Category Archives: Making and Impact

How To Find Your Story and Make it Into a Powerful Presentation

Truly great stories and presentations live on in the hearts and minds of audiences the world over, that’s a FACT. Everyone has an innate storytelling ability, that’s another FACT.
You just need to think about a time when you were with friends (or strangers!) in a bar or other social setting to know that you’re a natural born storyteller.

Why is that? Because when you’re in a friendly setting, you can be yourself, and you’ll use really direct language (no jargon) to make sure what you say is engaging.

These experiences show that we all have that innate sense of what makes a good story, but we tend to forget that a great presentation is simply a great story and we can also at times struggle to express our natural and true self.

How To Be a Brilliant Storyteller and Great Presenter

The first step to being a brilliant storyteller and great presenter is finding your unique story. But how do you do that? Let’s go back to that social setting and work through the following 5 steps and I’ll share how I used these steps to find my story.

First a little background:

My area of work is people development, I work with a team of performing and visual artists to deliver training programmes which combine learning and development strategies with skills and techniques from the Arts. So, working with the 5 steps:

5 Steps to Finding Your Unique Story

Begin by thinking about where your passions lie:
What topics are you most likely going to be talking about?
What are the things that excite you?
What are the subject matters that make you feel you have something to say?

I’m passionate about learning and development – my own and others. I’m also passionate about The Arts, and this is what excites me and what I’m most likely going to be talking about, and I happen to have a lot to say on these matters.

Look where you spend your time
What is it you do outside of your work, when your time is valuable, where do you choose to spend it?

I’m always learning, whether I’m listening to podcasts, reading, or taking a course and this together with visiting Galleries, Museums, going to the Cinema and Theatre is where I choose to spend my time. As learning and the Arts are my work, this is what I do on a daily basis and at weekends for both work and leisure.

Look where you spend your disposable income
What are the things you spend your money on? – your interests or hobbies.

This is also where I spend my money: Learning and the Arts: I recently did a course on Radio Theatre, which was so interesting and great fun. Other recent spends include: A preview screening of “Liar” (A new TV show) at the BFI followed by a Q&A with the writers, director and leading actor. I’ve just booked tickets to see “Glengarry Glen Ross” which is coming to the West-End, and “Girl From The North Country” – written and directed by Conor McPherson with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan.

Think about your struggles
In tough times, what did you do?
What kind of uncertainties did you feel?

I changed my career from Investment Banking to Career Coaching, returning to college as a mature student, that was a struggle because it was a juggling act initially, I worked to bring in much needed income while studying and gaining practical experience to launch my new career and business.

I felt great uncertainty about whether I could make that transition and if I could make a living from it, there have been many tough times getting things started and keeping them going. I’ve gotten through those by persistence, determination and a positive attitude – I keep on going because I believe our work has a positive impact on people development programmes, and working with learning and the Arts, makes it easy to remain positive.

Discover your Eureka moment
What was the moment you had your greatest realisation?

There was a further struggle that led me to discovering my ‘Eureka’ moment: Once qualified, while the one to one coaching work came easily to me, workshops and presentations didn’t. I was so incredibly nervous that I would be physically ill before talking in front of people. I was also very inhibited and not my natural self and to top all of that off I became very wooden!

To overcome this I undertook a Foundation year in Drama along with several shorter acting courses and a year long Directing Course, which led me to being Assistant Director on a production of Hamlet that went on to being performed at the RSC Open Space in Stratford Upon Avon (My claim to fame!)

This is when I had my ‘Eureka’ moment of how the techniques, structures and methods of theatre making are significant in the world of people development. The unique skills sets performing artists have had to develop in their craft brings learning alive. This excited me because I knew with my background in learning and development I could collaborate with artists to create meaningful learning programmes.

That’s how I found my story and it has been helpful in establishing my Company Brand, and in business and networking situations helping me to talk about what I do. It’s also been helpful in developing presentations and pitches for work.

But what about Presentations? how can you adapt your unique story to help you deliver a great presentation that people are going to want to listen to?

Making Your Story Into a Powerful Presentation

You need to think about the single purpose of your presentation, the one principle that is most central to what you want to accomplish.

Let me demonstrate with a presentation I’m currently working on. This is part of an application process for funding to deliver community projects.

First a little further background:

As well as working with the Arts in the workplace through people development programmes, I’m also passionate about bringing the joy and benefits of the Arts to the community. This includes retirement homes and to people who are living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Here’s how my Story/Presentation is shaping up:

“My love of the Arts came from my parents, music, song and dance and my mum was also an avid Columbo fan. (I’ll include that last part depending on my audience, more about that in another post, when I’ll talk about adapting your presentation to your audience to use references and/or humour – or not!).

Sadly towards the end of my mum’s life she developed dementia, which progressed quite rapidly and she had to go into a retirement home as she required round the clock care. As a family we felt we’d lost her, the dementia took away aspects of her personality and parts of her memory, she just wasn’t the same anymore and it was heart breaking.

When we went to visit she always knew us, but as soon as we left she wouldn’t remember we’d been there. We also couldn’t have a conversation with her, because she just couldn’t remember things and she’d become frustrated and agitated, it was too upsetting for her.

Every couple of weeks a singer would go into the home and have a sing-song with the residents, and when she did, my mum would sing along and she’d remember every single word of every single song, and she’d be talking about it for days afterwards. It lifted her mood immediately and she was so much happier and calmer.

This is why I want to work with a team of performing artists, to create a programme of events bringing music, song and dance to the lives of people who have Dementia and Alzheimer’s. I know the joys, benefits and well-being it will bring.”

My one purpose: To help people understand the immediate and lasting impact these programmes will have on people’s lives.

Wish me luck!

Next time I’ll talk about the second step in How To Be a Brilliant Storyteller and Great Presenter: How to Bring Your Story to Life for Powerful Presentations.

Explore our Open Courses: How To Deliver Great Presentations Incorporating Story

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Interviews: The Opening Question: Tell me about Yourself

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The Opening – Setting the Scene – Steps to Crafting Your Inspiring Story

“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” Oscar Wilde

Many interviews will start with the same prompt “Tell me about yourself”

Standard responses are along the lines of: “I studied (Major X) because I really wanted to make a difference in (Industry Y) and as you can see from my CV through my last job at (Company Z) I …

To move beyond this standard response to stand out from the crowd from the outset you need to craft “Your Inspiring Story” to show who you are as a person, not just a professional. To give meaning to what you will bring to the role and organisation.

The way your life has evolved, the things you’ve learned, your achievements, failures, dreams – these things are unique to you and make you more interesting than you perhaps realise. A good story is not a replication of your CV or LinkedIn profile, you need to go beyond that.

Steps to crafting your story:

Take an inventory of the chapters of your life – turning points that shaped who you are – what you learned, accomplished and experienced
Focus on memorable “aha” moments – vivid dimensions so people experience that moment with you
Uncover the themes in your story – what emerges as your passion – mentoring, research, relationship building, advancing knowledge …

A Masterclass and the Power of Words

imagesI was at a Masterclass at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in which the Actor Mark Strong shared his experience of the industry and his career before hosting a Q and A. One of the questions Mark was asked was how he gets into a character – to understand the essence of their being. His reply was that’s its in the writing and he gets everything he needs from the words, he spoke in particular about his role as Eddie in the play “A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller.

It was a very simple yet powerful answer, because words have the power to change the world. Think of the four words, “I have a dream”. The moment they enter your mind, you know who said them and why. They are a call to action, and a call to find the best part of ourselves, because words have the power to arouse every emotion.

Words are fundamental in our lives and the medium through which we communicate who we are and what we stand for. Just as Mark used the words written to understand who Eddie is, the people we interact with come to understand our beliefs, values and dreams though the words we use to communicate. Because as people its what we can make with words – ideas, images, hopes, theories, fears, plans, understanding, expectations, a past and a future, culture, ways of seeing …. the list is endless and the power is simply ‘powerful’.

Whenever we communicate there is much at stake, and perhaps even more so in our working environment. When you’re preparing your next presentation or key note speech, to help your process, consider the following techniques actors in training develop to hone their skills in understanding the words, that will allow them to deliver them with the greatest impact:

They are encouraged to read play after play after play because script analysis is the nuts and bolts in the literal fleshing out to bring characters to life. Every line of dialogue, every movement, every action and reaction gives an understanding of a character’s motivations and objectives, emotions and desires and allows the actor to step in and become the character.

You can apply this technique by following the ‘Thought Leaders’ in your industry: study them as the actor does to gain valuable insights into their characters and stories. Use the same approach to understand what’s happening outside of your industry and sector, to recognise successful trends, practices, and behaviours that could make a difference to your world. Harvard and Forbes are good sources for promoting excellent communicators and leaders and people worth reading. Another excellent source is The growth Show from HubSpot, a business podcast for leaders featuring conversations with people who have achieved remarkable growth. The Growth Show from HubSpot

Interestingly writers are often recommended to take an acting course to follow this same process, because particularly in the early stages of developing a concept, they need to get to know their characters inside and out and learning to live in a character’s skin, the same way actors do sharpens their innate ability to substitute and imagine emotionally truthful stories. Maybe its time to take an acting class to develop your voice – technically to develop a great speaking voice and also to develop your unique character voice that will motivate, inspire and impact those listening to you.

In the meantime you can draw on your learnings from your reading, research and analysis to adapt this process to the concept, message, idea you want to communicate, by following these three steps:

1. Begin by understanding the bigger picture in the same way Dr. Martin Luther King did. He had a deep rooted understanding of the world he existed in, the challenges and problems, and the changes that needed to take place to move beyond this. You will need the same understanding of the world/industry/organisation/team you operate in.

2. Dr. King took time to get to know people at grass roots level, to understand their hopes, dreams, fears and challenges, you need to stand in the shoes of your audience to understand your world from different perspectives. These are the first steps in developing your message to communicate your understanding of what others are feeling and thinking and show respect of other’s point of view.

3. Having an understanding of both the big and small picture – the world you operate in and the individuals within that world, provides the backdrop to your story (script, concept, idea, message), as well as an understanding of the fundamental words you need to use that have the power to arouse every emotion, and how to deliver them with the greatest impact that demands a call to action.

Evolving Careers Players can help you make an impact through the power of words. The techniques of performing arts are at the core of our work. Get in touch to discuss your needs:

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Thinking is the Ultimate Human Resource

imagesBecause I help people in career transition, I sometimes get asked by people if I’m always able to tell people what job they should be doing and I have to explain that that’s not what I do. What I actually do is facilitate the process which allows people to come to this realisation themselves, in essence I help people to have clarity in their thinking and as I said in an earlier post if we have a question, problem or situation we also have the answer or solution.

My programmes also support job search, and I get asked if I always get people a job, to which I reply: ‘my role is to support people in getting the job themselves’. This may all sound very cliché but when I’m performing in my role at my very best, I’m merely the facilitator in helping people do things for themselves. I meet with my clients weekly, fortnightly or whatever time-frame which allows them to carry out the objectives agreed on in our session, and I always say to clients that the best work takes place away from the sessions, whether that’s research, networking or marketing themselves, these are the actions that will drive their programme in line with their needs and objectives outlined at the outset of our work together.

I sometimes use the analogy of a sports coach and the world of Career, Leadership and Executive Coaching evolved from the world of sport.  Many of my clients will have worked with a sports coach or personal trainer or will have an understanding of how these people help their clients – individuals or teams get the most from their performance, they don’t go out and play a game or do their fitness programme for them, they do however walk alongside them , supporting their motivation, determination and persistence in achieving their goals, they help them to continuously improve their performance and to be in a position to achieve things for themselves.

Clients will want to achieve the objectives outlined at the beginning of their programme for themselves. This gives them great satisfaction and the skills they gain throughout the process remain with them and indeed help to progress their career to the next level, because of their ability to recognise what’s unique about themselves in terms of their skills, experience, knowledge and attributes. This allows them to be confident in communicating this and effectively marketing themselves, whether in writing – job application, CV, and cover letter, or in person – interviews, or in networking situations. The experience they gain in building their networks in their chosen field also remains with them and gives them the impetuous to continue to develop strong relationships, allowing them to easily navigate and progress their career when the time is right.

