Day 15: Storytelling

I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica McCarthy, actress, producer, and founder of Show & Tell Stories Productions, a boutique video production company based in NYC that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, artists, and organizations share their story. I talked to her about the importance of storytelling for InnerGap (an upcoming interviewing platform for HR professionals and recruiters), for both those being interviewed AND those asking the questions.

Why storytelling? It’s a buzzword these days, but why is it especially important for those on the job market?

M: It’s important these days for anyone who’s trying to get their message across because these days there’s so much information out there with social media. If you’re just spitting out facts it just gets lost in the deluge of information. So, it’s really important when you want to be able to express something that’s unique to you and why people should be listening to you. You need to have a story.

InnerGap caters to HR professionals and recruiters. How can they ask the right questions to draw out people’s stories?

M: One of the main things that I would say for interviewers is that you’re looking for connection. You already have the person’s resume. One mistake that a lot of recruiters make is that they’re taking time to ask questions that they can get the answer to on the resume (ie. Where did you go to school? What was your major?) Instead they should be using the resume as a starting off point…What they’re ultimately trying to do is to get more information than just a fact on a piece of paper.

Recruiters should also ask questions that don’t require just a yes or no answer.  Recruiters usually have a set criteria of questions they’re going to ask, but they shouldn’t be afraid to be present in the moment. If someone says something that is very intriguing, feel free to follow up with that. You don’t have to stick to set questions. That way, you can really find out more about that person.

For those being interviewed, how should they respond to more spontaneous questions that don’t directly relate to their skill set?

M: When you’re being interviewed, you actually have a lot more control over the interview than most people think. Celebrities and politicians are great at this. Several things to note:

1. Be empowered.

2. Know ahead of time what your talking points are.

3. Do your research on the company. Preferably find out who will be interviewing you because again, it’s about the connection…don’t be afraid to show some of your human connection.

4. Yes – and (borrowed from the improv world) Don’t give a yes or no answer, even if you’re asked a question that just seems like yes or no. It’s always, ‘yes’ and then add a piece of information. That really keeps the conversation going and again spawns that connection between two people.



Be sure to check out Monica and more of her storytelling tips at!

2 + 2 =

Everyone is jumping on the storytelling bandwagon. I say that not in condescension, but in gladness. Before KONY 2012 went viral and was touted as a new media sensation, storytelling was already recognized as a crucial vehicle for awareness. Done well, it made all the difference between Hollywood classics versus duds, election winners versus losers, lasting brands versus unknown obscures.

It’s important, however, to distinguish between personal stories, everyday stories, and universal stories. The audience for each is different, and any storyteller will know that element is key.

With personal stories, certain events and thoughts are singularly significant to yourself and not very relevant to others. Bigger life milestones typically lend more mainstream value.  While our stories do indeed lie in the details, our biographies only come to life for others once they are structured around these bigger events.

Everyday stories- “today I did this”- are usually only interesting to people pertinent to the occasions being described. For instance, your trip to the grocery store and run-in with an old friend may only find ears among your spouse or close friends, if even. Unless, of course, there is some broader lesson; the trick in not boring people with the tedium of the everyday is drawing out a greater significance and making it clear to others.

Universal stories are what we’re all drawn to.  These are what come to mind when we think of storytelling. For years, stories have been told in easily digestible themes: Good overcoming Evil, Heroes versus Villains, Love conquering all.  Trite as they are, there is a universal level of truth that makes these messages extremely powerful.  They tug at our heartstrings, allow us to cross the barriers of time, and experience the similarities between ourselves (real and imagined).  It’s why we love stories. They affirm who we are.

For organizations and individuals seeking to scale – meaning they want to appeal to a large audience- it’s important to strike a fundamental chord. This doesn’t merely mean communicating. This means inciting something within the audience, a core belief or value, that gives meaning to our life.

Wall-E and Toy Story director Andrew Stanton gave a phenomenal TED talk on Clues to a Good Story. He says that all good stories should give a promise that what will come is worth the audience’s time, all the while, leading them to believe they are crafting the conclusion themselves.  “Don’t give them 4; give them 2+ 2.”

Whether on an individual, day-to-day, or universal level, we spend a significant chunk of time constructing stories to make sense of our world.  The difference simply lies in which of these three levels we immerse ourselves in.

I’m intrigued at the universal level. My current curiosity is how to celebrate start-ups and self-starters as a norm. I want to create a sticky but healthy narrative around seriously good ideas that push society to new heights. Through stories, we can establish a new paradigm about the upcoming generation, a generation which is bound to usher in a new era, one where meaningful projects are not anomalies and everyone is able to unlock their full potential. And while we’re at it, save the world from doomsday. Yes, Hollywood is calling- bring on the cliche “save the world” theme – but isn’t that what we live for?

A writing ingredient which, like a dash of salt, I can’t write without is: “Start as close to the end as possible.” (Thanks Kurt Vonnegut.) Disney tales end in happiness. Good triumphs over evil and the characters live happily ever after.  I hope my 2 + 2 yields wonder.  This story, our story, whatever it becomes, shall end in genuine wonder: wonder at the possibilities, wonder at what we could create if we just lived our lives with intention, wonder at what happens when talent is put to use. That’s the story I aim to create. The best stories infuse wonder.