6 Ways Personal Narrative Will Help You Professionally

Last week I moderated a panel discussion on developing your personal brand. There was a lot of debate amongst the panelists and audience members regarding how much we share from our personal lives when in a professional setting. Should you have two Instagram accounts? (My intern recently told me about FINSTA vs. RINSTA, and my mind was blown.) Do we stay buttoned up - both on the inside and outside - and keep our hobbies, passions, and feelings at bay?

Here’s my philosophy. Meld the professional with the personal. Be yourself and use storytelling as your guide. Here are six ways that crafting your personal narrative will help you professionally. 

1.  Gain confidence

When you are able to share stories with others — the stories where you are the main character, where you feel like you accomplished something, learned from a mistake, overcame adversity, or made someone smile — you will feel like the best version of yourself. Why is this? You are setting (and raising) the stakes of your story. You are telling it in your own words. You can have fun taking your audience on a journey. You can laugh at your past self, with a wink and a nod to your future one. When you become your own narrator, you assume the role of expert. The expert on your life. That warm feeling that you get from sharing an experience — whether you are the listener or the teller — is an energy that carries through to confidence. And that confidence will carry through to other aspects of your life and how you communicate, even when not sharing a personal experience. 

2. Leverage your skills

Leverage (v.) - to use (something) to maximum advantage. Use story to highlight the skills that make you shine in your career. Are you a critical thinker? Paint the picture of a time when your critical thinking skills helped find a solution to a huge problem. Are you great at motivating your team to work together and collaborate? What story from your life exemplifies this style of motivation?

I still remember the story that a Wharton MBA student shared with me whilst she was consulting on my sales methods for getting new corporate clients. She wanted me to go door-to-door to all of the big office buildings on Market Street and introduce myself to each company that I wanted to work with. As an introvert, the idea of this type of sales strategy terrified me. I was super resistant to trying out her methods. When she sensed my discomfort, she shared a story of the time she was deployed in Iraq and how she was sent to deliver a message to move people into action that she could only give in person. She shared her hesitations, her determination, and the outcome of getting to be face to face with those who needed to hear what she had to say. This type of story moved me to at least consider a new method of getting in front of people and it made me trust and connect with the MBA student all the more.

3. Take your public speaking to the next level

Say goodbye to canned icebreakers and corporate speak. Inserting a personal story into the beginning of a presentation, or weaving it into a client conversation, will help you to communicate with honesty and sincerity. Take note of the people in your life who enchant and excite you when they speak. What makes you connect with them? What sticks with you once the presentation is over?

Now think of the people who bore you to tears. Are they reading from their text heavy slide deck? Did they start by talking about the weather or the big football game? What would you like to do to ensure that you won’t deliver a message to a disconnected audience? I bet the answer is tell a story!

4. Lead as a 360 degree human 

We all have full lives. Work. Home. Relationships. Friendships. Hobbies. Secret Projects. Children. Be the full 360 degree human that you are. This doesn’t mean that you have to share every single detail of everything that happens to you or blurt out feelings before you think them through. This just means that you should align your values, goals, and talents with your voice, your actions, and the way you present yourself to the world. Integrate the personal and professional. Especially if you are the face of your company, or you are experimenting with your personal brand to build new connections and grow your network. A good first step in fusing together your personal and professional personas, is by working on a story to tell that best represents where you’re coming from and where you’re headed.

5. Build trust and make deeper connections

If you are in control of your own narrative, then you are leading your peers, colleagues, and clients down a path of true understanding. And true understanding leads to building trust and strengthening relationships. You will also inspire others to share their stories and bridge their two worlds into one. When we realize that our stories are shared experiences, that we’re all human, we connect in a more impactful way. 

6. Help others celebrate their accomplishments.

Taking your listener on a ride that includes all of the obstacles of starting something from nothing, will illuminate your great achievements. When you tell a story of accomplishments that happen outside of the workplace, it will motivate you and your team to accomplish great things inside those office walls. You can also tell a work story in a way that lets your listener in on your own personal experience of what happened. How did it feel to solve that problem? What hesitations did you have going into the project? If you lead by example with an accomplishment story, invite others to share theirs as well. Perhaps this is an assignment to pull together for your next team meeting: tell a a story of something that you did that you never thought you could do.

Now that you have these six points of encouragement, what story (the one that is unique to you!) can you tell right now? What narrative makes you feel better about yourself and all that you’ve done in life? 

Want to work on crafting your narrative in the New Year? Join Hillary for a three-part workshop series called (you guessed it) Crafting Your Personal Narrative. The first workshop sequence begins on January 12th. Visit this page for the full details.