Grace Hopper 2016: Learn to Sell Your Big Idea through Storytelling

Your big idea might be the foundation of a hot new start-up, your company’s new engineering program, or a pitch for that perfect role you’ve always wanted. The workshop promised to teach us how to engage our audience, simplify our message, tell our story and get results. Did it deliver? YES!

The workshop presenters were Caryl Kruse, Connie Dudum, and Karen Franks, all of Cisco. They were high-energy (great for a 9am session), well prepared, and clearly practiced what they preached.

TL;DR: Presentation materials (slides, handouts, worksheets) are on Box.

The three guiding principles you need to follow are:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Create clear, simple messages
  3. Tell your story

Karen shared a great quote from Seth Godin: “If your audience isn’t listening, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.” Whether you are communicating with 1 person or thousands, you need to know your audience.

One great way to get started is to do a simple audience analysis:

  • Who are they?
  • What is their level of knowledge?
  • What do they need?
  • How am I going to solve their problem?
  • Are there any hot buttons to consider?

We then got to practice this by doing a live exercise with our tablemates and getting to know a bit about them.

To illustrate clear, simple messaging, Caryl shared a story of how she convinced a busy executive with a short attention span to create a position for her in her org that would enable a career change she wanted. The key to clear, simple messaging is:

  • Know what you want to tell them
  • Know what you want them to do
  • Keep messages short and relevant
  • Use easy-to-understand language (and if you can create a mental picture with it, even better)
  • Review before delivering

Caryl then talked about the Flesh-Kincaid readability tool. It shows reading ease and grade level of the lanugage of your writing. Ideally, the goal is to have a reading ease between 60 and 70 and a grade level between 6 and 7 (unless you are speaking to a highly technical, highly domain-specific audience). This article scores a 67.5 and a 6.6. :-)

Connie was up next to talk about storytelling. The keys to storytelling are:

  • Give your story a structure
  • Start by storyboarding
  • Sprinkle storytelling elements

Connie shared how she built a story to convince people at Cisco to move (some) executive coaching in house. She was effective in telling the story from beginning to end (and in achieving her goal of doing something she was passionate about).

Key storytelling elements you can use to tell your story include:

  • Anecdotes and personal stories
  • Imagery and videos
  • Quotes, metaphors, and analogies
  • Examples and case studies

We then got to practice storytelling ourselves and share with our neighbor what our favorite place on earth was and sell it to them. We used what we knew about them from our first live exercise and practiced using clear, simple messages and storytelling elements. I learned about Malvan in India and I shared my love of Bora Bora. Both stories talked of beautiful, uncrowded beaches and enabled you to spend quality time with loved ones.

I look forward to leveraging these techniques when I return to the office!



Posts and thoughts from #womenintech who want #diversity in #technology and to share their expertise and experiences

Lori Fraleigh

Developer tools gEEk; Product Lead for @AzureSDK at @Microsoft; Queen of Corner Cases; Purdue & Stanford grad; Space Nerd & Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut