Sometimes you get only one chance. A good introduction can create connections and open doors. A bad one can make conversation fizzle and opportunities fade. What you need is a story that tells who you are—authentically, compellingly, and concisely—and can be adapted to fit any situation. Created for dynamic beings constantly redefining themselves, their work, and the world around them, Tell Me About Yourself pairs interviews and case studies with a simple, scalable framework, helping you craft and deliver comprehensive, compelling, and generally kick-ass introductions and personal stories for yourself, your team, or your company. In an ever-changing innovation economy and a climate that demands we put our best foot forward to create change, there’s no better time to learn how to articulate your usefulness to the world.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Why Stories Matter
Twenty-seven years ago, I was just an introverted kid being tossed around the heart of New York City. As the middle child of five, in the custody of two drug-addicted-soon-to-be-separated parents, I was no stranger to the muffling of my own voice amongst my family, or in a crowd.
Actions, conversations, decisions — all of these things were happening around me, and as a six-year-old with very little agency, when it came to grown-up life topics, I was fairly practiced in opting out of all of the above.
While it's true that, early on, I often played the role of fly on the wall in most conversations, over time, I developed a knack for building genuine and meaningful connections with people through empathy and active listening in private connections. As I grew older, I began using my quiet skills to stand out in what seemed like a perpetually noisy world. Luckily, the opportunities provided to me by my stealthy behaviors also helped develop my confidence so that I — not necessarily just my anxieties — began to challenge myself in academic and extracurricular settings. I intended to grow through my public discomfort by intentionally taking on public-facing roles, roles that demanded I be outspoken in order to succeed.
After years of playing it quiet, in third grade I picked up a basketball. I was naturally athletic and in love with the sport. It helped me have conversations and form friendships with kids in the neighborhood that I would have never approached off the court. In fourth grade, I entered my first storytelling contest (and won first place). In fifth grade, I auditioned for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and earned the role of Reverend Sprague. In seventh and eighth grade, I joined the mock trial team and competed against middle school students throughout the city, learning the art of formulating and sharing a grounded, persuasive argument. In tenth grade, I became captain of both the debate and girls' basketball teams, honing my leadership, argumentation, and critical-thinking skills, while polishing a style of my own.
My college years weren't that different. I still loved basketball. I still loved finding my way to the spotlight. Fascinated and inspired by the ways words ignite things, I went on to study communications and media, specifically television and radio. I was immersed in the field, and thriving using a skill that once terrified me. And this is a version of my story — a fairly linear approximation of about 22 years of my life. But if this book serves to develop any common understanding, let it be that almost nothing about life is linear, and what little there is, is often terribly boring. And with that common understanding, let's agree that this version of my story — no matter how many times portions of it have been repeated in interviews, podcasts, or speeches — is not only a bit lulling, but also fairly inadequate. And yet, it still matters.
Take a moment to consider the greatest stories you've ever heard. Whether they're tall tales passed down at family gatherings, representations of significant figures taught in textbooks, or modes of perception created by the media, narratives agitate, educate, inspire, and motivate us by reframing some of life's most memorable and meaningful moments. Narratives help us uncover and create new truths.
That said, it's helpful to think about storytelling as a part of our social and cultural currency. Relying heavily on its market and traders, or context and audience, storytelling serves as a central barter point for entertainment and education, the preservation of culture, and the illustration and instillation of values from one party to the next. In this way, storytelling helps build and maintain community. In fact, the work of sociologist Peter L. Berger reminds us that all of what we know as human life is rooted in this cultural currency.
According to Berger, every story we share is a testament to the freedom we have to affirm. Stories illustrate who we are, remind us what we're capable of, highlight our uniqueness, and as a result, unite us or divide us in ways that shape our world. They are our declaration and purchase of our seat at the table, our place in the moment, and ultimately, in history.
So, what if we were forced to live without them?
How might our lives be different in the absence of the accounts that have defined us? How would this absence change the ways we conceptualize and understand ourselves? Without stories, how would we make sense of the layers of our experiences, beliefs, desires, dreams, values, and bodies of work? What if we weren't forced to live in the absence of accounts, but rather, the absence of accurate, artful, soul-stirring accounts? These questions bring me back to my own story.
After college, my personal journey became even more eventful, often unpredictably. In terms of my career, I went from bagging groceries at the local supermarket to preparing taxes at an accounting firm; from hosting a radio show to managing high-end construction projects at a private contracting firm; from leading volunteer projects across New York City to directing educational programming at camps and organizations around the country. Over the last 20 years, I worked over 23 jobs across the arts, education, entertainment, finance, and technology sectors — all this, before then starting two businesses of my own.
