Imagine a panel discussion or similar event. “Introduce yourself,” the host says.
“Most likely, [our] introduction is full of facts,” writes Esther Choi in Let the Story Do the Work. We follow the basic chronological order of our life. We start with where we’re from, add in something about our education credentials, and then share a bit of our work history.
1: These types of introductions often fall flat because they are boring. A better approach? Tell our story. “A story needs a theme, and chronology is not a sufficient one,” Esther writes.
In a recent Fortune article, Alex Baydin, CEO of PerformLine, shared what he learned when his firm almost went bankrupt: “Worse than all of [the] rejections [from venture capitalists] was the idea that the one thing I’d vowed to never allow as founder and CEO seemed like a serious possibility: I might miss a payroll.”
“He blends in what it meant to him to be unable to pay his employees,” Esther writes. “He has reflected on his experience, and we can tell! We can see [his] values as he relates this unsettling event, and that speaks to a theme of striving to live by one’s values, even despite major obstacles. That’s much more meaningful to the audience.”
2: We begin by deciding on our theme: “What [our] story is about at its core becomes the theme, the spine of [our] story,” Esther writes. Examples include: “Empowering customer service representatives to solve problems proactively, increasing awareness of who is most affected by pollution impact, or enhancing return on investments in a zero-interest-rate environment.”
Once we have our theme, we use it as our filter to discard every detail that doesn’t move our story forward.
“It is up to us, as the storytellers, to organize these chaotic experiences into themes and a logical (but not predictable) order—the spine of story—which makes it easier for readers to follow, retain, and be influenced by the story,” she explains.
3: We’ve previously looked at what Esther calls the five types of business stories. These plots can be expanded or scaled back depending on the occasion.
A: Rebirth stories: “A rebirth story is about having a second chance. In business, this often takes the form of a turnaround,” she notes.
B: The Origin story: As humans, we want to know how things started. “In business, an origin story might be a founder’s story, or how a person, business, idea, product, service, platform, movement, or opportunity came to be,” writes Esther.
C: “Rags to Riches” or “David vs. Goliath” stories: The most common type of business story details how the hero overcame many obstacles on their path to success.
D: “Overcoming the Monster.” is the fourth type of business plot. “The monster in this kind of story can be any overt or covert entity or situation that can threaten survival of some sort or thwart someone from reaching an important goal,” Esther writes. “Fighting to survive or thrive is elemental to human nature. So audiences of any type will root for defeat of the monster, whether at the hands of an individual, group, or organization, making this kind of story compelling in business and leadership stories.”
E: The fifth and final type of plot is called “The Quest.” Our protagonist tends to be enjoying a good life at the outset,” Esther writes…” But they are not content to sit at home. . . Instead, they know that a prize of immeasurable value lies somewhere in a remote and possibly dangerous place. Against their better judgment and their friends’ and family’s advice, the hero in this kind of story ventures out on a quest to claim this prize.”
Reflection: How do I typically respond when asked to introduce myself?
Action: Create an introduction using Esther’s approach as outlined above.