I truly believe Thinking is the ultimate human resource and once people are confident in their ability to think for themselves and believe they have the answers they need within them, this instils the belief they can do for themselves. The ultimate satisfaction for me in my work is when my clients are confident in thinking and doing for themselves and creative thinking promotes creative doing.

Evolving Careers Players can help you manage and develop your career. We deliver 121 career coaching, group learning and development, and outplacement services. We devise community forum theatre, corporate drama workshops and role-play scenarios. Get in touch to discuss your needs:

The Old Sheepdog Story and Thinking on the Spot

imagesAn old sheepdog starts chasing rabbits and before long, discovers that he’s lost. Wandering about, he notices a panther heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch.The old sheepdog thinks, “Oh, oh! I’m in deep s… now!”

Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the panther is about to leap, the old sheepdog exclaims loudly: “Boy, that was one delicious panther! I wonder, if there are any more around here?” Hearing this, the young panther halts his attack in mid-strike, a look of terror comes over him and he slinks away into the trees. Phew!,” says the panther, “That was close! That old sheepdog nearly had me!”

Meanwhile, a squirrel who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the panther. So, off he goes. The squirrel soon catches up with the panther, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the panther. The young panther is furious at being made a fool of and says, “Here, squirrel, hop on my back and see what’s going to happen to that conniving canine!”

Now, the old sheepdog sees the panther coming with the squirrel on his back and thinks, “What am I going to do now?,” but instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hasn’t seen them yet, and just when they get close enough to hear, the old sheepdog says… “Where’s that squirrel? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another panther!”

Moral of this story – Don’t mess with the old dogs! or brilliance only come with age and experience! …. or does it?

Nah of course not, there are techniques that can help you to relax when under pressure and to think on the spot. These include:

Breathing – this may sound obvious, but deepening and lengthening your breath stimulates a relaxation response which creates a feeling of calm.

Listen and Pause – whether that’s to your own instinct of needing to know what to do or say next as the old sheepdog did, or whether its critical to the success of your answer in situations when perhaps you’re being interviewed, or you’re facilitating a Q and A or you’re delivering bad news e.g. a company restructure which is going to have a significant impact on the lives and careers of the individuals present.

Really listening allows you to be completely present in the moment and is critical to the success of your action or answer. Then pause before you respond – as long as you don’t have a look of panic on your face, you’ll look thoughtful, careful and respectful. Pause even if you know the action to be taken or the answer to be communicated, especially if you feel under attack. Carrying out an action or blurting out a response without thinking it through will make you appear insecure and anxious. A thoughtful pause reminds you to slow down and collect yourself and your thoughts.

Organise – When having to think on the spot or having to respond to an impromptu question, the idea is to structure your response for clarity, brevity and impact. By learning a few impromptu response structures, your actions and answers will always be organised and confident. Here are three structures for you to try out:

Impromptu Response Structures:

PREP: Position, reason, example, position, in this model first state the position of the topic, and then you state your reason for taking that position. Next you provide an example or story that supports your reason. Finally, you summarise by restating your position.

PEP: Point, example, point, in this one you start by making a point or stating a key idea or objective. Then you give an example or story that proves your point. Then you wrap up by restating the main idea, or your main point. When you’re short on time, this is the way to go.

Divide and Conquer: This requires you to think quickly of a way to divide up your response, choosing between past, present and future problem solving solutions: Past: solutions that have worked before, Present: being completely in the moment to be able to react in time with a solution that will work in the here and now – as the old sheepdog did! Future: gathering intelligence to anticipate what the future holds supporting you in being forearmed with informed solutions.

Then practice these techniques, because as we all know practice makes perfect. You can do this by applying these techniques to everyday situations both in work and your life outside of work – maybe you want your child to eat more vegetables – begin by telling them this (stating your position) your reason is of course because you want them to grow up to be big and strong, then you tell them the story of the big green giant who ….. (you know where I’m going with this) and then you restate your position.

Practising the techniques when the situation or questions are easy, and you’re not under pressure, means you can learn the structures quickly. Then when you are put on the spot, you can easily relax, listen, organise and respond. Whether you’re attending a meeting, interviewing for a job, presenting a proposal, selling an idea, handling a question and answer session, or dealing with a panther! being able to respond clearly and concisely at a moment’s notice is a critical professional skill.

