Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Critical Elements Required for Telling Good Stories

Hello everyone!  I hope everything is going well.  I have some good news today – I have officially accepted a job with Unified Building Sciences and Engineering.  I’ll be doing Structural Forensic Engineering work, so I might shift my blog over to stuff I learn in that field a bit more.  However, today, I like to talk about something a bit less technical and that is how to tell a story.  When I was thinking about my interview, and soft skills related to sales/interview type stuff, I realized that this would be a good topic to cover.  This is a skill that a lot of people know about and know someone who does have it.  Additionally, it is assumed that it is something naturally learned and that a person either has this skill or doesn’t have this skill.  However, I have learned how to do this somewhat better and I believe everyone can learn how to do this to some degree.  I will discuss some of the key elements I find important below.

Know Your Audience

This one of the most critical elements of successful story telling.  I have known a lot of people in my life who don’t always apply this concept and it can turn a reasonably well told story into something that completely shuts down conversation.  By knowing your audience and adjusting your story to fit them, your story is far more effective and is more likely to accomplish your desired goal.

Know the Purpose of the Story
This is very similar to know your audience but I put this in a separate category because I believe it is separate in nature.  You can have the same audience, but the purpose of what you are doing can change; furthermore, this change in purpose can change how you tell the story.  A good example I can think of is initially talking to a client to get a project, and then later having a conclusion of project type of conversation.  In the first case, you might want to be more cautious and expository about your defining characteristics and your future goals.  In the second case, they hopefully have an idea what those previously mentioned goals/characteristics are and you would want to focus more on results and the bottom line benefits for all the concerned parties.  So in this case, we would have the exact same audience, but the purpose of your story telling would be very different.

Quickly Set the Stage

This is one that I thought about combining to the one below, but I wanted to put it separate because I believe a lot of engineers have had to struggle with this.  As engineers, when we solve a problem, we are taught to write down the initial facts to be doubly sure of all the facts before we even start.  However, in story telling, people want enough facts to get to the point of story and what to take away as a result.  It is my belief that these two ways of thinking can conflict at times.  My personal method of choice is to reduce as much of this exposition as possible; then if they clearly misunderstand or have questions, I can go back and explain in more detail now that they have seen the larger picture.

Succinctly Describe What Happened, the Result and Why It’s Important
This one is critical as well because the audience can get bogged down if this is too slow.  When telling the story, it’s okay to be descriptive or even humorous depending on the situation.  But if a sentence or statement isn’t adding something of value to the story, people will lose focus.  So when telling a story, the speaker needs to moving through the three steps above in a succinct and engaging manner for the best results possible.

Relax, Have Fun and Be Yourself

This is essential to any good story in my opinion.  You can do all of the above well, but clearly don’t find it entertaining in any way the audience will know.  So any time you go to tell a story, you should relax, enjoy the situation, and find a way to naturally express yourself.  If you make a mistake, laugh at yourself and people will forgive you most of the time.  And that genuine humor and ease will be very engaging.

In conclusion, I believe that by focusing on these steps everyone can improve as story tellers to some degree.  This should yield more productive conversations with clients and better working relationships overall.

Do you agree with this list?  Are there any other elements I left out?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

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