by Jennifer Kushell
RECENTLY I HAD TO CALL A BIG-TIME attorney whom I’d never met. I wanted to talk to him about a project I was working on. Our company was putting on a conference for young people looking for insight on how to climb to the top of their industry and we wanted him to speak about his work in representing some famous clients.
While I had a great referral from a mutual friend, I was a bit nervous because everyone had told me the guy was a powerhouse. So, when he picked up the phone, I was all ready to lay my picture on him, but he wasn’t ready to hear it. As soon as I said “Hello,” he jumped out with “Hey, Jennifer! How are you? Tell me what you’re up to. What’s your story?
For a second, I froze, uncertain exactly what to tell him. What is my story?
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Asking someone to help tell his or her story is a loaded question. Your story is made up of a lot of things — where you come from, who you are, what your aspirations are, your mission. If you can answer these questions, odds are you’re pretty far ahead of the game. If you can’t, you’re probably missing out on some great opportunities.
Every day, for instance, incredible people slip in and out of our lives unnoticed. The trick is to identify them, meet them, then draw them into our lives, even if just for a few precious moments. How well we capitalize on these opportunities, especially the unexpected ones, has a lot to do with how well we can tell our own story. Telling our story well is what baits them to engage with us.
The Young and Successful are always ready to sell themselves and what they’re working on. Let’s face it, whether our career defines us as such or not, we’re all in sales. In some way, or some form, we all have to sell ourselves every day.
A twenty-something guy named Tyson once told me a funny story that illustrates this point perfectly. On the way to a big meeting with the prospective client, Tyson stepped into a big corporate office building with his firms two senior sales managers. While Tyson had done most of the research in preparing for the meeting, his responsibility here was simply to back up his bosses if they needed more background info.
Frustrated with these orders, he went along, hoping he’d get a chance to do something more than just sit and nod along for an hour. So just as they all pushed through a crowd of rushed executives in the lobby, his two bosses managed to elbow their way through the closing doors of the first available elevator. Tyson didn’t make it, though.
Left behind and slightly irritated, Tyson waited for the next available elevator to show up. When it did, he pressed the button for the thirty-second floor and began to adjust his collar and smooth out his hair.
Well, it turns out an older guy behind Tyson was peering over his shoulder checking out the cover of the glossy presentation he had painstakingly put together. “Are you coming in for the big presentation today?” the gentleman inquired. Tyson nodded and asked him if he’d be there, but the man looked disappointed and said, “I’d really like to hear what you have to show us, but I’m afraid I have another meeting I can’t get out of. What’s it all about anyway?” Surprised that the interest,
Tyson gave the guy a quick pitch, pulling facts and figures out of his head and an astonishing pace. The more impressed the guy looked, the further Tyson continued.
He was anxious for the chance to share the ideas he’d come up with, which his bosses were about to pass off as there own. A couple minutes and a few stops later, the door opened to the thirty-second floor and they stepped out into the reception area only to find Tyson’s bosses waiting and smirking at having left their young associate behind. The man then tapped Tyson on the shoulder, told him that he enjoyed their chat, and wished him good luck in the meeting.
An hour later, the meeting ended and the three got back in the elevator to leave. The mood this time was very different. The presentation hadn’t gone too smoothly and they doubted they’d get the business. But back at the office, there was a message waiting for them.
A secretary explained that the people they’d just met with had already called to let them know that they’d won the account because the CEO was so impressed with Tyson’s presentation. Thoroughly confused, they looked at each other in disbelief. The CEO wasn’t even at the meeting. And besides, Tyson hadn’t managed to get a word in the whole time. Then it hit them. The guy in the elevator! After everything, Tyson had landed the account with his little elevator pitch, in a totally random encounter with the number-one decision-maker, the CEO. You can be sure that was the last time Tyson was ever told to stay quiet in the meeting.
To be successful, we all have to be able to sell ourselves quickly and clearly. Just think: How can other people buy into your vision and what you’re all about if they don’t know what you have to offer in the first place? One of the most remarkable things about the Young and Successful is that they almost always have a story to tell that defines them. When asked what they’re up to, they never utter the useless response, “Uh, nothing much.”
If you want to join the ranks of the Young and Successful, get your story down and have it ready. You’ll need it soon, and often at some pretty unexpected times.
Don’t worry if you’re not quite certain what your story is right now. In the upcoming issues of this magazine, we’re going to show you a process that will help you better understand and express who you are (even if you’re not entirely certain who that is right now).
From the book “Secrets of the Young and Successful” by Jennifer Kushell and Scott Kaufman. http://ysn.com
This post originally published January 23, 2017
Jennifer Kushell is founder and CEO of the YSN Network. She has been a relentless advocate for young leaders and entrepreneurs since her first year in college. Today, Jen is a global thought leader on youth employment and entrepreneurship, a celebrated speaker, trusted advisor, outspoken evangelist and New York Times Best Selling author of Secrets of the Young & Successful. She is a frequent delegate of the US State Department entrepreneurship missions, Youth Advisor to the UN’s Sustainable Development Committee, and a Trustee of the Global Youth Empowerment Fund. Building YSN into a global resource for the billion young people entering the workforce is her dream in the making.