Storytelling for Professionals: How it helps and how to get started
This is the latest in a series of blogs on what we at Present Tense LLC call a “Master Story”. In this installment, Frank Luby looks at the role the Master Story plays in helping professionals use storytelling to establish their name and reputation. Read the first part of the series, on why you need a Master Story, here.
The next time you have a few minutes to fill, start a list. Write down a few things you wish your customers knew about you. Don’t sort it yet, and don’t overthink it. Just make a list.
Now Google yourself.
How much of your list do you see?
There is a probably a gap between your list and the search results. This is less a function of SEO or sophisticated marketing, and more a function of your story and how you have told it so far.
Admittedly, many professionals are reluctant to tell their stories. Perhaps you feel you are down-to-earth, that you feel your work should speak for itself, or maybe you don’t want to come across as bragging or – even worse – “humblebragging”.
But the truth is presenting this information is not bragging, it is simply crafting the story you want to tell. And this isn’t a bad thing: it is up to you to give your customers every opportunity to understand how you can help them. I’m assuming that you have a profession, you have a niche, and you are good at what you do. But the chances are high that many other people practice that same profession in the same or similar niche with a reasonable level of competence. Customers want to see where and how you set yourself apart, and they want to see it clearly.
So what do you do? Advertise? Start a blog? Tweet every day? Write a book? Give speeches? Teach courses? Hire a PR agency to get on TV or radio?
Sure, that is all good advice and easy to say. But right now, if you are staring at your fresh “what I wish customers knew about me” list, those are secondary questions, each with the unhelpful answer of “maybe”. You can’t make a plan unless you know what you want to say. To create this professional self-awareness, we recommend that you draft what we call a “Master Story”.
Your master story is a reservoir of your best stories, anecdotes, and other information that you would like customers to know, to experience, and to learn from. These individual stories bring you to life and spark recognition so that the reader – whether a customer, a potential investor, a journalist or market observer, or a potential partner or employee – feels or acts a certain way. Your master story helps you because it gives you a pool of content to draw from and elaborate on, customized for whomever you are trying to reach.
The fastest way to get a draft of your master story is to start with your list. Keep adding to it until you are struggling to make another entry. Then put each point in the right place on this grid:
The “competence” points are the compulsory ones that answer “that’s what I do” and why you are qualified to do it. But you can split that list into ones that might help you stand out, and ones that are more secondary.
The “personal” points answer “that’s who I am”. As the saying goes, customers demand and expect competence, but ultimately they hire people. You should have a few points that make you – personally – stand out in your field, and likewise you can split these into primary and secondary categories.
Your grid will be a living document. Once you have the first draft, your next step is to look at the points from right to left and ask yourself “which ones make me different” and “which ones make me better”
The points which make you different usually have stories you are more comfortable telling than the “make me better” ones. Take one or two of these and start putting the stories you know down in words. The point here is to get a draft and only a draft. This helps in two ways: it lowers the barrier for you to start jotting things down, and it also may give you some ideas for your natural voice.
Closing your “Google gap” with the right information and the right stories will take some time and effort. But that is only a means to an end: the customers you target – the ones who can benefit the most from your help – need a way understand how you make a difference in their business or in the lives, and why they should work with you.
In future posts, my team and I offer more suggestions on how to finish your master story, and how it to make it work for you. In the meantime, you can also take a look at our short ebook here.
Frank Luby is co-founder and CEO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. In his former life as a pricing consultant, he co-authored the book “Manage for Profit, Not for Market Share” and wrote about pricing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Billboard. You can also follow Frank on Twitter: @FrankLuby