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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to boost your career with storytelling: Five top tips

Storytelling is a massively undervalued skill that you can wield to your advantage with a bit of practice.

How to boost your career with storytelling: Five top tips
[Jacob Lund / Adobe Stock]

Humans love stories. In my experience, no matter how high a level you’ve climbed in your career, how senior the people you’re interacting with are, or how much someone may say they prefer logic to emotions, that never changes. Storytelling can be a powerful tool to impact just about anything, from getting more clients to motivating your team to selling decision-makers about your values in an interview.

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Here are five ways you can use storytelling to get to the top of your game.

1. SHORTER IS BETTER

There’s a reason we create elevator pitches for networking events and why TikTok and other short videos have become such success stories. We have a limited window of opportunity to capture somebody’s attention—perhaps just 20 or 30 seconds. Modern-day humans have hundreds of possible distractions at their fingertips at every given moment, so don’t give anyone a chance to lose interest.

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You should get your hook right, and it’s best to keep your story short. The best communicators can express anything clearly and concisely, no matter how complex it is. Aim to do the same when you’re selling yourself in an interview or to a client—and that way, you’ll be able to process and respond to their feedback more quickly, which can allow you to switch into sales mode.

2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

While everyone may like stories, that doesn’t mean everyone likes exactly the same kind of stories. You should understand what your audience wants from you and base your narrative on that.

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Take the example of applying for jobs. Inexperienced job seekers often make the mistake of putting themselves at the center of their story. They tell the tale of how they’ve dreamed of working for a certain company since they were a child and would be grateful for the opportunity to turn that into a reality, but fail to mention anything about their skills or what they have to offer. Meanwhile, skilled applicants can get into the head of their interviewer and talk about how their personal story led them to develop the skills and expertise the company is looking for.

This links in with our next point: understanding your value and using it to nail your message.

3. NAIL YOUR MESSAGE

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To some extent, people get hired because they’re a good cultural fit for the company or get on well with the person carrying out the interview. But ultimately, you land a job because of your skills and abilities, so the stories you tell should communicate that. What quantifiable results have you achieved in the past? Any impressive qualifications you have under your belt?

This is especially true once you reach the level of senior leadership. Hiring managers expect you to be proactive in understanding the challenges they face and what customers want from them. You need to learn to sell yourself by offering the solutions to these problems, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about what the firm is finding difficult and suggest what you can do to help.

4. BE VULNERABLE

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The corporate world isn’t known for its authenticity or vulnerability, but that doesn’t mean a more personal approach can’t be effective. This might sound slightly contradictory given I’ve said that you should know your audience and avoid making your story all about you, but ideally, storytelling should do a bit of both. Know what your audience wants from you and use that as your base, but try to weave your own narrative into this to make your story more convincing.

Above all, show that you really care. A company may be able to find someone who has the same skills and qualifications as you, but it will be much harder for them to find someone who cares about the business and team the way you do. You can stand out by showing yourself to be trustworthy and authentic, which isn’t easy to replace.

5. PRACTICE

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It’s a cliche to say that practice makes perfect for a reason. To some extent, storytelling is intuitive for humans, and it’s a skill that some people have naturally developed more than others. But for most people, it takes some serious work to become a masterful storyteller capable of simplifying complicated concepts into 10-second stories and developing an instinctive understanding of what your audience wants from you.

Why not start using the tips above to engage your family and friends or people you meet for the first time? Are you able to make people more interested in what you have to say by being more concise, tailoring what you’re saying to what they want to hear, or adding a personal touch? It might feel strange to use these techniques or “force it” at first, but once you develop the skill of storytelling, it can start to feel more natural.

START TELLING THE RIGHT STORY

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If you’re struggling to get the results you want from your career, it might not be down to your resume or your skills, but rather the story you’re telling about those things and the way you’re presenting yourself. Have you been missing the hook that makes you irresistible to businesses?

I believe storytelling is a massively undervalued skill that you can wield to your advantage with a bit of practice.


Tim Madden is an Executive Coach and former Headhunter. Founder of Executive Career Upgrades, he’s on a mission to help accelerate careers.

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