Storytelling Opens a Window of Understanding

Photo of Jared Edens with his son Holden and wife Rachael
Jared Edens with his son Holden and wife Rachael.

Learning a new skill is always satisfying—whether it’s picking up a few words in a foreign language on vacation, improving your golf swing or acquiring a useful parenting skill. But it’s especially satisfying when that new skill is far outside of your wheelhouse, yet can have a big impact on many areas of your life. For me, that new skill is—wait for it—storytelling.

As a finance manager at Cisco, my background is in “hard skills” such as accounting and math. “Soft skills” like storytelling are a little foreign to me. But I learned recently that becoming a better storyteller is a fantastic way to improve and develop myself as an employee—especially when it comes to telling the story of what I actually do at Cisco.

That has always been a challenge for me. Again and again I’ve found that, whenever I’ve tried to explain my job to people, even Cisco employees, their eyes would glaze over. Their attention would wander. I was either getting too technical or too complex, or both. I didn’t have a compelling way to tell my story.

Even Rachael, my wife of over six years, didn’t really understand what it was that I did every day at work. She knew I worked for Cisco and she understood a little of what the company did, but I wasn’t able to explain to her how I helped the company change the world.

This was a source of frustration for me. I’ve always been a firm believer in the view that everything has a sales element to it, whether you’re trying to sell yourself in a job interview or trying to sell an idea in a meeting. The ability to tell a story or communicate your ideas to another is essential in many areas of life. So when I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop to help me hone this skill, I jumped at the chance.

Photo of poster
When I saw a poster asking “So, what do you do?” I knew this would be a great opportunity.

Given by a San Francisco-based acting troupe, the Brand Storytelling workshop was incredibly useful, interactive and tons of fun. The attendees worked at telling our Cisco stories to each other. What was it that we did at work? What would happen if our jobs weren’t done? What would happen if Cisco didn’t exist?

I left the workshop with a newfound confidence about how to describe my job to others, whether they’re in finance or business or a layperson. Through storytelling, I’m able to connect my role with Cisco’s brand promise of “securely connecting everything to make anything possible.” And I’m just more comfortable telling the story.

The proof, of course, is in the pudding. So here’s my 30-second elevator pitch about what I do for a living:

“I review sales contracts that Cisco enters into, and provide policy and the appropriate accounting guidance so that the information we provide to Wall Street is accurate and protects Cisco’s reputation.”

Voilà! Through this exercise, I’ve developed a new understanding of the importance of storytelling. It can help you relate what you do on a day-to-day basis with what Cisco does as a whole, and it can connect your personal story to Cisco’s brand. So now, when I meet someone and the inevitable question comes up, “What do you do?”, I’m proud to tell my story. Becoming a better storyteller is something I can take into my personal life as well as my career, and you can, too. All roles require some communication and I’m stoked to have improved this skill. Best of all, now my wife finally understands what I do at work!

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