Don’t undermine yourself by telling the wrong story, says Phillip Khan-Panni

There is one question that is frequently asked at networking and other work-related events. You may be surprised to discover that this question is also the most widely misunderstood. And because it is misunderstood, most individuals and most organisations give the wrong answer.

That question is, “What do you do?” Most people think it means, “Tell me what you do for a living.” In fact, it means, “Tell me why I should find you or the organisation you represent interesting.” Or to put it another way, “How do you or your organisation add value?”

A very high proportion of organisations undermine themselves by telling the wrong story. They talk about what they do, not about the benefits they offer. And at a personal level, most elevator speeches are ineffective for the same reason.

To explain further let me share examples of individuals who were going at this the wrong way and how they now stand out from the crowd.

Highlighting Your Added Value

Margaret needed help to get a new job. She was quite senior in the industry and was badly shaken by being made redundant. All her job applications were being rejected.

I showed her a picture of two men holding up placards. One stated, “Hire me. These are my qualifications.” The other stated, “Down but not out.” I asked her which was the most interesting person. She picked the latter.

Based on her understanding of the point in that picture, she began to appreciate her own added value: this is what I bring to the table, this is who I am, and this is what I offer. With a rewritten CV and some coaching on interview techniques, things changed. Very soon Margaret had four job offers. All because she told the “right” story and believed in her own added value.

Showing Uniqueness

Artist Hilary Mayes needed to promote herself more effectively. Her literature stated “Hilary Mayes, wildlife artist”. This suggested that she was just another artist who happened to paint wildlife. But she is so much better than this.

One word made all the difference: Hilary Mayes, The Wildlife Artist. In addition, another significant change was made to marketing literature. It now says, “She captures the essence of the wildlife she portrays.”

This positions Hilary as distinctive and better than all the other artists who paint animals and birds. She had been saying the wrong things about herself. Now she has the right story.

In Conclusion

How do you talk about yourself and your organisation? Is it linear, is it formulaic, is it just plain ordinary? And is that who you really are? Are you defined by what you do or by your added value?

A Few Words of Advice

  • Identify what would induce people to deal with you and not with others
  • What is your added value?
  • What can you call yourself “The” something or other?
  • Don’t be linear (this, then that, then the next thing)
  • Avoid using any negative terms about yourself
  • Above all, don’t define yourself by your job title. What’s the benefit of what you do?

Find out how you add value to the team/organisation you are in and add something evocative to enhance your personal story. Is there something about yourself that allows you to call yourself “The” something or other? With the above, you’ll have an excellent starting point for a great story.

Phillip Khan-Panni is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK ... (Read More)

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