Teaching Storytellers How to Tell their Own Story

Students who are studying the fields of public communication, film, and journalism are excellent storytellers. I have been working with students in the School of Communication as a Career Advisor for three and a half years and I have observed a lot in that time. Regardless of the communication medium (web, video, print, in-person), students can be persuasive, paint a clear picture, and understand the A-B-Cs of storytelling. But, when it comes to telling their own story—the one most important to their own career—many fall flat.

Communication students have really honed the skills to tell other peoples’ stories, but have not learned to apply these same skills to developing their own story. The story they share when introducing themselves to someone they never met at a job fair or networking reception. The stories they write about in a cover letter for a job or internship. The stories they highlight in an interview when making a case for why they are qualified for a particular position. Time and time again, I am surprised how communication students have meticulously researched and thought through presenting someone else’s story, but have seemed to have forgotten this approach when it comes to discussing their own work/background.

Why is this the case and what can be done to overcome it? Many students feel uncomfortable with the idea of selling their skills at a networking event or job interview because it feels inauthentic or because they don’t want to brag about their background and/or accomplishments. So I am including the following tips:

Five Steps for Developing Your Own Story for Storytellers:
Step 1: Reflect. Think about your strengths and weaknesses, your passions, and what you are good at. Take an inventory of all your interests and abilities.

Step 2: Develop some stories to demonstrate your top skills or abilities that are relevant to the position you are applying for or the person you are speaking with.

Step 3: Make sure your stories have a succinct beginning, middle, and end– yes, this is very basic, but, you’d be surprised how many students miss this—use the CAR technique which stands for “Context, Action, Result.” Set the scene of the story by giving some context, discussing your specific role or challenge for the action, and then conclude with an outcome—this could be a learning outcome or result.

Step 4: Practice telling your story. Regardless of the medium, whether you are writing your stories, telling them in person, or in a video interview, be sure to take advantage of practicing with a Career Advisor, mentor or friend.

Step 5: Develop Confidence. The more you do this, the easier it gets. Suddenly, you don’t feel so awkward about talking about yourself and it doesn’t feel superficial because you are sharing some authentic stories with professionals in your field about your background and experiences.

As a public relations professional, filmmaker, or journalist, are you drawn to people who have their own unique voice or story to share? Now is the time to develop your story.