champlain college speaker at podium, storytelling

The Art of Storytelling

by Sarah Wilkinson, Class of ’17

Storytelling has been around long before recorded history. It’s one thread that ties us to our ancestors – we all tell stories. We all like to be told stories, especially funny ones. If they’re such a huge part of our collective identity, why shouldn’t we use stories to help us in our careers?

An article in the New York Times by Alina Tugend links increases in oxytocin, the “love hormone,” with stories that are very character-driven. This means that people are most drawn to stories that have many plot points, making the story feel complete. Remember the Budweiser commercials with the puppies and the Clydesdales? There’s a reason they usually win viewer-favorite, and it has everything to do with how complete the story is (but the puppies certainly don’t hurt).

So what does this mean for you? “The reason many stories don’t work… is that as adults, we tend to judge, analyze and explain an experience, rather than tell it.” Storytelling isn’t effective if you don’t actually tell a story. Complaining about your old boss in an interview is not telling your story; it’s ruining your chances of getting the job.

According to the author of Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling that Propels Careers, the natural reaction a stranger has to you is distrust. Until you answer two questions, they will continue to distrust you: 1) “Who are you?” 2) “Why are you here?” In a job interview, this means giving the interviewer a sense of who you are and telling them why you want the job.

But that’s just the beginning of how telling stories can help you professionally.

  1. Stories let you tell others who you are in your own way.
  2. Figuring out how to tell your story can tell you a lot about yourself, plus build confidence.
  3. When you tell a story, people are more likely to remember you.
  4. Stories help you gain trust because, in your stories, you’re telling people why they can trust you.
  5. When you tell a story, the listener becomes more invested in your success because you form an emotional connection.
  6. If you tell a story and no one else does, you’re the one who will stand out.
  7. Telling stories lets others know that you’re a strong communicator.
  8. Through storytelling, you can demonstrate so many more skills that you possess than you could possibly list on your resume.

But be careful: rehearsing or a telling a story so often that others think it sounds fake will not help you. Be genuine, let your story unfold as you tell it. This doesn’t mean don’t practice for your interview; it simply means be open to whatever happens and wherever your stories take you.

Other Sources: Quint Careers