Leadership

Knowing how to write your own script is key to a successful career

Francesco Marconi

"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."  — Muriel Rukeyser, poet

In life, we often get tied down by what we think isn't possible. But when we take control of the story we tell others as well as ourselves, there are no limits.

What if the secret to fulfilling your career aspirations meant knowing how to write your own life script  —  the kind that makes you memorable?

Find your story

Francesco Marconi

In 2009, a middle school art teacher named Bre Pettis started MakerBots, a company whose product enabled people to print 3-D objects that could be designed on any computer. As a new entrepreneur, however, he struggled to convince clients and investors that there was a market for his creation.

In response, he turned to an unusual strategy — storytelling. He shared with prospective company stakeholders the impact his invention could have. He talked about how health-care professionals could save money by printing their own supplies with his tool. Then there was the student who used his teacher's printer to make himself a prosthetic hand.

Five years later, the entrepreneur sold MakerBots for $604 million.

Prettis' theory that telling stories could make his ideas and business memorable proved to be correct. The numbers back him up: Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, conducted a study finding that 63 percent of people recall stories a speaker shares, yet only 5 percent can remember a single statistic.

Make it memorable

Francesco Marconi

When you imagine the next 10 years of your career, what do you see? If you are drawing a blank, breaking into a sweat, or visualizing a finish line but no course to get there, storytelling might be the right tool for you.

In a recent research study, NYU Psychology Professor Jerome Brumer found stories to be up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone. They can captivate audiences, becoming tools of influence able to persuading listeners to action.

Stories shape how others see you and could have implications for whether you are hired, go on dates or even raise money for your next business idea.

Scott Weiss, a prolific Silicon Valley venture capitalist, makes his investment decisions based on "how well the founder's life can explain what they're doing at their company." A person's path to greatness is often shaped by their own life experiences and the way they deal with failure.

Master storyteller Stephen King's first novel was rejected dozens of times before selling 1 million paperback copies in its first year in the market. Hip-hop mogul Jay-Z couldn't get signed to any record labels and was forced to create Roc-A-Fella, now a multimillion-dollar music empire. These two figures used the dismissal of their early work to propel their memorable narratives forward.

Take your audience on a journey

Francesco Marconi

Stories have the ability to make an impact well beyond growing businesses — world leaders and iconic figures use them to speak to the wider public and explain complex issues. Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech used storytelling to encourage people to imagine a more just and integrated society. John F. Kennedy rallied an entire nation around the idea of innovation and scientific progress by sharing his vision of sending a man to the moon.

A team of research scientists at Ohio State University evaluated what happens to our brains when we listen to an engaging story or a speech. The scientists found that when listeners are "transported by a narrative" they tend to perceive the speaker in a more positive way, and even embrace their opinions and world-views.

Good storytelling is indeed a powerful tool that can be used to persuade someone to hire you, invest in your start-up or simply buy something from your website.

Invite others to participate

Francesco Marconi

Because I work for a news company, I often share my personal story about how my passion for the industry arose. It goes like this:

My Italian father was on a train to Paris when he noticed a group of soldiers bothering a Portuguese woman as she was trying to read a newspaper. He approached the soldiers, telling them to leave the woman alone. Then he wrote his phone number on the front page of the paper, saying, "If you are ever in Rome, give me a call and I'll show you around."

One year later, he received a call from the woman on the train, who was visiting Italy with a friend. She had kept the paper. That was the beginning of my parents' relationship — and why I can say that newspapers are in my DNA.

A personal narrative is not a fixed thing. Stories are shaped by our environment and by the people who listen to it.

Take the example of Lady Gaga, one of the most famed entertainers (and marketers) of our time. The artist's lyrics are synonymous with storytelling, but it's worth observing that what really makes her public persona and performances memorable. Gaga changes costumes at least six times, often directly on stage. By doing that, she is inviting her fans into her own story creation process.

This is an important strategy we can all learn from. Making our colleagues and customers part of our journey, makes us more likely to establish meaningful connections.

How can you incorporate storytelling more deeply into your life?

Francesco Marconi

Tell a story about yourself that evokes emotions. Make it surprising and delightful. A good narrative translates an idea into an adventure, a romance, a thriller — and it sets you apart.

Think about the things that drive you and how your story can inspire others. Make it a journey, and selectively shape it so that it's one people remember. Invite people to be part of your narrative and improve it with their feedback.

Then follow this three-step framework to create your own memorable tale:

  1. Why are you telling the story?
  2. How can you make your audience care?
  3. What will make other people share your story?

If you want to be not just good, but one of the best, storytelling is for you. Follow these steps, and watch your career take off!

Media strategist Francesco Marconi has spent years studying how personal stories inspire incredible achievements. In his upcoming book, "Live Like Fiction," Marconi explores how professionals can leverage storytelling to find purpose and inspiration.

More from Francesco Marconi:
What is the algorithm for success?
Is there a blueprint for success?
What will artificial intelligence mean for journalism?

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