening, no ego required here. And remember your story will always evolve and change over time.
Although I have been a strategic communications expert (there you go – jargon) and storyteller (better) for most of my life, what I really do is connect things; people, ideas, businesses and make something bigger and better from the fusion. I’m driven by challenges – the more unachievable they seem the better; and excited by the creation of new and sparkling visions that make a difference to the challenges faced by humanity and our planet. I was inspired early on in my career by visionary leaders that I was lucky enough to work for, like Richard Branson of Virgin, Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and Jeff Swartz of The Timberland Company to believe that business could be both profitable and good.
There – now that sounds better than I’m a Brand Strategist who has created growth for global brands for 25 years, doesn’t it?
2. Curate Your Own Narrative
Start to curate a list of those moments in your life and career that stand out for you.
I was once involved in a joint pitch with an advertising agency for the account for a very famous Irish drink. The company asked us to do something that went completely against the values we jointly held. It was very hard to do at the time, because it would have been an exponential step forwards into a new vertical market, but we said we wouldn’t complete the pitch. The owner of the ad agency at the time share with me something I have always tried to live up to: “A principle’s not a principle until it costs you something.”. This is a story that illustrates something important about my own values and way of working. What stories do you have that tell a story about who you are?
Try exploring these questions to curate a series of stories that exemplify your own ethics, beliefs and values:-
- A story around the original trigger or catalyst that launched your career into X
- A story about a lightbulb moment, the penny dropped and you knew this was what you were meant to be doing
- A story from your youth or childhood that could serve as the perfect predictor to what you do today
- A story around a key turning point or transition in your career and why it had to occur?
- A story about the best time in your career…and/or the worst?
- A story that illustrates important learning along the way that helped define your character
Show Your Character In Your Story
Remember that your CV is just about the facts; what you’ve done, where you’ve worked. Your professional story is all about your character – why you did it. It puts you into context with the facts and makes them meaningful, creating a thread that weaves the facts together into your wider, illuminating story.
“A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures” – Michael Eisner, CEO Disney
As are YOU. Get out there and tell us your story.