Ben came to Interact Studio last year, wanting our help in preparing for an important interview. He had scripted answers to the most-asked interview questions, and asked us to help him practice.
“First, tell me your story,“ I said.
“My story? In what context?” he asked.
At Interact, we ask people to tell their story by sharing the wisdom they carried away from defining moments, admired influences, losses and wins. These are the things that go to your motivation and the way you connect with your life and work.
Why begin with your defining moments?
Your story offers the kind of credibility. It is not a “right” answer that you can memorize. Your story comes through you. When it’s your turn to step up for a big interview, sit down for an important one-on-one conversation, present to the members of the board, or give a keynote to a thousand people, the number one advantage is knowing your own story.
You won’t tell the entire story every time. You will tell pieces of it—defining moments—and you will never tell it the same way. But people need to know who you are before they can trust you.
Here’s an exercise. Respond to these defining-moments prompts:
Something I had to learn the hard way:
The wisdom I carried forward:
Introduce yourself at a meeting using your story
Picture this. You’re at a large meeting, sitting in a chain of self-introductions, and as your turn comes closer, you struggle with the right words to introduce yourself. Sound familiar?
For several years I worked with high school students who participate in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. We conducted a workshop for juniors and seniors that allowed them to practice interviewing for scholarships. I asked these young people to tell us their stories by completing the statement, “I am…”
These students had amazing bursts of authentic expression. They hadn’t been conditioned to introduce themselves by a job title.
“I am Russian.”
I will never forget the young woman who stood in the center of the room and said “I am Russian” with a beautiful accent. She wasn’t speaking in a casual way, but as a way of standing for something:
“I am Russian. It is such a great part of me. I lived in Russia for 13 years. When I came here, I had been up-rooted. I didn’t know anything, anyone, no one. America has become my country. But Russia, I am proud of it. It is me. Every single part of me—the language, the customs, has been Russian.”
I was so moved by her. At 17 this speaker held the room in the palm of her hand. She was trembling with adrenaline and strength. She knew who she was.
Here’s how she used a defining moment:
I went back to Russia this year. I had such a great experience with my friends. I miss them. America has become my country. But I want you all to know about Russia. I’m proud of its culture. It has layers. It has been there for so many centuries. So many customs, traditions. I don’t want to hide Russia inside, I want to share it.
This young woman spoke for just minutes with more backbone than I had ever seen. When she walked off, we were all stunned. How many of us are this courageous about telling our story? If you were to follow her example, what would you say?
Knowing your story is the foundation for credibility. When your communication is rooted in self-awareness, you will have the number one advantage in every communications scenario, from interviews and conversations to presentations and keynotes. When you find your authentic voice, you will stand out in a crowd of people who have scripted the answers.
This is influence. This is leadership.
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