How to Use Storytelling to Illustrate Your Life and Build Your Personal Brand

By Susan Chritton

Storytelling illustrates events through words, images, and sounds and can help you build your personal brand. A story has a basic structure: a beginning, middle, and end. The best stories pull you in from the beginning, keep your interest in the middle, and leave you with a satisfying ending, wanting for more.

Paul Smith, Lead with a Story (AMACOM), has a different spin on the classic story structure. He calls it CAR, for Context, Action, Result. The context provides the background of the story to help it make sense to the listener. Smith says if done right, the context will grab a listener’s attention and generate interest in the rest of the story.

Context answers these four key questions:

  • Where and when?

  • Who is the main character?

  • What does the character want? What is he trying to achieve?

  • What may the obstacle be that could get in the way?

The telling of a story is always personal. Whatever walk of life that you come from, your stories define you. Your story becomes your personal brand, and you need to think about which stories you tell to others to illustrate who you are.

Find the plot in your story

To tell a good story, you need to have a good story. Here are 20 questions from Bernadette Martin, author of Storytelling about Your Brand: Online & Offline (Happy About), to get your story started. If you’re a natural storyteller, these questions will give you more material to work with. Most people need suggestions, and the following questions are a good start:

  • What is the funniest experience you’ve ever had?

  • Have you developed, created, designed, or invented something?

  • What was your bravest or most courageous moment?

  • Have you ever received an award or special recognition?

  • What’s the most impulsive thing you’ve ever done?

  • What’s a story you never tired of hearing from your mom or dad?

  • Were you ever unexpectedly left “carrying the ball,” and you jumped to the plate?

  • How have you increased sales (if that’s ever been part of your job)?

  • When have you identified problems others did not see?

  • Have you ever developed or implemented a new system or procedure?

  • When have you effectively handled a crisis situation (professional or personal)?

  • Who’s the most influential person you’ve met?

  • Have you ever had an experience where you accomplished the seemingly impossible?

  • When have you done something where you really had to laugh at yourself?

  • Have you ever had an experience in a foreign country that was a revelation of cultural differences?

  • What was the one moment or highlight in school you’ll never forget?

  • In which competitions have you excelled?

  • When have you juggled many projects simultaneously under deadline pressure?

  • What was the one event in your childhood that had the greatest effect on your life?

  • What is the one lesson you’ve learned that you still live by today?

Create trust through stories

Telling a story is a way to build trust. Every brand wants you to trust what it stands for. When you tell a story to your target audience, creating a bond with that person.

To create trust, you need to know how to tell a variety of stories about yourself:

  • Who are you? This story doesn’t need to be personal, but it does need to represent your values. This story shows your humanity and your ability to recognize your flaws.

  • Why are you telling this story? This type of story reassures the audience that you have good intentions. It connects you with your audience and shares the reason for telling this story to these particular people at this particular time.

  • How does your vision relate to your audience’s vision? With this story, you share your own ideas about what’s possible and connect them with what your audience wants to believe is possible.

  • What do you value? This story helps your audience know what your values are and how they guide you in daily life.

When your storytelling skills are strong enough, you can also work on telling a story that anticipates what your audience is thinking. The goal is to make your listeners wonder if you’ve got psychic abilities!

If you want to have the greatest influence possible, tell a story first and save the facts for afterward. When your audience is feeling connected with you, they’ll be much more willing to hear the rest of your presentation.

Keep gossip out of your brand

Gossip is a form of storytelling about what other people are doing. Gossip uses the same key elements of stories and usually includes a plot, characters, and a point of view. Americans love gossip and have built an industry around the spreading of celebrity gossip in magazines, television shows, blogs, and other forms of communication.

However, being known as a gossip is bad for your brand. Gossip can hurt the reputations of all involved: the person spreading the rumors, as well as the person being talked about. A gossip gains a reputation as someone who can’t mind his own business and, worse, can’t be trusted.

Make your story memorable

Personal branding showcases your authenticity, and the strength of your brand is based on how others relate to your experiences and character. Today’s economy is an experience economy where people crave experiences and want to connect to others in a personal and memorable way. If you don’t create an experience, you won’t stand out.

When you live your life authentically, your story and your connections with others create something special. That experience not only makes you memorable but also, with the right expression of who you are, leaves impressions that create a transformative experience for those who interact with you.