The Speaking Module

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One Size Fits All

These basic stories are building blocks. Just as a piece of lumber can be cut into many different shapes and have many completely unique uses, each of your stories does not only answer one unique question.  Your stories are one size fits all. With practice you will find that you can use the same story to answer two seemingly unrelated questions.

For example, a question about teamwork and working under pressure can both be answered by a story about your experience playing intramural basketball. The story could describe how you had to work as a team in order to get into the playoffs, spending time practicing together, coordinating plays, whatever was necessary for the team to advance.  Alternatively, the story could focus upon the clutch shots that you made that season in order to win the game in the last few seconds of play under enormous pressure. The basic story is the same: your experiences playing basketball.

The questions were different, but you customized the story to fit the question. With practice you should be able to answer almost any question with just a few stock stories that can be customized.

Find the Bridges

Some questions will lend themselves more readily to a story than others.  You must have a set of basic stories ready that can be modified to fit the occasion. You must “find the bridges” in the questions offered to make sure your stories get told.

In WWII, the US Army used Bailey bridges.  Bailey bridges were bridges made of prefabricated steel sections that were carried around and could be thrown together at a moment’s notice, allowing the army to move quickly across any obstacle and get to where they wanted to go.

You need to find bridges, i.e. opportunities to tell your stories.  Look for any chance to turn a standard question about anything, into a bridge to begin telling your story.  For example, “What is your job title?”

On the surface that might not seem like the ideal bridge, but with a little insight your response might become:

“My job title is Product Line Manager.  I was responsible for everything from the development of new products, to the obsolescence of old products.  Marketing, sales, engineering, and production of the entire product line fell under myresponsibility.  One of the products was even my own idea based on feedback I received from my interactions with our customers.  In the first year, it alone had achieved a sales level of over…”

The key to remember is that just because a question is asked as a closed ended question (yes/no, or one word answers), doesn’t mean that you have to answer it as a closed ended question. Answer the question asked, but then find a way to develop your answer and a bridge to a good story of yours. With an open mind, the most closed ended of questions can become a launch pad into a story.

Pregnant Pause

A good story can usually wind its way down a long path. There is always a danger that you will begin to bore the interviewer, who may wonder if an end is in sight.  Some interviewers may get worried that they won’t be able to get through the fifteen questions on their list during the allotted time.  Therefore, find natural breaks in your story and pause for a second. If the interviewer maintains eye contact or asks continuation questions, then keep going. But this will give them a chance to stop the story and ask a different question if they are getting bored and want to move on.

Taking the Final Step

By trying to answer each of your Part 2 questions with a basic story, you will be able to transition nicely into the final step, Part 3.  Part 3 questions are based upon your answers to Part 2 questions and will be asked at the interviewer’s discretion.  By using the story techniques listed above, you will have already determined the path that the interviewer will take with his follow-up Part 3 questions. The interviewer will naturally ask questions that tie into your story and you will already be prepared for those questions and will ace Part 3 as easily as the others.

Practice Makes Perfect

Don’t try to answer every question by shooting from the hip. You’ll spend most of your time trying to think of what happened and repeating yourself. Think of the classic stories that you could tell and then practice going over them with your friends, explaining how you successfully achieved the goal, or took charge and gave leadership to your group project.  You don’t want to have the story memorized, because it will become stale in the telling, but you want it to be smooth.  This story must be live and in living color, where the interviewer can see himself taking part on the sidelines and watching the situation take place.

 Have your friends and family members quiz you by asking you random questions and see how well you can adapt to the question and give a lucid response.

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