Wearing so many hats (and, honestly, doing more networking than I'd wish on anyone), I eventually grew anxious and overwhelmed whenever prompted with the infamous "So, tell me about yourself." On the one hand, I knew I couldn't respond with an almost two-page account of my life from elementary school to the present — no matter how transparent and linear it seemed. On the other, I was concerned that because I'd tried my hand at so many things, I would never be able to concisely express who I was professionally in conversation. This, I felt, would leave people to assume I lacked direction or focus. I worried I would be judged or misunderstood.
At times, I felt like my work history was a bit of a curse, when, in fact, there is absolutely nothing wrong or bad about exploring your curiosity and skills through different opportunities. Exploration is one of the best ways to become more aligned with our passions, path, and purpose. Accepting this as truth, I became much less focused on recounting what I or anyone else believed to be my story or life history and much more intent on accurately defining my skills, goals, and personal beliefs. I focused on articulating my path in and through the world, with my work paving the way — however winding that way might have been.
Owning our selves
Sparing us a full-blown discussion of the Jungian Self and psychology, I do want to acknowledge that the most powerful thing I've ever done has been merging my conscious desires with the professional image I had begun to create for myself in order to engage authentically as my whole self.
When I began to accept and prioritize what was unique and individual to me as a human being, I shifted. I moved from simply rehashing the events of my life to practicing the art of self-definition, which isn't so much about your life resume as opposed to who you are beneath the surface, as well as how that who informs what you choose to do with your time, and where you show up in the world. Self-definition is, simply, the articulation of how your motivations and values shape the choices and moves you make in life.
Focusing on self-definition, I even started paying closer attention to the ways people would introduce me when I shied away from doing it myself. They would never get it quite right. There was always something a little inaccurate in their telling, often an important detail that never made it into the conversation, or a summary of skills that wasn't quite inclusive or exhaustive of the work I'd done. Eventually, I vowed to take control of my story. I knew that if I wanted to make deeper connections with the people I was interacting with, I would first have to be able to clearly communicate who I was. This required a system.
First, I spent time thinking about the different conversations I might find myself having — dinner parties with investors and board members, presentations with potential clients, networking events at conferences, and other social gatherings. Then, I put together a series of questions and prompts to help me feel more prepared. Then I created a clear outline for the most critical things I wanted to share about me when describing myself, or making my own introductions. Once I had that down, I constantly practiced, preparing for any number of scenarios. And, I constantly studied, paying attention to some of my favorite communicators and storytellers, taking notes on how they defined and presented themselves. And of course, I iterated, revising my own story, and coaching others so that they could do the same.
Today, when people ask me questions like "What do you do?" or unexpectedly invite me to introduce myself to a group of strangers, I'm no longer reluctant to say:
I'm an entrepreneur and strategist working at the intersections of communication, education, and culture. I'm motivated by and dedicated to service. I divide my time between collaborating with colleges and high schools to help them more intentionally connect students to learning pathways aligned with their passions, and developing learning experiences, special events, and coaching programs to help artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs better communicate their visions for shifting and impacting culture.
— or —
I believe in the power of marginalized voices to change the world, and believe a large part of that change lies in improving the way we learn. I'm also driven by the possibility of how much brighter our world can become if we ignite students, artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs to continue uncovering and pursuing work they love, with love. So, as an entrepreneur and communication strategist, I'm excited about finding new ways to blend my passions for education reform, culture, and the arts into projects that instigate change.
— and —
In my day-to-day work, I'm the CEO of a storytelling agency and speaker collective where I lead the development of learning experiences and curriculum and communication strategy for a number of clients. And you?
If you don't have an answer for that yet, don't worry. You will by the time you finish this book. Not only have I transcribed my proven six-step process for accurate and artful self-definition, but I've compiled profiles and case studies of some of my favorite communicators and most successful clients. As you progress through the TMAY process, remain encouraged by their examples. They all started from exactly where you are now: with themselves.
Introductions jump-start all of our conversations. When done well, we effectively express our core values and life's work and, in doing so, open ourselves to a variety of new connections and professional possibilities. When delivered poorly, conversations can fizzle just as quickly as they begin. Whether you're a college student, artist, entrepreneur, corporate employee, or creative professional looking to make an even deeper impact through your work, or trying to move through the ranks at your company and make meaningful contributions along the way, this book is for you.
