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Leadership Story Lab Founder Esther Choy explains how female entrepreneurs can build credibility through good storytelling. Here are her tips to boost yours.
By Esther Choy
“The lack of confidence other people have in my ability to run my business,” is one of the top challenges Andrea Loubier, CEO of the tech company Mailbird, has faced, she said.
Unfortunately, women who have started their own successful companies still have to fight to win others’ trust. And while we hope for a better world that does not treat women so skeptically, we can deploy many tools to build our credibility in the meantime.
As we build credibility, we must not only win over stakeholders, but also network more often and more effectively. Time and again, rather than networking, women “focus 100% on their job,” Jennifer Reingold reported in Fortune magazine.
But this is a mistake, and, according to Reingold, it could be one reason only 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies are headed by women. To enhance credibility and form alliances, female leaders should “network more than you think you need to,” advised Reingold.
Whether you are networking or building stakeholder buy-in, the backbone of credibility is storytelling. Well-told stories show authenticity, demonstrate your character and create connections. Here are five ways to build credibility through storytelling.
1.“Tell me something about yourself that reminds me of me.”
One of the questions you are likely to be asked as you meet investors, potential hires, and others in your industry is: “Tell me about yourself.” And any time someone invites you to “tell me about yourself,” that really means, “tell me something about yourself that reminds me of me.” As Psychologist Robert Cialdini’s research on social influence has shown, we not only tend to like people we perceive as being like us, but we’re also more likely to form a stronger connection with them and find their ideas persuasive. So, we earn credibility points when we know our audience and answer the “tell me about yourself” question with a story that resonates.
That doesn’t mean offering people mirror images of themselves. Instead, tell a story that is universal enough to make them think about how it intersects with their own story.
2. Choose the right story for the right audience and situation.
Telling universal stories is much easier when you realize that five basic story arcs recur across time and culture. They speak to a certain universality of experience and understanding among humans.
Each one creates a distinct mood, and choosing the right type of plot shows that you are tuned in to your audience’s needs—a huge part of establishing credibility.
- Origin Stories narrate the beginning of your business, idea, product or service, connecting the dots between past and present in an inspiring way.
- Rags to Riches stories evoke empathy and make audiences cheer for the underdog. They’re always about someone who starts without much hope for success in life but surprises everyone with a dramatic turnaround.
- Rebirth/ Turnaround stories evoke optimism because they are all about second chances.
- Overcoming the Monster plots induce righteous anger, compelling the listener to act to ward off a threat. The “monster” can be anything that threatens survival or thwarts goals.
- Quests provoke restlessness. At the beginning of this story, the protagonists are enjoying a good life, yet they know that somewhere outside their comfort zone lies a prize of immeasurable value.
3.Use a three-act formula.
A well-structured story makes you sound confident. The alternative, after all, is a rambling monologue, year-by-year chronology, or laundry list of points you want to make—all sure-fire ways to lose your listeners’ interest and trust.
So, each story, no matter how brief, should follow a three-act formula with an intriguing beginning, a riveting middle and satisfying end. Ask yourself:
- Have I planted a hook to catch the listener’s attention right away?
- Does my audience understand the story’s central challenge?
- Can my listener sense when the conflict is moving toward a resolution?
Because this is such a natural formula, employing it helps listeners “go with the flow” of the story and pay better attention to the other elements of what you are saying.
4.Choose details that establish your authority.
With the structure already in place, you can naturally incorporate details that establish your authority. For instance, when one of my clients was crafting his response to “Tell Me about Yourself,” he mentioned that one of the reasons he wanted to work for a particular trading firm was that they were among the first to utilize the Black-Scholes option-pricing model to value options. This showed his style of reasoning and that he wants to work for companies that use cutting edge thinking.
5.Test your credibility by getting feedback from people who are like your target audience.
The best way to see how your story is coming across to your audience is to ask. One important but often overlooked question is how the story made the listener feel. Because credibility is often won or lost in the subtle, intangible aspects of communication, asking a mentor or test audience to pinpoint what they are feeling after hearing your story gives you more control. Ask especially whether your test audience felt confused. If they do, they could walk away feeling that the topic isn’t clear enough in your own mind—which can damage your authority.
As you pull yourself away from pressing demands at your desk and begin to network and forge the alliances that sustain your work, these five tips will provide a clearer sense of why you do what you do—and now you’ll have the words lined up to articulate that sense of vocation clearly.
Esther Choy is the President and Chief Story Facilitator of the business communication training and consulting firm Leadership Story Lab. Her debut book, Let the Story Do the Work (published by AMACOM), is now available on major online retail platforms such as Amazon.