Evolving Careers Players can help you develop your skills to enable you to be prepared for all of these situations. We deliver 121 career coaching, group learning and development, and outplacement services. We devise community forum theatre, corporate drama workshops and role-play scenarios. Get in touch to discuss your needs:

Top Ten Tips to Tell a Story that makes an Impact

imagesAll great communicators are great story-tellers, they use their own stories to communicate with power and impact. By doing this they have authenticity and presence giving them the ability to influence and lead. The following tips are intended to help you to tell the right story at the right time.

1. The most powerful communication has a human element. Share your experiences, your successes and your challenges, what you did to overcome them and what you learnt in the process. This gives insight into who you are, allowing you to break down walls and connect with people at a human level. In stories characters will always have flaws, and if you include a past failure, it will add another layer to your story and endear you to your audience.

2. Take time to think about an intriguing way to begin your story, you need to capture the attention of your audience from the very beginning. The beginning doesn’t just “hook” your listeners, it also sets the tone and launches the plot of your message. An example might be establishing conflict from the outset e.g. “we were halfway to Mars when our fuel tank blew up”. This helps to create a sense of urgency and you can go back and fill in the details once people are on board with the fact that exciting stuff is happening.

3. Take your audience on a journey, stories are full of events and revelations which take your audience somewhere new. All the best stories contain transformations. Think about what transformations you want your audience to experience by the end of your story.

4. Take your time, the pleasure is in the telling. Remember a pause, a look, a gesture can convey as much as words. Allow yourself to see the pictures, hear the sounds, smell the scents, savour the tastes and feel the emotions, and then your audience will too.

suspense5. To keep you audience on the edge of their seats, use …………. ‘suspense’. Not knowing what is going to happen next will make people want to sit up and listen. You could do this by posing a “big question” that will keep people hooked until the end. Maybe you’ll have a surprise ending, and who doesn’t love a surprise! A surprise can come in the form of a well-guarded secret revealed at the right time. This is guaranteed to get people talking and your story will spread like wildfire

6. At times when you have to deliver difficult messages, it’s worth remembering that listeners are more open to receiving when they hear the message delivered in a story format. They can lower their walls and defences because the message is coming to them in an indirect way. This helps to replace suspicion with trust.

7. Share your vision stories to inspire hope, stimulate action and raise morale. Telling a story first will guide your audience towards seeing what the future ahead holds and this is particularly important during times of uncertainty. Talk about the obstacles to overcome, when people know the efforts needed to achieve these goals they will appreciate them even more, the old adage of ‘not appreciating things that are easily attained’ comes into play here.

shoes-38. The greater the range of emotions in your story, the deeper the connection you will build with your audience. Empathy is important when storytelling, look at the world as though you are experiencing it from different perspectives, stand in the shoes of your audience. This helps to communicate your understanding of what others are feeling and thinking and shows respect of other’s point of view.

9. Tell stories to inspire people who want change, to sustain positive energy over time. Stories will get people’s imaginative juices working, they will become curious about what else there is to find out and have a greater sense of being an integral part of that change.

10. Finally if your thought process has dried up and you’re struggling to come up with ideas to get your next story started, places you can find inspiration from include:

Family, friends, colleagues –having an innate interest in people’s lives is a core attribute of all storytellers.

Dreams – we’ve all been intrigued by a dream at some point and have been left frustrated by waking up and wanting to know what happened next. The solution – write it down as quickly as possible and you never know what a seed may germinate.

Ask yourself ‘what if’ – what and if are as non-threatening as two words can be, but put them together side by side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life’ (from the film Letters to Juliet).

Develop your  storytelling ability by making storytelling part of your daily life. After all storytelling is the best communication tool a leader can use, and as a leadership strategy, whenever you want to make an impact tell a story.

Evolving Careers Players can help you make an impact in all your communication needs whether its presenting, influencing or negotiating. We deliver 121 career coaching, group learning and development and outplacement services. We devise community forum theatre, corporate drama workshops and role-play scenarios. Get in touch to discuss your needs: