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Balloons and job interviews? Yes. All my blogs talk about the importance of storytelling and active listening in all forms of communication: “small talk” in the office, in writing science articles, and in acing that job interview.
When you have a job interview, you have to “show, not tell.” Never say, “I will work hard.” Blecchhh. 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, leadership under stress, both professional and emotional. THAT is the kind of story you would want to have at your disposal.
Think of these stories as brightly coloured balloons. Before the job interview, make sure you have created at least three or four of these stories. Frankly, some of the stories could be interchangeable. I could use this 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?” Have a story ready for the following questions:
- How well do you work under stress?
- How successfully do you meet challenges?
- What is your strong point?
- What is your weak point?
- How do you demonstrate leadership?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? (Yes, even for a question like this, have a story ready: this story should demonstrate how you have taken some job or task and made it better / more efficient. That story will show how you are always looking to improve both the work situation and yourself. Then conclude the story by tying it in to the job interview at hand: “So you can see that I am always eager to try new things, to do things in a better way. I look forward to doing this, and perhaps rising within your company.” Even if you’re pretty sure you won’t want to stay with that company, NEVER SAY that . . . always show your creative, innovative side, and how that can benefit the company you’re interested in now.)
So. Start thinking of stories.
SHOW, not TELL.
When the time is ripe, pull that red balloon story out of your mind and use it.
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How can you have a hero in a scientific paper??
You can. You should.
Much of this blog comes from a book called The Art of Scientific Storytelling by Dr Rafael Luna. If you are a student in the sciences and struggle with writing your papers, run, don’t walk, to buy this work. Luna—both a fiction AND science writer—said many of the things I had been intuiting, but just hadn’t nailed down.
Several years ago I was teaching academic writing to post-graduate (MA and Ph.D.) students, all second-language English speakers. I used a famous textbook that dutifully divided scientific papers into various sections (the usual: Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, etc.) and then examined the structure of each section. It was all right—bone dry, but all right.
Even when my students understood this information, their writing was often terrible. It wasn’t just their grammar (though they needed help in that regard), something was missing. Slowly, I discovered that what was missing was a sense of—story. A sense of telling their story to an audience of flesh-and-blood humans.
Granted, any scientific paper will be a complicated story for a specialized audience, with lots of complex vocabulary and information. However, as Luna (and others) have pointed out, most scientific stories share many commonalities with their “less-educated” cousins, the story. They still have action, a hero (yes, a hero), change, and a conclusion. Let’s break this down, comparing the scientific paper with a good presentation that tells a gripping story:
|Take your audience on a journey to a new idea.||
Take your audience on a journey to a new idea.
|Lead the audience on a hero’s quest: they will be faced with a problem. You will demonstrate how your idea can lead them to a brighter future.||
Make sure your main character (chemical reaction, a geographical feature, e.g.) demonstrates a clear problem to overcome (hypothesis), and how solving this problem will contribute to the scientific community.
|Influence the audience to accept your point of view and take action by using both factual evidence and moving stories.||
Take your protagonist on a series of experiments that will reveal something new that can benefit the scientific community.
|Tailor your story for the audience, using vivid language and imagery that will most move them.||
Tailor your story for your particular audience within the scientific community, using strong language that moves your paper forward.
Once I was able to communicate this idea to my students, they slowly began to incorporate the idea of the ACTIVE STORY into their papers. Slooowly, their papers began to improve. That was great to see!
Note: An excellent way for a scientist to really be able to communicate his or her research to the general public is to be able to write and speak an elevator pitch. This can be such fun to do—but it is NOT easy. That will be next.