Ask the Experts - Andrew Thorp

Why everyone needs a library

6th July 2020, 3:25 pm

In the virtual world of video conference calls, one issue looms (Zooms) large – what do you have in your background? For many it’s a well-stocked bookshelf, an indicator of wisdom and personal interests – Harvard Business Review or 100 Top Dad Jokes?

My contention is we all need a library – but on this occasion I don’t mean a physical collection, rather a mental filing cabinet of anecdotes, case studies, models and metaphors. It means we have something to bring forward when the need arises; and those moments are plentiful:

“I know what you mean. Just the other day…” Find common ground.

“How do I know this will work?” – use a case study to instil confidence.

“Hmm, I don’t really understand.” – explain it again, but use a metaphor.

“Tell me an occasion when..” – classic interview question.

“Three years ago I walked into a bar…” – start a talk with a grabber.

That last example is what I’d call a PPP (Pre-Prepared Presentation), a planned occasion where you position a story within a talk. The others are really SSS (Spontaneous Speaking Situations), conversational scenarios which require more improvisation.

Comedians do this when they deal with a heckler in the audience, something we refer to as ‘rehearsed spontaneity’. They know that this or that line will successfully put down the heckler, but they don’t know in advance which one they’ll be using.

A few years ago, my former business partner met a man at a networking event who ‘bigged up’ his company, claiming they were “really into CSR” (corporate social responsibility). She then asked him, “Oh really, what sort of stuff are you doing with CSR?” All of a sudden he became rather uncomfortable and blurted out, “Well, we’ve got a department that deals with that kind of thing.”

In that moment his credibility (and that of his organisation) was crushed; if only he’d be able to draw from his library!

The fact is that people don’t find this kind of thing easy. They have lots of knowledge but it’s not neatly packaged into what I call ‘wisdom parcels’. However, it is something you can learn so here are a few tips:

Always be hoovering

Be curious, like observational comedians. When you see or hear something interesting, log it, ponder it and see if there’s a point you can make from it. If you wanted to educate people about internal communications or living out your values, that CSR story is a corker.

Categorise your stories

Start a simple filing system: give each item a name or tag (“the one about the coffee cup”), identify the key elements of the story, determine the point or moral of the story.

See beneath the surface

Don’t just tell people what happened, tell them why it happened and what it might mean. Consider what motivates people to behave in a certain way. Consider the psychology behind behaviours – was it fear of missing out (FOMO) or a desire to fit in or a case of imposter syndrome?

Practise telling it

When you share experiences with others, encourage them to give you feedback on what they took from the story, and how you might tell it better.

Your ability to confidently draw on an ever-expanding library in multiple scenarios is nothing short of a super-power.

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