Why the story is fundamental to your success

I founded Speakeasy Groups just over a year ago. It’s come a long way since. In fact it’s travelled all the way to Australia because on 14th February I got a nice surprise – not a Valentine’s card, but a call from associate Ian Berry (left) inviting me to say ‘hi’ and welcome his new Speakeasy group in Adelaide, live on speakerphone! I couldn’t see them but to hear those Aussie voices yell back was quite a feeling.

The other thing that’s come a long way is my OWN understanding of what Speakeasy is! You’d have thought I’d know, but it’s only been in recent weeks that I’ve really ‘got’ what it’s about – its depth and fundamental importance to all businesses.

If you were to say it’s about presentation skills, you’d be right but also wrong – that’s the bit of the iceberg that sits above the water. There’s so much depth to it because it’s the STORY and the telling of it that lies at the heart of any company, organisation or individual.

It’s what makes John Lewis, or Apple or Jeremy Clarkson what they are. It gives them their identity, their signature. It’s not about a logo or a mission statement; it’s about how people experience you. For a company that’s an amalgamation of lots of things – the way the phone is answered, the greeting at reception, the reliability of calls/emails being answered, the ease with which your web-site can be navigated, the outcomes you create for your clients, whether you’re just nice people to be with.

For the individual it’s much the same – do you know your stuff , keep your promises, observe good social etiquette and make people feel at ease?

ALL these experiences generate stories – people talk about you through anecdotes, and these stories influence other people. They create people’s perception of you.

So if you’re a business, here are some questions to ask of yourself:

  • how do you describe your company when you’re asked to deliver your elevator pitch?
  • have you got case studies/anecdotes to share – ones that portray you in a positive light, that give you a distinct identity?
  • are these skilfully delivered as stories of transformation? (the client was HERE…but at the end they were THERE…).
  • do you tell the HUMAN story of your company, or just the facts?
  • are you capturing these stories, creating a story vault?
  • are you learning from them?
  • are you using these skilfully, weaving them into conversations?
  • are you helping others re-tell them (and effectively spread the gospel)?
  • are you using social media to extend their reach and propogate them at speed?

In Speakeasy we allow people to test-drive their core message in the form of a 5 minute presentation. And the feedback on the clarity of their story and delivery style is extremely rare and useful.

But there’s far more to it than mere presenting style. Your story is what gives you a distinct identity as a firm, makes you memorable, draws people into you and guarantees your success. It’s essential you connect with your own story, tell it well, live up to it and use F2F and social media to spread and cement your reputation.

It doesn’t get much more fundamental than that!

The purple cow approach to job search

You’ve got 10 years’ experience in project management and after redundancy you’re on the hunt for work. You see a position you feel you’re suited to and apply. You wait…an acknowledgement arrives, more waiting…finally another letter..”Thank for your recent application for…we have received an exceptionally high number of applications for this vacancy and regrettably…” You read no further. And unfortunately this sets the pattern for the coming weeks/months.

The problem with this approach is you’re like a cow in a field full of cows – invisible. With so many similarly well-qualified candidates to choose from it’s tough for an employer to single one out. The odds are against you.

Here’s an alternative strategy – turn purple!

Yes, I’m talking about Seth Godin’s book ‘Purple Cow’, a plea to those operating in a crowded market to stand out by being remarkable. And that means being worthy of being remarked upon. Why should people talk about you? Give them a reason.

Consider this – here you are with 10 years’ experience in project management. You decide to take a bolder approach. You network and start engaging directly with decision-makers. You explain you’re compiling research for a book entitled “From the pyramids to the London Olympics – 10 great projects and what we can learn from them”. You ask some people if they’d like to contribute to the book. There’s a spark in your eye as you speak about this project; you’re fired up and they remark how passionate you are about it. You relate a great story about how you used some sound management techniques to see through a construction project, and what it says about team work and adaptability. You compare it with the movie Apollo 13, where people pooled their resources under great pressure and came up with innovative solutions to a seemingly impossible situation.

But you don’t hog the conversational air time. You ask questions, you listen intently. You find common ground and tease some fascinating information from the people in the room. They seek your advice. They’re impressed with your knowledge and enthusiasm for your field. You’ve gained their attention and their trust. You’ve made an impact.

Finally, the breakthrough; one of them asks if you’d mind coming in next week for an hour (“Is an hour enough?” they ask) to do this interview. They also want to expand on this issue they’ve revealed is causing them concern right now.

Isn’t that neat? Here you are looking for interviews and now you’ve got one – but you’re the interviewer!

The point is you’re no longer invisible in a field full of project managers.

You’ve turned purple!

Safe is Risky

Readers of this blog will know that I revere the American marketing guru Seth Godin (I’m not alone!). In Purple Cow he reminds us that we’re now in an age of more choice and less time, and that in the face of a deluge of marketing ‘interruptions’ most of the time we automatically ignore stuff.

The key, he says, is to be remarkable – and that means worthy of being talked about. Good (even very good) isn’t enough anymore. It’s a bit dull and doesn’t get noticed. But most people gravitate to the ‘mid-range’ as it’s where most people are – so they can’t be wrong. The problem is, unless you’ve got millions to spend on advertising, you’re just invisible.

That’s why safe is risky, and the place to be is at the margins.

Recently appointed as David Cameron’s Director of Communications, Craig Oliver took the risky option early in his career, when he applied for a graduate trainee’s position at ITN. Aware of the intense competition for places, he surprised the interview panel by performing a mock news bulletin (as newsreader) with HIM as the lead story!

The interviewers wondered if they ought to hire someone who hadn’t ‘stuck to the rules’ but in the end took him on because of his daring and creative approach.

Risky? Well, not according to Seth. Better to be different than invisible.