What to expect:
Key questions, tips, and strategies for getting to the core of who you are
* An actionable six-step process to structure your responses across a range of conversations
* Case studies, interviews with, and profiles of artists, entrepreneurs, and creatives
* Practice scenarios to help you apply what you've learned throughout the book
What you'll need:
* Assorted color sticky notes (for working through activities and prompts)
* Oratory Glory storyboard (to map out your introductions)
* Your favorite pen(s) or pencil(s) — feel free to pull out all the colors!
* A journal to keep track of notes and reflections
* A smartphone or photo/video recording device (for activities and practice)
* A timer or stopwatch
* Support — The effort you put into this action guide is exactly what you'll get out of it. I encourage you to gather a crew of friends or colleagues you can rely on to hold you accountable through the process. It's definitely doable alone but even better when you have a strong group to practice alongside.
How to use this guide:
* Take small steps. For the sake of efficiency and accountability, each activity in the guide includes a time limit for preparation and completion. Review and complete one step at a time. If you get stuck, use the tips, strategies, and examples provided to get back on track.
* Honor your time. Don't attempt to breeze through the action guide in one sitting. Make sure you give yourself room to take notes, practice, bounce ideas off of friends, and reflect on possible changes.
* Go easy on yourself. Some of the questions may be challenging. Be patient and give yourself the space and reflection time you need to figure out the best answers for you.
* Keep it real. The goal is to walk away with an introduction that feels authentic to you. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable and honest with yourself along the way.
* Show your work. Use the storyboard on pages 34 and 35 to brainstorm and structure your responses. If you're working on multiple conversations, use one storyboard for each one. You can download your own storyboard at oratoryglory.com/TMAY-storyboard.
* Practice. Through the activities, you'll generate a lot of content to use in your responses. Make sure to block out time to practice your new introductions. Finding 15 to 30 minutes of practice time per week can make a world of difference.
* Repeat. No introduction is the same because no two conversations are the same. Apply this process to develop introductions for each of the different scenarios you face.
Honing Your Voice
As we've established, our lives are filled with stories. And every day, each and every one of us is using these stories to build and share connections, face-to-face, through email or social media, over the phone, or via FaceTime. We use media outlets to feed stories to each other on an almost incessant basis. Some of us, for the good of many; some, for self-gain; some, unfortunately, for the detriment of others. The motivations are as infinite as the voices.
In this matrix of interconnectedness, it is increasingly necessary for each of us to not just tell a story, but understand and articulate a unique and necessary voice. Before we get started, let's gauge where you are as a storyteller and identify the type of communicator you'd like to become.
Impromptu Challenge I
Share 5 minutes
Using the prompts below, set your timer to 2 minutes and record (audio or video) yourself telling a story about one of the following things:
* The best or worst group meal you've ever had,
* A fond childhood memory or defining moment, or,
* Your most memorable concert or travel experience.
Before you record, take 3 minutes to write down a few notes if you need to, but don't worry about writing out a full script. Just rely on your natural instincts and thoughts to tell the story as candidly and fully as possible.
Peflect 10 minutes
The beauty of the previously shared memories is that we can easily recall how they made us feel. This is the same authentic approach you want to bring to your personal introductions and stories. Take 5 minutes to review what you recorded, then, using your notebook, take 5 minutes to respond to these reflection questions:
* What did you notice about your delivery, personality, and style?
* What stood out most about how you told your story?
* What was your thought process for pulling the information and story together?
* What was your favorite piece of information you shared?
* What was missing from the story that you might want to include next time?
Impromptu Challenge II
Share 3 minutes
Pretend that you're introducing yourself to me. Using the prompts below, take 2 minutes to jot down a few important details about yourself, then set your timer to 1 minute and record yourself sharing:
* A little bit about yourself,
* Why you're using this guide, and,
* Your top one to three most challenging or frequent introduction scenarios.
* Examples: Elevator pitches, job interviews, informational meetings
Excerpted from "Tell Me About Yourself"
Copyright © 2017 Holley M. Murchison.
Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Why Stories Matter, 1,
Chapter 2: Honing Your Voice, 13,
Chapter 3: Six-Step Process, 23,
Chapter 4: Essential Tips & Preparation, 33,
Chapter 5: Show & Prove, 55,
Chapter 6: We Can All Win, 75,
About the Author, 101,
About Oratory Glory, 103,