I’ve said it before: Storytelling is a Superpower. It’s not only useful on the job hunt, but imperative in the workplace. Any time you need to explain a project you’re working on to get help from a coworker or an executive’s buy-in, you’re telling a story.
All of these situations require that you communicate clearly and succinctly. It sounds like common sense, but anybody who’s sat through an hour long presentation and still not understood what the point was by the end may agree that clear communication is not so common.
Here are a few tips to help you boost your storytelling skills:
This is a common methodology for structuring an executive presentation, but it can be used for meetings, conversations, or even emails. “Answer first” means you tell the conclusion first. For example, “We can achieve XX% growth by implementing this software” or “we need to increase our budget by YY to accommodate ZZ”.
This method clears up any confusion as to what your “point” is. Then go into the details that back up your conclusion.
Summarize your needs.
What’s the problem or issue, and what is the desired outcome of this conversation? Do you need an answer for Decision X vs Decision Y, or do you need help brainstorming?
I once worked for an extremely busy woman who literally never read long emails. Eventually I started sending her emails with yes-or-no questions in the subject lines so she’d read and respond with a one-word answer. In order to even get to those questions I had to drill down from broader issues into what, exactly, I needed from her. She didn’t need to know what the producer said, or why they said it. Just the point: can we do XX? It costs $YY.
Of course this all got more complicated when I once asked “Should we do A, B, or C?” and she answered “yes”. That one was fun.
Tailor it to your audience.
I’m going to repeat “know your audience” on this blog forever because it’s that important. Your story should be different depending on who you’re talking to or what the situation is. Are you just grabbing coffee with a coworker to talk about the problems you’re having on a project? Or are you in a status update meeting with an executive?
A coworker chat can be more casual and involve more gritty details about your day-to-day challenges, but an executive meeting will likely only need the main ideas. You’ll need to be super clear on your main bullet points and have solid backup for your numbers. A coworker might not care what assumptions went into your financial model, but an executive definitely will.