by Esther K Choy
Published by Amacom
ISBN: 9780814438015
eBook ISBN: 9780814438022
Copyright (c) 2017 by Esther K Choy

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Taken together, the three insights in this section will help you understand the power of story and begin to see how to use it to your advantage in multiple arenas.


A Story Is Worth More than Strong Qualifications Alone

Eventually, I left my admissions position to get my own MBA (across town from the University of Chicago, but that’s another story!). Going through the process and meeting my diverse classmates helped me understand something that seemed obvious in retrospect: the applicants who stand out from the crowd of fellow smart, accomplished professionals are the ones who tell the most compelling stories. More specifically, a story that connects an applicant’s values, accomplishments, and future plans with the institution they are targeting will set that candidate apart in the right way. The admitted students at the University of Chicago stood out because they revealed elements of their authentic selves in a meaningful way.

I still remember the stories of several applicants we admitted to the University of Chicago. One student stood out by describing how his grandfather had bravely resisted the rule of Hitler in World War II Germany, taking great risks to protect those in danger.

The applicant’s vivid descriptions, and how he linked his grandfather’s courage to his own values, ethics, and accomplishments, placed him in our “clear admit” group.

Another candidate told us how her large family ate dinner together every night, no matter how busy everyone was. The meals were meaningful to her not only because of the family time, but also because her parents routinely engaged their children in thoughtful discussion and debate. In her essays, she talked about how, during her campus visit, watching students and faculty discuss important business, social, and ethical issues made her feel as if she was back home, sitting at the dinner table with her family. The story went a very long way to establishing her fit with the school, and we were pleased to offer her admission.

With far fewer seats available in each class than the number of applicants, we admissions officers had to be sure that we offered admission only to applicants who truly demonstrated fit. Each of us may have had different words to describe “fit,” but we all knew it when we saw it.

But competitive admissions is far from the only arena in which storytelling is the best way to integrate your values, qualifications, and aspirations.


We Are All in a Perpetual “Competitive Admissions” Game

Have you gone through a year-end evaluation where you had to contribute, at least in part, to assessing your own performance? Have you ever had to pitch your great idea to colleagues who weren’t sure of the value you could bring? Have you had to ask friends and neighbors to donate to your breast cancer walk and found yourself wondering why people have to be asked to give to breast cancer awareness in the first place—aren’t their mothers, sisters, aunts, and wives reason enough?

Hardly a day goes by when you aren’t trying to inspire others to join you in some effort. But we live in an increasingly commoditized world, where even the things you hold most dearly—your ideas, projects, and causes—are commodities in someone else’s eyes. The true luxury good is your audience’s attention, and everyone is clamoring for it.

At the heart of leadership lies persuasion. At the heart of persuasion lies storytelling. Whether you know it or not, you engage in both daily. Competitive admission is only one example where you have to stand out however you can. Whether you are competing for a great job, seeking funding for a start-up or nonprofit, building a professional practice, or selling goods, ideas, and services, you must stand out in a strategic, authentic way. You can even think of these efforts as “lifelong mini-admissions applications.” The parallels are striking: you have a lot of “competitors” in any such contest; your competitors may not even be people, but other companies, funding priorities, or endless perfect substitutions to what you’re offering; you’re also competing constantly for attention with other things that demand people’s attention, mostly their phone screens!”


It sounds so simple: Incorporate a story and people will remember your message. But when you get down to crafting one, there’s nothing easy about it.

Material for stories surrounds us. Yet few people are skilled at sharing personal anecdotes and even fewer know how to link them to professional goals. Whether you want to stand out in the interview process, add punch to a presentation, or make a compelling case for a new initiative, Let the Story Do the Work shows you how to mine your experience for simple narratives that convey who you are, what you want to achieve, and why others should care.

Packed with enlightening examples, the book explains how to find the perfect hook, structure your story–and deliver it at the right time in the right way. You’ll discover how to use stories to:

Capture attention

Engage your audience

Change minds

Inspire action

Bring facts and data to life

Clarify challenging concepts

Pitch persuasively

Fundraise effectively

And more

Never underestimate the power of a great story. Learn to leverage the elements of storytelling–and turn everyday communications into opportunities to connect, gain buy-in, and build lasting relationships.


Esther K. Choy is founder and president of Leadership Story Lab, where she coaches managers in storytelling techniques. She is currently teaching in the executive education programs at Northwestern Universitys Kellogg School of Management.

This week’s selection ‘LET THE STORY DO THE WORK: THE ART OF STORYTELLING FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS’ by Esther K Choy appears Monday thru Friday and comes to you courtesy of dearreader.com and BurlingtonPublicLibrary.ca Business Online Book Club.

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