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How Understanding Your Own Personal Narrative Can Help With Media Interviews and Presentations
October 20, 2023

In our media training courses for CEOs and presentation courses for business leaders, as well as looking at issues such as defining their key messages and identifying relevant examples and stories, we’ll also explore their personal narratives. We’ll often spend some time interviewing them as if we were writing a profile article. As all of our media trainers are experienced journalists working under strict NDAs, they’ve done this many times for newspapers, magazines and websites.

We’ll ask about a CEO’s early life and the influences on their development. We cover their childhood and education and their first jobs. We’re interested to know what makes them tick, how they discovered what they were good at and what they hated. We encourage them to talk about failures and disappointments as well as triumphs and successes. Not only is this human and easy for audiences to relate to, but it also allows us to tease out the lessons they’ve learnt as a result of those disappointments and how they’ve put these learning points into practice. When we’re providing presentation training for CEOs, this is particularly useful.

The Value of Knowing Your Own Personal Narrative

There’s a growing body of research to show how knowing your personal story can help with resilience and enable you to make sense of the world. “Everybody does this a little differently, but the general trend is to create stories that integrate our lives and give us a sense of who we are,” explains Dan McAdams, Henry Wade Rogers Professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University and an expert on personal narratives.

“Once this project develops, it stays with us pretty much for the rest of life,” he says. “We remain storytellers of the self. These stories can always be changed modified. There’s nothing fixed about these stories. That said, they often take a decisive form, and people will often make decisions in their lives based on narrative assumptions they have about their own lives.”

Understanding your own personal narrative can also help with your ability to communicate. As we say at Communicate Media, authenticity is the key to all effective communication, whether it’s a media interview or a presentation. If we don’t believe the person who’s speaking, and we don’t believe that they believe what they’re saying, then it doesn’t matter how powerful their arguments are or however persuasive they are, the facts that they marshal; we’ll simply switch off.

How do you use your own Personal Narrative in a Presentation?

Well, the clue is in the title. Good presentations, like any good communication, rely on stories and narratives. This means that there’s an overarching narrative for your presentation – you’re taking your audience from A to B – and then there are a number of stories, case studies or simple anecdotes within that narrative. Once you know your own personal story and you’re ready to tell it, you can introduce stories from your life into your presentation.

If your audience is internal and you’re telling them that your organisation needs to change the way it operates, then you can introduce stories of your own previous experience of change – what it involved, how it felt, the ups and the downs, what you learnt and how you embraced it. If you’re advocating a particular course of action, there might be an example from your own life that illustrates what you mean and the benefits it can introduce.

Humility and vulnerability

Like any good story, a personal narrative will have ups and downs. At some point, you’ll have found yourself “in the cave”, as storytelling experts describe it. This is the low point when you were about to give up and accept failure. But then something – or someone – inspired you to have one last attempt to escape and turn things around. You can admit some humility and vulnerability here but then show your strength of character. As a leader, this can be incredibly powerful when used in the right way during presentations, media interviews or even just communications with your own teams.

That “someone” we mentioned earlier is important because every good story needs a mentor for the protagonist. This is a person who is more experienced and can use this experience to guide the protagonist. Think Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, Yoda in Star Wars or Lord Henry Wotton in A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Haymitch Abernathy is mentor to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, and Cardinal Wolsey does the same job in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Mentioning a mentor and describing what you learnt from them and how you’re still in the business of learning, guiding and teaching also offers an element of humility alongside strength of character and resilience.

This is who I am… how leaders can use their personal story to inspire their teams

We often advise leaders, especially when they’re new to an organisation, or they’re leading their teams through a period of change, to offer the following messages: “This is who I am, this is where I’m going, and this is why I want you to follow me.” Knowing your own story is essential if, as a leader, you’re going to earn the respect and loyalty of your teams and have them buy into your strategy.

In our presentation training for CEOs, facilitating them to tell stories from their lives can engender just the right amount of emotion and passion. We know that storytelling lights up around seven areas of the brain compared to just one or two when people just receive facts, and so it’s not surprising that stories stay with people long after they’ve forgotten a fact or a statistic. When we’re giving advice to business leaders on delivering presentations, we quote the poet Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Now, you don’t have to sound as if you’re giving an Oscar acceptance speech (spare us, please), but adding an element of emotion to a presentation or media interview with a great story will ensure that you engage your audiences and will help you to make your performance to stand out. This is why every leader should know their own personal narrative.

Come and talk to us about our bespoke media training and presentation courses for CEOs and business leaders.

Please call 07958 239892 or email gareth@communicatemedia.com.

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