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

Don’t Blame PowerPoint!

Next to a laptop, PowerPoint (PPT) could be considered one of the top three tools used in business. More than 30 million presentations are built in the software every day tying up 15 million people hours at a cost of $252 million…..every single day! And yet, few of us are Masters of it. In fact, we have a love/hate relationship with the software which has led to the term, “death by PPT.”

AT SW&A, we hear a lot of the angst around preparing presentations blamed on the software.

From the listeners:

  • “There were too many details and too much information.”
  • “I got lost in the details and didn’t understand what the listener was asking me to do.”
  • “It’s a horrible eye chart.”

From the communicators:

  • “We go through more than 15 iterations of decks before we have a final presentation.”
  • “I got so many edits to my slides that I’ve lost the point I was trying to make.”
  • “I’m not artistic or creative; I hate building slides.”

And our response is always: Don’t blame PPT.

It’s the process…or lack of a process…that frustrates you. Not the software.

Here’s a little self-diagnosis.

Assume that you’re asked to deliver a presentation two weeks from today.  Whether you start planning it today or wait until next week to develop it, how many of you will start the process by opening up a PPT document on your laptop?

If this sounds like you, stay with me. Then, you begin outlining points by putting a text box on each slide or if you’ve covered the topic previously, you’ll open up another PPT and begin to migrate slides to your new deck. Either way, you’re building the foundation of your content, one slide at a time.

It’s a very linear approach to structure, and it’s the wrong approach.

Because now you have a collection of details instead of a storyline, and you will present the deck slide by slide versus concept linked to concept.

Is this your approach?  Most people say yes.

When PPT is used as the planning tool, it becomes cumbersome to work with and takes on a very different role. PPT’S role is to help you illustrate details or connect two points, not to thread all the points together.  That’s the role of an outline or storyline structure as we refer to it. The usage numbers above may explain this.  Because organizing content has become such a constant in our day, we may be telling ourselves that we can skip a step and organize our thoughts at the same time as we illustrate them. And, that’s a misuse of PPT.

The storyline structure is the first step, always. Whether you use our model or you have your own tool, as the communicator, you should always start with an end to end view of what you’re asking the listener to do. It’s rarely the details that fail in presentations; it’s always the connection between them.

A storyline view helps a communicator understand the bigger ideas and repeatable points that will lead the listener to an outcome or takeaway.  This changes how you build out a PPT.

When PPT becomes the second step, it works beautifully for the communicator and the listener. A broader storyline helps the listener see beyond what you’re illustrating and understand why you’re illustrating it. The communicator’s focus gets simpler and key concepts get repeated as the communicator focuses on pulling ideas forward rather than making every point.

PPT is also a horrible communicator and a really good illustrator.

Let’s diagnose that one.

Assume that the presentation you’re building is for another leader to deliver or it has such high visibility that several people want to give input before you deliver it. So, you work on the PPT for a few days and then you forward it for feedback.

Does this sound like you?  Then, what you may not realize is that even though you shared it for feedback, you were pretty locked into those slides. And your editors now begin to interpret what the slides mean.  They can see the illustration; they just don’t know the storyline. So, they create their own mental storyline to support your details. Then, they edit to their own thinking.

This leads to adding content on your slides, reordering your slides and even adding new slides to support their thinking. You get the edits back and don’t feel grateful for the input.  You’re frustrated. Because they’ve changed the meaning of your slides and thrown off the flow of your storyline. At least the storyline you have in your head.  Because it was never shared as a structure for the conversation.

Have you had this experience? Most people say yes.


The storyline drives communication; PPT creates illustration. If an editor can read a storyline to see the end to end plan for communication, they are much less likely to edit slides.  Instead, they’ll identify areas of the storyline that aren’t easy to understand or where they want you to add detail.

In fact, when a team is involved in preparing a presentation, we urge communicators to get buy-in to the storyline first before PPT is even introduced. This helps a group align to the full direction of communication and the big ideas before the supporting PPT takes shape. And it keeps a team moving through the organization process together. Then when you move to PPT, the second step, the feedback is limited to the look and feel of illustrations.

As a communicator, you want listeners spending less time on how to follow your thoughts and more time on understanding how the big ideas connect and lead to outcomes.

And if we’re pleased with the transformation we see when individuals add our first step  into content planning, we’re ecstatic when we see teams adopt it. Because if an individual can improve a single meeting, the full team can change their influence in an organization.

We know because we’ve made it happen.

We’ve taken many teams beyond the storyline structure to a team template that gives the communicators a template to follow and the listeners a consistent expectation. So, listeners spend less time trying to follow the structure and more time hearing the ideas.

When teams adopt a standard structure, it quickly takes hold in an organization. They become known for their ability to deliver clear ideas and recommendations which often raises their visibility in a company.

If you’re getting bogged down in details and edits, don’t blame PPT. Put the first step back into your process. And if you’d like some help learning to do that, join us for an upcoming storylines workshop. Even better, bring your team together and strengthen the group’s impact across your organization.

Call us when you need us.

Sally Williamson & Associates