Toastmaster — January 2013


How speaking with power can land you a job.

Larisa’s eyes filled with tears of frustration as she sat at the kitchen table. This senior project manager, unemployed for six months after working for the same company for more than 20 years, was holding her fifth employment rejection letter. After a series of interviews for positions that fit her qualifications, Larisa suspected her interview skills were letting her down.

She saw the need to speak with a more powerful voice and wondered what she could do differently to convince interviewers that she was the right person for the job. Larisa’s struggles are not unique. What is unique is that she is my mother.

Speaking with power makes a huge difference during a speaking engagement, and no speaking opportunity carries higher stakes than a job interview. The following five-step process offers strategies for speaking with power. I have used it to successfully train job seekers—including my mother!

To speak with power you must first tell a story, one that has a purpose. To share knowledge, you must also engage an audience. Story, purpose, engagement, audience and knowledge— SPEAK, for short. By keeping these five points in mind, you will create a better connection with your audience, allowing you to get your point across more effectively.

1. Share a story rather than statistics. During interviews, too many people—including my mother—try to convince the interviewer of their superior knowledge instead of focusing on ways to engage the interviewer’s heart and mind. In her first five interviews, my mother proudly presented facts and statistics demonstrating her previous successes, but her interviewers failed to connect with the information she gave.

A more powerful approach is to tell an engaging story to illustrate your expertise. To get that job offer, you need to gain your interviewer’s empathy.

Interview stories should describe your key professional challenges, and demonstrate how you overcame these challenges. In one to two minutes, convey your story in a way that is vivid, concrete and suspenseful.

2. Have a purpose. No story is ever complete without a purpose. The purpose of an interview story is to demonstrate to your interviewer that you have the ability to solve company problems better than anyone else. Stating your purpose outright can sound arrogant, but failing to demonstrate why you are the best job candidate will make you appear uncertain. Sharing your purpose through a story helps the interviewer visualize how you will fit in at the company. My mother’s job experience would have been seen as more relevant if she had done this.

3. Engage Your Interviewer. Think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Visualize the 200,000 civil rights supporters gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. as King engaged the audience with his impassioned words. Next, imagine the same words spoken with an arrogant tone of voice—“I have a dream”—or in a more timid tone. How effective would this same message have been?

Think about the tone issue as you prepare for a job interview. How you tell your story is essential to engaging your interviewer. Like many before her, my mother was nervous in this situation, even though she is a true professional. She tended to shift in her seat, which made her seem unsure of herself. During an interview, remember that eye contact, vocal variety, body language and props (your resume, portfolio or presentation) are your tools of engagement. Use them effectively, and your interviewers will want to give you the job.

4. Know Your Audience. Remember, you are not the only one in the room who has an important goal—your interview- er does, too. His or her goal is to find the best person— the one who will solve problems, earn the company money and make the interviewer look good. That is why it’s essential to understand the needs of your audience.

When my mother interviewed at Chase Bank, she was quick to point out her expertise but did not seem to have a strong understanding of the bank’s structure or culture. As you prepare for an interview, learn the company’s vision, mission, objectives and culture. When you find areas where the objectives of your audience match your own, tailor your message so that this synergy becomes evident.

5. Use Your Knowledge
Effectively. Imagine the purpose of your story as a race car, the act of engaging your audience as the gas pedal and your knowledge as the driver. Your knowledge, after all, is what the interviewer seeks. My mother, like most people, presented her knowledge in its unadulterated form, hoping the interviewer would magically translate her previous job experience into actions that would fulfill the duties of the current position.

But therein lies the curse of knowledge— the human tendency to speak in abstract on subjects we are familiar with, while the uninitiated audience is hungering for a story to use as a framework. Sharing knowledge without telling a story is why so many crash and burn at an interview. If, on the other hand, your knowledge is conveyed with purpose and fueled by the engagement of your audience, you will rally the heart and mind of your interviewer.

Practice Pays Off

Practice is also key to the interview process. My mother joined Toastmasters. She learned the power of the five-step SPEAK process. She prepared five short stories about her job experience, and she later used three of these to answer questions about teamwork, overcoming challenges and creating innovation. Her purpose was to demonstrate she is a team player—one who loves solving complex challenges.

She engaged her audience through eye contact, vocal variety and body language, and surprised her interviewers by displaying three testimonials from former colleagues praising her skills and professionalism. She even went to LinkedIn to interview a current employee at the company she was interviewing with about the challenges of the job she was applying for. This helped my mother gain an understanding of her audience, and gave her confidence and a powerful platform on which to share her knowledge.

She now has a job that is more rewarding than the one she previously had—and it pays more.

Now it is your turn. SPEAK with power by telling stories with purpose that engage your audience, so you can share your knowledge—and get that job!


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  1. Pingback: FIVE STEPS TO A SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEW | dreambig-liveamazing

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