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At a Job Interview, Think of Your Experience as a Bunch of Brightly Coloured Story Balloons

When you have a job interview, you have to “show, not tell.”Try not to say, “I will work hard.” Blecchhh. . . how cliche! SHOW how you work hard and work BETTER. In other words, if the interviewer asks you a question such as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” he or she wants more information than “I successfully meet challenges when I’m faced with them.” Too vague!

You will want to give a story such as the one below (and this actually happened in my own professional life when I was marketing and sales director of a U.S. publishing company):

It was September 12 and 13, 2001. The Twin Towers had just crashed. People were devastated, but they also wanted to buy any and all available books about the Twin Towers. It just so happened that my publishing company had recently published such a book. Demand for the title was overwhelming. I was dealing with my own shock of the situation—we all were—yet I was able to work with people in production, customer service, and acquisitions to develop a production plan that would immediately meet the public need, and yet not produce too many so that we would be inundated with returns. It was a horrible time in our history, yet we had a public service to do, and we did it very well. (We ended up with very few books being returned.)

In the story, above, I illustrated how I was able to demonstrate team work and leadership under severe emotional stress. Now think about your own experience: which key moments can be transformed into gripping narratives?

Think of these stories as brightly coloured balloons. Before the job interview, make sure you have created at least three or four such narratives. Frankly, some of the stories could be interchangeable. I could use the Twin Towers story to answer the question “How well do you deal with stress?” as well as “What is the most significant thing you have ever done?” Don’t be afraid of including things you have done in your personal, non-work life as well. Did you run a marathon for charity and raise $3,000? Did you take a creative writing course? Both these activities show an eagerness to do new things, which is a quality highly valued by most employers. Don’t forget, too, that many of your extra-curricular activities demonstrate work-related skills such as organisation, time management and so on.

The  graphic below shows some theoretical episodes in a life that could be balloon stories to illustrate some of the questions you might encounter.

Story balloons 2

Before you go to the interview, have stories available to answer the following questions:

  • How well do you work under stress?
  • How successfully do you meet challenges?
  • How do you demonstrate leadership?
  • What is your strong point?
  • What is your weak point?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

Yes, even for the last question, tell a story that connects your values with the company’s values. Perhaps both you and the company honour innovation and creativity. Mention that you, too, demand creativity in your work, and tell a story that shows how you have done this, perhaps both in your personal and work life. (Don’t get too personal.) Mention that you look forward to an exciting career with that organisation, which can give you space to grow and flourish.

Even if you’re pretty sure you wouldn’t want to stay with that company, NEVER say so. . . in the case above, you would highlight your creative side, and discuss how your creativity could benefit the organisation for years in the future.

Remember: SHOW, not TELL.

When the time is ripe, pull that red balloon story out of your mind and use it.

I am a communications coach with Eloquent English in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and I can help you find your story: in your presentation, business report, “elevator pitch”, CV, website or job interview.
www.eloquentenglish.com
Email: arashap@eloquentenglish.com
“It’s your story. Get it right.”

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Humour: Careful how you use it when giving presentations in other countries

I was attending a training session in Singapore. The audience was primarily Singaporean, with some people from the U.K. and the USA. The trainer was a friendly, blustery gentleman from the USA. He genially beamed at his audience and thought he’d start off the session with a bang.

He told a joke.

Let’s just say—his session started with a whimper. The Singaporeans stared at him, stony faced. As an American, I kind of liked the quip and snickered. The Brits smiled politely.

The lesson here: BE CAREFUL WHEN USING HUMOUR. While scholars have noted that almost every culture worldwide does recognise, appreciate and produce humour, the kind of humour that different people like varies greatly from culture to culture.

What IS humour? Charles Darwin suggested that it is a form of communication that binds people (and others) together—indeed, many of the apes engage in laughter. Freud—being Freud—thought of humour as the release of sexual or aggressive tension. Contemporary scholars note that humour happens when we are given surprising information which is resolved in a bizarre manner.1 That is true. Think of a typical sit-com or movie and how people react to a situation. It’s their strange reactions that are so funny (Mr. Bean!).

Many of us will travel to different countries and work with people from different countries. Please note: what you think is funny—others might find un-funny. Here are some quick thoughts about the use of humour cross-culturally.

  1. Share common ground. It’s easy to crack a joke or tell a humorous narrative when you and your audience share the same culture or experiences. You and they will have “insider” knowledge that will allow you to tell jokes everyone will appreciate.
  2. Clear language. Make sure you do not use ambiguous language when being humorous. Keep the language simple. And if you are giving a joke in a language that is not your mother tongue—go over the material with someone who is a native speaker of that language to make sure you do not have some unintentional bits of humour.
  3. Body language. Some cultures (France and Italy) adore physical, slapstick humour. Other cultures (Malaysia) do not.2

Below is a very unscientific list of a few countries and the type humour they exhibit. (As always with this type breakdown: this list gives generalities. Different people in different countries will exhibit a wide range of humour. No generality will work for everyone.)

  1. Australia: Not only was the country “officially founded” by British convicts, it is DANGEROUS: snakes, treacherous waters, insects—if it’s hazardous, Australia has it. Ozzies have learnt to laugh at these conditions, with “no worries!” as their rallying cry. Folks from Down Under love to throw darts at people in authority. (Criticising politicians is a national sport here.) Similar to its British counterpart, Australian humour can also be dry and ironic. Australians love to joke, and don’t separate work and play—which can confuse some Asian co-workers, who often keep both realms separate. Aussies are serious about the work they do, but are also committed to having fun at the same time.3
  2. U.K.: Many people consider the Brits to have the most astonishing sense of humour in the world. Certainly, British comedies, with their blend of slapstick, irony, and verbal wizardry, are adored worldwide. People in the U.K. love to use irony—using the meaning of a word to denote its exact opposite—which can be wrongly perceived as sarcasm (see USA, below).4

  3. USA: The humour is like the Americans themselves: straightforward and un-subtle. (While many Americans love British humour, some will mistake the famous British irony for sarcasm.) Americans will often use humour to put themselves down, which can seem strange to many Asians who come from a culture that emphasises keeping one’s dignity (“saving face”). USA humour is often aggressive, and Americans love to tell sexual jokes. (However, it is not advisable to tell off-colour jokes at a business meeting!)5

  4. People’s Republic of China: Chinese jokes can be very hard for a Westerner to fathom, in large part because of its intricate written characters: they can be read left to right, right to left, or even from top to bottom. Many jokes will play with this positioning, so this specific humour will elude even the most open-minded Westerner. The Chinese may find jokes about one’s personal life as being—well—too personal. Contemporary Chinese comedians may tell sarcastic jokes about Fu’erdai,or the ‘rich second generation’: spoiled children born of newly wealthy parents.6

If and when you find yourself in a new culture and country—listen. Learn. And soon you’ll be laughing with them, and they will be laughing with—and not at—you.

 

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1https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culture-conscious/201205/whats-funny
2https://www.toastmasters.org/Magazine/Articles/Being-Funny-Across-Cultures
3http://www.meldmagazine.com.au/2011/09/aussie-humour/ & http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-humour
4https://www.toastmasters.org/Magazine/Articles/Being-Funny-Across-Cultures
5http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-04/06/content_321053.htm
6http://gbtimes.com/life/getting-sense-chinese-humour & http://www.expatfocus.com/c/aid=2152/articles/china/learning-to-laugh-in-china-appreciating-the-chinese-sense-of-humour/