May 15, 2019 / Esther Choy
In my last post, I mentioned that while interviewing MBA candidates, I saw how their efforts to prepare often backfired. Preparation made them cling to their rehearsed answers, rather than listening closely to what I was truly asking, and answering in an authentic, informed way. Thankfully, there are tools for connecting authentically with your interviewer through persuasive stories. This lets you go beyond simply rehashing what you’ve prepared.
Tools for Connecting
Have you ever watched kids build forts, castles or cabins out of simple materials? All they need is a pile of plastic poles and a few handfuls of connector pieces. With these tools in front of them, the output is only limited by their imagination. This simple combination is a good metaphor for persuasion. You have piles of stories. After all, you’re sitting on a goldmine called “life.”
And since the person you’re trying to persuade is also sitting on a goldmine of their own, they also have an abundance of stories. Persuasion is what allows you to connect your story with theirs. It’s like the connector pieces kids use for their imaginative building projects. Without the connector pieces, there is no structure and no bonding agent.
But if you can find that magical mechanism that locks your story together with other people’s, you can begin to persuade them–whether they are a hiring manager, prospective client, employee, colleague or anyone else you want to join your cause. Finding that “lock” that authentically intersects your story with someone else’s is what makes persuasion happen. Persuasive stories enable you to establish rapport, build relationships, and earn trust from your audience so that they see you as truly in the same tribe.
Five Steps For Finding Connection
1. Mine Your Audience’s Stories.
The first step is always to consider your audience’s stories. Invest time in getting to know your audience. You can do this through casual conversation, or if you’re giving a formal presentation or workshop, consider what you can accomplish through preliminary surveys or prep work.
Listening to the audience’s stories made the difference for my client Margaret Page when she was campaigning to be the 2nd Vice President of Toastmasters, a position that could set her on the path to become the organization’s president. She called 500 Toastmasters members from all around the world to hear their stories of how Toastmasters had made a difference for them. Her listening paid off: Page won the campaign and is now on the path to climb to the top of a renowned international organization. When you want to ask the right questions to elicit stories in a conversation, these Crazy Good Questions inspire reflection and storytelling.
2. Find The Concept Behind The Story.
Based on the specific events, time periods, plots and characters that your audience communicates in their stories, what ideas are important to them? For example, when someone is struggling with whether to join the family business or strike out on her own, she could really be trying to find her professional identity. When someone is trying to fend off a market threat from a major competitor, he could actually be struggling to innovate within his company. Find the high-level concept behind each story you mine.
3. Choose An Intersecting Story From Your Own “Story Library.”
Consider the stories from your own life. Which ones will best resonate with the concept the person is talking about? It does not have to be an identical story. For instance, it could simply be a thoughtful story about a time when you struggled to find your own professional identity.
4. Time It Right.
Timing is everything. When should you introduce your story? You don’t want to come across as trying to tell a better story than the one just told. Nor do you want to shift the focus to yourself.
And if someone happens to share a sensitive story–an experience of discrimination, trauma or grief–don’t search for an intersecting story at all. Simply listen well and affirm what they are sharing. There are three phases for telling an intersecting story:
First, fully acknowledge that you’ve heard their stories and that you empathize.
Second, when the opportunity presents itself, share your stories that intersect with theirs on a conceptual level. It doesn’t have to be immediately following their story. Remember to fully acknowledge that you’ve heard and empathize with their story first.
Third, together, imagine a future story that captures yours and theirs. You could preface this with a phrase like, “What would it look like to…?” or “Based on our shared interests, what if we….?”
Get insights on persuasive stories and more in our monthly storytelling guide!
As Margaret Page listened to the 500 Toastmasters members, she carved out time to listen. The whole first part of the call was devoted to listening. She followed this up with time to share her own intersecting persuasive stories.
5. Keep Building Your Story Library.
In order to find intersecting stories, fill your own “story library” with good stories. Reflect on your own life experiences and shape them into brief stories that you feel prepared to tell at a moment’s notice. One simple way to do this is to take out those Crazy Good Questions and use them to reflect on your own experience. When you find intersecting stories, you can begin to build countless good things with the people you’ve authentically persuaded to join you.
Better Every Story
Join the thousands who receive Esther Choy’s insights, best practices and examples of great storytelling in our monthly newsletter.