Storytelling to further your career

Storytelling to further your career

In presentation training, we focus on storytelling as a way of building emotional connection with the audience. Stories win hearts and minds, inspire and motivate and engage and entertain.

In a job interview, stories can be extremely effective. They will help you stand out in the interviewer’s mind and highlight your key competencies.

Often, you will make a series of assertions such as I can help you increase sales, attract more funding or influence legislation. However, you will need to provide evidence for the interviewer to take you seriously. This is where stories, which are based on real-life examples, can help you come across as genuine and credible.

In my job interview coaching, we examine some typical questions, like the ones below, and apply storytelling techniques.

• Tell us about yourself.
• Why do you want to work for us?
• Why do you think you are the right person for this job?
• Tell us about a time you have succeeded/ failed.
• How do you deal with conflicts at work?
• Tell us what you don’t like about your current working day?
• What sort of things do you and your boss disagree about?
• What is your greatest strength and how will it help you in this job?
• What do you see as the most challenging part of this position?

As you can see, the interviewer is looking to assess your motivation, determination and spirit of collaboration. These are abstract concepts, and unfortunately the human brain is particularly bad at remembering the abstract. So you need to back them up with concrete examples or stories.

The 5 elements of a powerful story

In order to make an impact, your story needs the following elements:

1. Clear structure. You need to set out the context – explain who was involved, when, and where. There has to be some action – something has to change and then comes the resolution. In a presentation, the story serves to reinforce a key message. In a job interview, it can spotlight the actions you took to resolve a problem or challenge and the results that followed. If you can add a key learning such as – this taught me that you have to persevere and not give up – this will reinforce the impression that you are someone who reflects and learns from the past.

2. Human interest. If you are telling a story about a project or programme explain how you felt during the process. How did you feel when faced with a challenge? How did you feel when the situation was resolved either positively or negatively? And how did the people involved in the project feel – were they overjoyed, inspired or relieved?

3. Credibility. Your story must be true and based on fact. It will also be much easier to relate and remember if it is your story.

4. Topicality. If you are using a case study as one of your examples, it should still be valid and not have been overtaken by events.

5. Relevance. It helps if your story is relevant to the audience either geographically or close to the sector they are working in. For example, if you are applying for a job with a food company, but come from an environmental background, you might want to talk about an initiative you led on sustainability as this could be relevant to their policies on food waste, recycling or naturally sourced food.

And one last thought, be ready to answer some of those personality questions with stories from your non-work life. Some interviewers, for examples, like to questions such as – tell us about your childhood /what do you do outside work/tell us what makes you smile. All of these are great questions for a short personal story.

In my next blog I shall look at how to deliver that powerful story during an interview.

A Job Interview is a Presentation

A Job Interview is a Presentation

Every conversation is a presentation, and no conversation has higher stakes than a job interview. To succeed, you need to convince a potential employer you are the right person for the job.

Over the past year, I have been coaching people in the art of the effective job interview – with a 100% success rate so far. This is probably due to the fact that so many aspects of presenting yourself to a future employer rely on presenting and public speaking skills – my areas of expertise.

Here are some tips essential to effective presenting that can be applied to the job interview.

Put yourself in the shoes of the your audience

Look at every question from the employer’s perspective and do your homework. This means doing a detailed research of the company and what their needs are both today and in the future. With this information, you can explain your assessment of their challenges and opportunities and why you can help them meet them.

For example, when asked why are you interested in the job, you could reply:

“I’ve had twelve years in customer service positions, with four years managing the whole department. Your position clearly demands a strong service component in areas where I have expertise.”

Highlight the benefits to the audience

What is in it for them? This is very important to spell out when presenting and indeed training, but especially so in a job interview. They are hiring you to meet a new challenge or solve a problem. You need to show them you are the ideal solution.

Often the first question in a job interview is along the lines of present yourself/tell us about yourself or what do you do?

You need to mention what you do but also highlight the value it brings to them.

If I were to do this for my business to a prospective client working for an international organisation, I would say:

“I am a former BBC journalist, UN spokeswoman and head of media at WWF International,(features) with more than 15 years as a trainer helping international organisations communicate more effectively (benefits). This means I can advise you on how to better influence policy decisions on X in Y country (added value).

This technique can also be used at a networking event when you have to present yourself and your business. In this instance, you may want to create interest and provide a potential hook by saying something intriguing to encourage them to ask more. It is known as an elevator pitch in that you should be able to deliver it to your dream prospect that you bump into by the time the elevator has gone from the top to ground floor.

Back up your assertions with proof points

In an interview you will often be asked about why you are the right person for the job. Here you need to identify what makes you stand out from the competition.

The easiest way to do this is to make a point and then give an example.

“I have an excellent track record in helping manufacturing companies make a profit. My team looks to see where they can cut costs or increase their margins. With a typical client, we can boost their profits by 7% in the first year. With one car manufacturer we worked with a couple of years ago we recommended a lot of changes and their first-year profit went up by 15%.”

