How to Talk About Yourself

We all do it. We’re asked to step into the limelight from time to time. Most times we’re asked to give presentations on topics we know a lot about. Sometimes we’re asked to give speeches on topics we’ve led or direction we’ve set. But eventually, the journey for all communicators leads to the hardest topic of all: ourselves.

Nobody wants to give this speech. Everybody shies away from this topic. I think it’s because this is the topic we fear will disappoint a group or not live up to assumptions or expectations. And if you don’t consider your career path an incredible journey, you assume it isn’t worth telling. If your experiences can’t fill a best-selling novel, you assume we don’t want to hear them.

But that isn’t so. Everyone has a story or two within them. Talking about yourself helps people get to know you and trust you. Your stories make you real. They also make you vulnerable.

And that’s another reason people don’t like to talk about themselves. Career journeys aren’t limited to successes. In fact, most journeys have more challenges than successes. They’re crooked paths with dead ends, roadblocks and even a few falls. But that’s what we love about them. The career journey helps us relate to someone and potentially see a glimpse of what we have in common.

So, why is it hard? Because many people worry that sharing more about where you’re from, what you’ve tried and where you’ve failed may not justify the success you have now. It may not add up to the spot you’re in today. It doesn’t matter. It’s your journey, and you are where you are for good reason. What does matter is that you understand how to tell your story in a way that’s interesting to others.

And that’s where most people struggle. They don’t know how to tell their stories.

Case in point:

A few years ago, I was giving a keynote at a conference and was scheduled to follow a well-known business founder. I was intrigued to meet him and actually wondered how I would get a group to shift to my topic after his story. I shouldn’t have worried. Unfortunately, he bombed telling his own story.

Here’s why.

He told his career journey in terms of the big things he had accomplished. And he had accomplished a lot. But instead of talking about the challenges that led to accomplishments, he focused on his heroics. For thirty minutes, he went through step after step of building a very successful business. And not once, did he relate anything he said to the people sitting in the ballroom.  It felt like a canned speech, and it sounded like a homage to a hero.

The reason to share your story is to make it relatable to a listener. The people sitting in his audience didn’t relate to him as a successful founder or entrepreneur. And I kept thinking that within his glory, there must have been some failures or a few stumbles that they could relate to.

This is the core element of storytelling. The connection with the listener isn’t through great outcomes or success. It’s always with the challenge or the unexpected curve.

And that’s part of why it’s hard to tell your own story. You’re focused much more on the successes. That’s what you want the group to know.  It’s “How I Did This” or “How I Built This.” But the points of connection are always the struggles. It’s the little steps that make you human and vulnerable.

It’s hard to map it out because you lived it and you don’t always see it.  It’s less a chronology of everything you did; only your Mother cares about that. It’s more the cumulative learnings that shape who you’ve become and the stories you use to bring those learnings to life.

We’ve helped many managers and leaders tell their stories through a three-step process.

Here’s how we do it:

First, we map the journey.

We want to know what you’ve done and where you’ve been. We start from the early days and track every step leading to your current role. Sometimes we do this on a map; sometimes we do this on a timeline. We build the full picture so we can see the highlights and low-lights in perspective.

Second, we interview you to get more details about your journey.

We dig deeper to understand the experiences that seemed to matter the most. It’s never the same. But there are often patterns that help us color in the experiences that have shaped you. We call those your key learnings, and we sometimes identify them as the traits of your leadership.

And finally, we take those experiences and we bring them to life with specific stories.

Every journey has stories, but not all stories are worth sharing. Many communicators make the mistake of trying to tell too many. We focus on helping you get to three or four stories that will intrigue a listener. And we help you tell those stories really well.

When it’s complete, it’s no longer the dreaded career speech. It’s your story told in a manner that adds interest and meaning for listeners. It has highs and lows that engage a group and make you seem more “normal” than they might have assumed. And that’s pretty inspiring to any group.

So, when you’re asked to talk about yourself, let us help you do it. We’ll find those stories within you that can paint a picture of who you are and where you’ve been. And, I think you’ll find it more fun than you might have imagined.

We’re here when you need us!

Sally Williamson