The big day has arrived. The job interview we want to nail. Or, the hard-to-get meeting with the big prospect. Or, maybe a first date with someone we really like.
“Tell me about yourself,” they say.
Observation one: The real question being asked is, “Tell me something about yourself that reminds me of ME.”
Observation two: We remember the last time we asked someone that question, and they prattled on for what 15-minutes in an unfocused monologue. We want to avoid that.
Observation three: The best way to answer is with a story.
Yesterday, we explored the three-act structure as outlined in Esther Choy‘s book Let the Story Do the Work: The Art of Storytelling for Business Success. We learned all compelling stories share the three-act framework.
A key element of Act 1 is a well-crafted “hook.” Esther explains: “A fishing hook helps you capture fish. A conversational hook helps you capture the attention and imagination of other people.”
Our goal? To plant our hook as early as possible in the conversation, transforming our audience from passive listeners to active investigators.
What makes for a good hook? Conflict, contrast, or contradiction.
“Simply put, a conflict is the clash of forces or needs going in opposite directions,” Ester writes. “But note that a conflict need not be epic, such as war or famine. A conflict could simply be about an argument between spouses or a person desperately wanting to fall asleep but unable to.”
Contrast is the juxtaposition of two opposites. Think: bright vs. dark, light vs. heavy, abundance vs. scarcity. “Even if [we’ve] never been to New York City or Sudan, [we] can easily envision the stark difference between a bustling metropolis and a barren, sparsely populated desert village. The contrast is immediate and powerful.”
A contradiction involves something that goes against our expectations. “It was Tuesday at 10:03 a.m., my second day on a new job. Chris, a software developer, was explaining the company’s technology to me. In the middle of our conversation, he received an instant message. He quickly got up and told me ‘It’s time for a cupcake run.'”
Conflict, contrast, or contradiction, all make us wonder what exactly is going on: We want to know more. “A good Act I hook will make your audience anxious to find out what happens in Act II,” Esther notes.
Act II is about the “significant hurdles or tricky problems on the road to success,” Ester writes. “A story with no obstacle isn’t much of a story: ‘I had a problem and I figured it out easily. The end.’ Boring!”
In constructing our story, we want to exclude irrelevant information aggressively. “Less is more,” and more is often less.
How do we know what’s irrelevant? We find the narrative theme that weaves throughout our story, Esther observes. “Without a theme, [our] story will have no backbone. But once [we] discover that theme, [we] can be disciplined in weeding out information that doesn’t relate to it.”
Act III answers all the open questions and brings the main character—and the audience—to a fulfilling resolution, Esther writes. Her advice for Act III? Wrap up our story with: “So that’s why…”
As in: “So, that’s why I think investing in my venture would be a great opportunity for you.” Our listener needs to understand why we are telling this story. “Act III is not just a resolution of your story—it puts [our] story in context and illustrates for [our] listeners the value [we] bring to their situation,” Esther suggests.
Reflection: Consider a situation where I want to persuade someone to take action. What story could I tell to achieve my desired outcome? How could I organize my story into three acts?
Action: Tell it.