Whether representing your advertising agency in a sales meeting or sitting down for a job interview, you’ve probably stumbled like a drunk with rock-filled shoes through the easiest request on the planet: “Tell me about yourself.” Why is this so hard to answer well? After all, nobody knows you better than you do. Right?
Are you boring? I’d guess you’re a lot more interesting than you think. The real reason you have a hard time talking about yourself is because you haven’t audited your life lately. You’re not prepared. When you’re not prepared, you say vague things. And when you say vague things, you’re forgettable. And when you’re forgettable, you don’t get the business (or job).
Breaking the Cycle of Vagueness
Here’s a surefire way to fix your vagueness. Read these five mini-stories about me, and I’ll break them down to show how you can make yourself more memorable.
1. In high school basketball practice, I once made 69 consecutive free throws.
2. An EF-5 tornado hit my hometown.
3. In Hawaii, I surfed the first wave I ever tried to ride.
4. Gluten is not part of my diet.
5. I co-produced a rap video about mattresses.
Vivid facts are the anchor points for building your brand and telling your story. You’ve probably heard the saying “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” But almost everyone judges a book by its first page. Does the story hook you? Do you want to read more? When you’re presenting yourself, it’s like that first page of a book: It must be intriguing.
Made to Stick authors Dan and Chip Heath would tell you to craft mini-stories that are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and emotional. When you tell interesting stories, your audience will want to know more. Take job interviews, for example. You need to stand out. All the other schmucks will say what they think they’re supposed to. Don’t do that — be imaginative.
Got a client presentation? Prepare some colorful facts and give the client a taste of what makes your agency great. “We value innovation at all levels and in all things. Take Ted Sharewick, our new intern — he makes our agency great because he converted an old popcorn machine into a coffee bean roaster and brews fresh bold blend every morning. We brought you a bag of this amazing coffee.” Get the client to remember you. Vague is forgettable. Vivid is not.
Why You Need to Make Them Care
Besides your mom, nobody really cares about you until you make them pay attention. That’s why you need to plan for success. Memorable mini-stories are great devices for presenting the most distinct version of you. Here are a few tips to get started:
1. Dig into the chronicles of your life and pull out the most important moments. Next, think about the micro-moments that gave these experiences their texture. You can’t say traveling changed your life. Think about why a trip changed your life. Was it the first time you got to practice Italian with native speakers? Find that concrete detail and create some interest around yourself. Concentrate on information that makes you memorable and sparks conversation.
Look at my list again: Why the hell don’t I eat gluten? (And what is gluten, anyway?) A rap video about mattresses? That can’t be any good. Isn’t an EF-5 tornado the worst kind? Did he really cash 69 free throws in a row? All of these details are concrete and memorable. They provoke interest, and behind each one is a story.
2. Once you create interest, expand on each point and tell the story. The season I made 69 free throws, I’d just come back from a broken neck and was excited I could still walk, let alone play. After that EF-5 tornado hit my hometown, I helped found a successful nonprofit to rebuild homes (and yes, that’s the worst category of tornado). The first time I went to Hawaii, I didn’t even try surfing. I regretted it, so I went back. About a year ago, my wife found out she was allergic to gluten. I didn’t want to eat separate meals, so I gave up gluten as well — and I feel better than ever. Through our advertising agency, my client and I got to work with Second City Communications to make the greatest mattress rap video of all time (in my humble opinion).
Each of my offbeat facts is easy to share, but more importantly, all of them have deeper meaning. To become memorable, you must talk about experiences and quirks that show your deep appreciation for life. They should provide a glimpse into your soul. Now that you’ve read the stories behind the mini-stories, look at my list again and try to apply the Heath brothers’ criteria. It works in every case.
Roy Williams wrote, “Surprise is the foundation of delight.” The unexpected is captivating. Have you seen gorillas in pink T-shirts playing ping pong on the Great Wall of China? That sentence surprised you, didn’t it? It created an image in your mind. When your imagination starts forming pictures, it’s producing a deeper imprint. Produce a deep personal imprint, and they’ll never forget you — or your company.
Telling vivid personal mini-stories can make you memorable. Audit your life and focus on the moments that made an experience exceptional. Pick concrete experiences that create interest you can expand upon. Once you prepare your personal mini-stories, you’ll no longer stumble over the easiest question on the planet.
Here’s your first chance to practice your mini-stories. In the comments section, tell me about yourself.
Mark Kinsley is a Vice President with MediaCross, a marketing firm based in St. Louis, Mo. He's an expert in brand storytelling and consumer behavior. Outside of the office, he is an avid mountain biker. He also enjoys golf, Left Bank Bordeaux, and snow skiing. Connect with Mark on Twitter and Google+.