Humans seem to be wired to connect to stories rather than to facts. We need a narrative to extract meaning out of raw information. And, as this article very well puts it, "raw data alone does not make a story", so even scientific publications need a narrative.
But telling an engaging story is hard for many people, so why bother?
Because when you provide the narrative, you make it easier on the listener to understand and remember your point, and that makes you a more effective communicator.
We had the privilege of hosting Dr. Bruce Seet, director of Medical Affairs at Sanofi Pasteur, who came to Queen's University to share his personal tips on how to use storytelling to make yourself memorable in a job interview and any other professional setting.
During an interactive workshop, he shared with us the CAR technique, one of the techniques he encourages young scientists to implement for more effective communication. This method helps you create concise but powerful answers to any questions you may be asked during an interview. C.A.R. stands for Context-Action-Result, and this is how it works: when answering a question, you first provide the context surrounding the situation, you then explain the actions you took, and finally you explain the outcome or benefit that your actions brought to yourself, your team, and your company or organization.
This sounds great, in theory, but if you're a scientist, you're used to facts, figures and precision. And fact lists are great on paper, but highly ineffective when the goal is to convince a potential employer that you're the best candidate for the job. Just listing your skills on a CV does nothing to actually show an interviewer that you truly embody all those adjectives you’ve carefully selected for yourself. The good news is that even if you're the kind of person that struggles with story telling, there's hope.
The key aspect of this technique is precisely the first step: the Context.
A story is simply a series of detailed images that allows someone else to picture what you were experiencing at a particular moment in the past. When someone can create a mental picture of something and put themselves in it, they can instantly connect to it, and by extension, connect to you.
The Context refers to the details surrounding the facts and figures. These details help the listeners put themselves in your shoes, allowing them to create a "memory" of the event almost as if it had been them, and this automatically makes the story more memorable and more convincing.
Bruce Seet illustrated this brilliantly during the workshop using a simple exercise.
An hour prior, he had given an hour-long seminar packed with information on the topic of launching your career. About an hour later, during the CAR technique workshop, he asked us "Do you guys remember the story I told you an hour ago about my interview?” He was referring to a very short story he had told in passing, while illustrating one of the many points he covered during the previous seminar. We were all a bit surprised as we all answered all his questions in unison:
Where was he when the story happened? Driving on the highway, just 30 minutes after the interview.
What did he do when he saw the interviewer calling? He pulled over next to a golf course.
What was happening outside? The water from the sprinklers was hitting his windshield, which was distracting.
Did he get the job? Yes.
He then asked us "Why do you remember all that? They are such insignificant details and yet you remembered them clearly. That's because for just a few moments, you were there with me. That's the power of storytelling."
Finally, he reminded us that storytelling is a skill and like any other skill, it requires practice.
So, next time you're job searching and you start working on the CV, and the cover letters, and all the other things you need for the application, make it a point to practice your storytelling. Find a list of common interview questions and get a friend to mock interview you. Instead of listing the many skills you have, practice using short stories that show how you applied those skills successfully. Make notes on which stories have the most impact, and keep practicing.
Soon enough, you'll find yourself becoming that one friend with the really good stories or at least you'll ace the next interview.
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