“We’ve already done storytelling,” the Learning and Development manager said to me over the phone as I proposed a workshop for emerging leaders at the organization. “What else do you do?”
What else do I do?
I could have told a story, right then and there, about my proficiency with PowerPoint or problem-solving or my interest in etymology or astrology or cosmetology, but it would have been a largely fictional story.
What else do I do?
I “do” storytelling.
I acknowledge I’m not the only one in this ever-growing field. But I can assure you, I “do it” differently than anybody else out there.
I had some questions for them. What did they mean by, “We’ve already done storytelling”?
What type of storytelling had they done?
Storytelling for leadership development? Networking and relationship-building? Career advancement? Goal-setting? Business or personal branding? Negotiating or conflict resolution? Powerful presentations? The list goes on and on…
There are myriad ways we can use and benefit from storytelling. And any number of ways it can be taught, packaged, and delivered which is why I’m not the only one out here, “doing” it.
If I could understand the program they had previously “done,” I could suggest another way to implement strategic storytelling into a training session that would bring value to attendees and meet the needs and goals of the organization. If they wanted, we could call it something other than “storytelling,” though the word means different things to different people.
They chose to not pursue it further. They couldn’t see the story differentiation or the story we could build together or the resolution that would benefit their organization.
This wasn’t the only time someone questioned what makes my work different.
Every so often, a well-meaning friend or colleague will send me another speaker or trainer’s website or quote or Instagram post.
“Look!” They’ll say, “They do what you do!” (Again, with the “do”!)
Sometimes it’s as simple as the repetition of a quote, typically “What’s your story?” or “Build your next chapter,” both of which I occasionally use, neither of which is trademarked, all of which can be found ad nauseam on the internet.
The implication is that I should be worried about this.
After all, if there are so many people “doing” storytelling, what’s the differentiator? Is my business in jeopardy?
There are millions of people out there who could benefit from learning how to tell strategic and meaningful stories. And trillions – no, really, the number is not quantifiable – of stories out there waiting to be fostered, refined, and told.
As Sarah Elkins, author of “Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will,” – and a fellow storyteller and friend – assured me once, “There’s room for all of us.”
Sarah has a beautiful voice, fronts a band, and often incorporates music in her storytelling sessions. I don’t sing. Our subject matter may be similar, but our content and our approaches are unique, leading to entirely different experiences and outcomes.
My friend Deedre Daniel, founder of The Interesting Conversations Company, is also a keynote speaker, clever humorist, and the creator of The Very Interesting Game. We’re both funny on stage. But we are not at all the same. And it’s not me against her or her against me because we support each other whole-heartedly, refer work, pick each other up when we’re down, and laugh together… a lot.
There’s room for all of us, especially those of us who like to support and laugh and often eat entire cakes together. Not that Deedre and I do that, at least not often.
There’s room for you too. (Not in this field though… we’re getting a bit crowded over here in storytelling – go do something else! Just kidding, hop on board!)
There’s room for you in whatever you do, what you’re skilled at, what you’re passionate about.
You’ve got to own your chops!
Because it’s about more than WHAT you do.
It’s HOW you do it and WHY you do it that makes you unique.
Stories are like snowflakes; no two are ever exactly alike. The difference is in the details and the delivery.
So too with job candidates, leaders, speakers, trainers, artists, creators…
There are so many different ways we stand out. Identifying your secret sauce is the key to success.
What’s your secret sauce?
After all, you don’t have just one condiment in your fridge. Ketchup isn’t the same as mustard, chipotle aioli, or goat cheese vinaigrette. I stole that from Deedre – it’s one of the funny rounds she employs as a warmup in The Very Interesting Game. But she does it better, which is why it’s her secret sauce and I’m imitation mayo which is the one condiment I did not find in my fridge.
If you’re still struggling to differentiate yourself from others who “do” something similar, try these 5 tips:
- Spend Time in Self-Reflection: Identify your passions and what brings you satisfaction at work. When do you feel most yourself?
- Complete a Strengths Assessment: Make a list of your unique strengths, both technical and soft skills. (Sarah is an intuitive and helpful StrengthsFinder coach!)
- Seek Feedback: Seek feedback from trusted others. Embrace what they see in you.
- List your Accomplishments: Review past successes to identify patterns. Which skills were most prominent when you had those successes?
- Define your Values and Mission: Define your core values and align your work with a clear mission. People can sense when the work matters to you.
Your precise ingredients and mixture are unlike anyone else’s.
Differentiation comes from how you do what you do and why you do what you do. So, while others may do what you do, no one does it quite like you!
Don’t let anyone tell you what you “do” has already been done. It hasn’t been done quite the way you do it.
It’s your Secret Sauce. Get the secret out there by sharing your unique self!
Valerie Gordon is a longtime storyteller and the founder of The Storytelling Strategist. Following two decades of producing Emmy-winning stories for television, she turned her attention to bringing the power of stories to audiences and corporations, helping high achievers with the skills necessary to define their brands, own their stories, and engage audiences. She believes everyone has a next great chapter inside of them that’s ready to be written. Follow her for more on LinkedIn.