When I meet young people I like to ask them, “What’s your story?” (It’s more interesting to me than, “What do you do?”, or, “Are you in school”, or, “What do you want to be?”)
Most of the time I get a description in response. “I am at X stage in my education/career, I am working to reach Y, and hope to someday do Z for a living.” Even if X, Y, and Z are interesting and noble, it’s a little boring. You’ve described your activities and plans, but you’ve failed to connect with or get me rooting for you in any significant way. You have essentially given me a generic placeholder: “The guy who goes to UCLA and wants to be an engineer”, which is not much better than, “The guy in the red sweatshirt.” I have nothing against people in red sweatshirts, but there’s nothing about them that gets me excited either.
No, you don’t have to make every person you talk to excited. But in most social contexts, a lot of potentially meaningful connections can be made. When you merely describe yourself by some external status in some common framework (your city, major, grade, job title), you miss the chance to build a network you can call on when need be. There are thousands of people who study what you study or live where you live. What is your unique plan or passion?
Contrast the typical answer to “What’s your story” with one I got recently:
“I am building tech that dramatically enhances emotional and cognitive performance. I want to use software to open up the possibilities of the human brain.”
I was sold. This led to a fun conversation, an exchange of contact info, and a few connections and book recommendations back and forth. We will stay connected, and if and when it makes sense, we’ll collaborate.
The response wasn’t just a description of geography, age, or educational/professional status – come to think of it, I never asked nor discovered any of those. The response was a persuasive pitch. It was brimming with energy, passion, and clarity of vision. This was an interesting person pursuing interesting things. It had that, “The train is heading to cool places, whether you’re on board or not!” feeling. Who wouldn’t want to jump aboard?
It goes beyond casual social interactions. If you are trying to raise money, earn customers, or convince co-workers, the ability to sell your vision, not just describe it, is key. In fact, I got to thinking about all of this after reading excellent tips for making a business summary and perfecting your pitch.
Whether it’s in a board room or at a bar, see if you can switch from merely describing your vision to selling it. The attempt itself will help you gain clarity and confidence.