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Your Professional Anthologies and Why They Matter

“The story — from “Rumplestiltskin” to War and Peace — is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

— Ursula Le Guin, American fantasy and science fiction author

When I declared my Strategic Communications major at High Point University, rather than pursuing a STEM program I had been considering at another institution, the follow-up question I received most often (and most frankly) was simply, “So what do communications majors even do?” The subtext of this question asks, “since everyone already communicates every day, how can an ambitious and driven student fill four years of coursework honing that skill?”

To be honest, the first time I was put on the spot with the question, I was a bit perturbed and unable to answer coherently. My first instinct was to inform the asker, a friend of a friend in a pre-med program, that my degree will prevent me from framing questions in such a backhanded way, but I bit my tongue. Reflecting on this conversation (okay, maybe it was replaying it in my head until I came up with a witty comeback) led me to understand the first rule of professional communication: People only know what you tell them.

I promise this is not a dig at the intelligence and experience of the people around you! This rule only works within the framework of the study of Communication, where what you tell people includes all of the communication you exchange with someone - verbal, nonverbal, visual and written. 

My weak answer to the probing question of “what do you even do?” was something along the lines of “um, uh make sure everybody in an organization knows what everybody else is doing, and a little bit of stuff about telling the general public too…public relations, marketing...”

Between the vague language, filler words, the closed body language and embarrassed posture, my answer indicated that I had no idea what I was talking about which was painfully ironic given the subject matter. I had proven the inquirer correct, even though I have always been passionate about the art of communication in all of its forms. In this situation, though, my prior experience, understanding of the field, and enthusiasm for the work did not matter because people only know what you tell them.

I don’t hang out with this sharp-tongued acquaintance very often anymore, but she taught me an important lesson about communication- invest some thought and energy into developing your Professional Anthology, the set of stories you share in working spaces that reflect your values, strengths, ambitions, needs, goals, or any other key motivating factor in your work - and tell the stories often.

Because these stories are so personal to you, spending the time to highlight the key takeaways, major contributors, and other elements of the narrative will not make your story sound like a pitch. Instead, you will tell the people to whom you are speaking that you are aware of your goals and capable of articulating your needs and therefore a reliable connection. People only know what you tell them, so tell them your best story.

Additionally, all of the consultants out there should be developing a similar tool, your company’s Client Anthology. As you work with your clients, dedicate portions of your time throughout the contract to framing your project in story form. Not only will this remind your client of the value you bring with every update but will leave your contract with a developed story that you can add to your company’s portfolio. This is especially important if you work in a highly technical field and your clients may not understand your process. Make sure someone on your team can translate your work into an accessible story so that the people who have put their faith in your ability to deliver can understand.

This is the first in a series about Professional and Client Anthologies. Different content will pop up between the Anthology posts, but stay tuned for more details about building and sharing your vision so that you are prepared for opportunities as they come. If you would like to book a consultation to find out how Change Often can help you build your brand through storytelling, fill out the Contact Us field and we will get back to you at our earliest ability. Comment below with any thoughts or feedback you would like to share!