Planned spontaneity

These types of answers need to be prepared before but delivered as if this is the first time you have said them. Strange as it may seem, this means you need to practice delivering them in front of the mirror or even better film yourself on your smart phone. You also have to make sure that your tone and body language give a positive impression.

In future blogs, I shall share how to use the right non-verbal communication, apply storytelling techniques and handle some of the trickier questions that you may be asked in a job interview.

Avoiding Oscar Night Gaffes

Avoiding Oscar Night Gaffes

Did any of you watch the Oscars last month? The format changed with no host – part of an effort to make the ceremony shorter – due to declining viewing figures in this day and age of shorter attention spans.

Whether high profile like the Oscars or for smaller awards at smaller events – think your annual conference or end of year party – ceremonies take planning and preparation.

Believe me, I know as I advise companies and organisations and have acted as host at a few awards ceremonies.

If you want to make sure your ceremony is remembered for the right reasons and not for the wrong ones – like the notorious “envelopegate” when “La La Land” was accidentally named the best picture instead of “Moonlight” at the 2017 Oscars – have a look at my tips for organisers, presenters, recipients and hosts.

Preparation prevents poor performance

Everybody needs to be on the same page about their role so organisers need to brief the presenters and recipients about the length of their remarks. The Oscars rule this year was no more than 90 seconds for the winners from the moment their name is called to the end of their speech. 90 seconds is 225 words on average when speaking in public in English.

Presenters remember it is not about you but the winners, so keep your remarks short.

A clear briefing about the content is also essential. I once had the head of the jury read out all the names of the winners at the beginning when he was meant to talk only about the selection process. I had to stop him in his tracks, not least because a very senior EU official was due to announce one of the winners!

It sounds obvious but presenters must have read, listened or watched the award winning entry. Some I have worked with asked me while on stage how to pronounce the name of the winner and their project.

On the day itself

Organisers must go through the choreography on stage with the presenters and winners (normally people know ahead of time if they have won!) at least 1-hour before.

If there are last minute cancellations, the presenters need to be assigned new tasks and quickly assimilate them. I once had a no-show and half an hour before the event the replacement presenter also announced they had to attend an important meeting so the pack of cards had to be reshuffled again – with a varying degree of success!

Many events are now live-streamed or videoed and the audience all have smart phones so that if it goes wrong, its digital footprint remains for ever and could even go viral.

I was pleased to read that the Oscars organisers have not ruled out reinstating a host as master of ceremonies next year. It was after all the host, Jimmy Kimmel, who reined in disaster during the notorious “envelopegate” gaffe in 2017. Sometimes a professional MC can save the day!




Is Davos the Gold Standard of Panel Discussions?

Is Davos the Gold Standard of Panel Discussions?

How many of you attended this year’s gathering of the global elites at the World Economic Forum? If you were there, did you sit through any of the panel discussions? With the good and the great vying to be in the audience and on the podium, Davos panels are a hot, if pricey, event.

But how good are these discussions? Are they engaging, informative and thought-provoking?

Many a client has contacted me as a moderator saying they want a Davos-style panel discussion. In the conference/event industry, these panels with their star-studded line-up are obviously seen as the gold standard.

So, I decided to test this hypothesis and watch a panel in which Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian, made headlines with his remarks about why no one at Davos was talking about the super rich avoiding paying taxes.


I watched the 1-hour session and was, to be frank, disappointed. Despite the expert and articulate speakers, there was no lively discussion. Although the title – the cost of inequality – was catchy, it was unclear the specific issues the panel was trying to address.

Instead, you got the tired format of each speaker giving opening remarks of 3 to 5 minutes followed by the moderator asking the panel in the exact same order a series a questions. The moderator failed to generate a discussion even when Bregman made his provocative comments on tax avoidance.

Admittedly, it is not easy with 5 speakers (3 to 4 is optimal) whose reason for being on the panel is not clear. Jane Goodall is an amazing primatologist, but is she really the right person to discuss the cost of inequality?

Fast-forward to 44.05, and you will hear one of the few members of the audience who got to ask a question, express surprise at the way the panel was created and remarking that it was extremely one-sided.

Tarnished gold

For me this panel did not meet the gold standard despite the excellent contributions of the Dutch historian and the executive director of Oxfam International.

All panels at Davos have star line-ups, but what they lack is a variety of formats and in many cases excellent moderators.  

An exception this year was the panel on mental health matters with Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, which was excellently moderated by a CNBC journalist.

Good TV journalists who know how to keep a conversation flowing and to time can make a big difference and breathe life into the most staid and familiar formats.

However overall, it would seem I am not alone in my disappointment at the standard of panels at Davos..

The Guardian concluded at the end of the 4-day talking shop that “Davos had lost its mojo” and that “the format – panel of experts – discussing the world’s problems looks tired”.

It may well be that Davos needs to be revamped as a forum – I have only ever attended as a journalist scurrying from one interviewee to the next.

However, the organisers armed with a dose of creativity could easily breathe new life into the panel format 

Interactive and creative panel formats that work

I have always been impressed by the variety of formats used by the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society – which like the World Economic Forum has a main conference as well as regional conferences. One year they asked me to moderate three panels – all with different formats.

Panel 1 – Why are refugees only bad news? (A question in the title helps to focus the discussion). This was the classic Q and A format – with the moderator asking questions to 3 panellists and bringing in the audience.

Panel 2 – Why I am a feminist. The moderator interviewed the male CEO of Coca Cola, a self-declared feminist. Two female CEOs then joined the moderator on stage and started to ask him questions.

Panel 3 – Advancing women’s economic empowerment. The moderator launched a discussion with 2 speakers – then French presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron, and the Canadian Minister for the Status of Women, Patty Hajdu. She then invited a third speaker – Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre – to join and ask any questions she had of the first two speakers.

Seating the audience in the round – the so-called fishbowl format – is excellent for interactivity. Another client added another twist by leaving an empty chair on the stage for members of the audience who were invited to ask questions to each speaker after the curated Q and A with the moderator.

So WEF, with your star speakers, revamped creative panel formats and dynamic moderators no doubt your 2020 sessions will be pure gold?


Using Props for Powerful Presenting

Using Props for Powerful Presenting

Next time you present to colleagues at work or in public, think about using a prop.

A prop, a term used in the theatre, arouses the senses. Studies show that people learn and retain information much better if it is reinforced with visual aids. If they can touch, feel, smell or listen to these aids, then it is even more likely they will remember what you are saying.

In my public speaking courses, I often give this prop to participants to see how they react.

People realise it is a very simple music box and when they wind it up, it plays the EU anthem Ode to Joy. Then they read the words – “it won’t work by itself” – a perfect metaphor for the message of the developer, a Polish EU official, who uses it to encourage citizens to engage with the European Union.

But let me walk the talk, by showing you three short video clips of some of the speakers I coached at a recent UN TEDX who all used props effectively.

Props reinforce your message

Jasmine Abdulcadir, an obstetrician and gynaecologist who opened Geneva’s first clinic for women suffering from female genital mutilation received a standing ovation for her talk debunking the myths around FGM and female sexuality.

One of the myths is that women, who have had their clitoris cut, lose all sexual sensation. In fact, as Jasmine explains showing a model of the clitoris, the tip is a tiny part of a big deep organ, and that removing it does not mean women can’t experience sexual pleasure.

It was important to also show MRI scans and diagrams of the clitoris in the talk – amazingly it was only in 2018 that Geneva hospitals ran a course for medical students on the history, anatomy and biology of the clitoris; and it is only this year that an accurate drawing of the organ will be shown in biology textbooks in French speaking Switzerland!

Here is her talk.

Jennifer Shigoli, a social entrepreneur from Tanzania, developed reusable sanitary pads, a solution for many girls and women who were using feathers, paper and rags as they couldn’t afford to buy throwaway pads every month. She took us on her journey as a successful businesswoman manufacturing pads that have reduced the rates of absenteeism in schools and improved the livelihoods of the men and women who sell them.

Here is her talk.

Elise Dietrichson and Fatima Sator are two researchers on a mission to tell the world that it was thanks to the efforts of four Latin American women that the UN Charter includes the words “women” and “sex”.

To illustrate the point, Fatima showed the pink version of the UN Charter – which was also put on the audience’s seats as a memorable take-away from the event.

Here is their talk.

Do’s and Don’ts
Props help you manage audience attention span, by adding variety, stimulating interest and are another tool in your presenting kit.

Below are some key points about using them effectively:

1. The prop must be relevant to your message – if it is not, don’t use it.
2. The audience must be able to see the prop – count to 5 as you show or hold it up.
3. Practice with the prop to ensure it works – make sure you are comfortable picking
it up or taking it out of your pocket.
4. Have a backup in case it doesn’t work – a photo on a slide for example.
5. Keep the prop hidden until you need it – this ensures greater impact.
6. Put the prop away when you are finished with it – as otherwise it can be a
distraction for the rest of your presentation.

Be creative
There are many TED global talks that are memorable for their use of props, such as Bill Gates opening a jar of mosquitos while delivering a talk about malaria or Jill Bolte Taylor using a human brain while talking about her massive stroke.

These add a sense of drama that works well with certain audiences. But, I encourage you to be creative in front of any audience.

If you work for a food company, use samples that can be touched, smelt or even tasted. If you work in manufacturing, trade or finance, your mobile phone can be a useful prop to talk, for example, about complex issues like global supply chains, as the parts are made all over the world.

Believe me, whatever your industry or organisation, props, if well used, will ensure your presentation is not forgotten.