Over this past weekend, I had my annual “lunch on the lawn” party, big long tables in the garden laden with fresh food from the local farms and the ocean. It is an event people look forward to, so no one ever turns down the invitation. Note to readers — invite people to lunch on weekends. They are rarely booked, more relaxed, eat less, drink little, and stay for no more than three hours. It's also memorable because no one else does it.

Each year, after people have gotten settled and served their food, I put out a question to the guests. This year's was “where were you and what were you doing when you were 25 years old?” Most people know the routine, so it's only a surprise to the first timers and they are never asked to be the first to speak.

The answers are always fascinating both in detail and by the fact that you would think after being friends with someone for decades you would know everything there is to know — but you don't. So there were many “Really, you were an English teacher during the busing in Boston?” and “You hitch hiked around Europe alone! Who knew?”

As the host, I know everyone at the table and even I get shocked now and then, but rarely. (“You mean he was married to someone else when you first met?”) What does surprise me is how poorly very successful people tell their stories (one of my guests founded HBO, another started the Food Network, and yet another was on the Board of the American Stock Exchange, not exactly slouches). They downplay their accomplishments and minimize their brands.

I thought this is exactly what my coaching clients have trouble with — telling their story in an interesting and memorable way that creates and sells their brand, and coaxes the listener to say, “Tell me more.” I couldn't help myself. Next thing I knew I was gently coaching my guests to tell the best parts and be less humble. I asked, “When you were working at the VA what degree were you earning?” She said, “Oh! a PhD!” No one knew Doris had her Doctorate and they were dually impressed and turned their conversation to her passion for people with disabilities and life-long dedication to giving back. That's a far better conversation than real estate prices and traffic congestion.

Let me give you an example of what you can do in 30 seconds in an interview situation with a similar type question.

Interviewer: “Tell me about an accomplishment early in your career.”

Person being interviewed: “I was selected by the University President to be one of three students to represent the school in a global technology conference in Beijing. (Pause) It was the first time UNC had participated and I was the only Latina on the panel. (Pause) We were very well received. (Pause) We then continued to collaborate with the Chinese faculty. (Pause) Once I earned my graduate degree, I was invited back as a visiting professor and spent the rest of the year touring China.”

Here's the formula the person being interviewed used and how her words were heard by the listener in the same 30 seconds.

Set the stage: I was selected by the University President (knows and is respected by people of influence) to be one of three students (highly selective and probably competitive, can work in a team) to represent the school (can be trusted to say and do the right thing) at a global technology conference (respected expertise) in Beijing (global perspective).

Show how you made a difference: It was the first time UNC had participated (good school, innovative leader) and I was the only Latina on the panel (brings diversity, able to tolerate being different and willing to add another perspective). We were very well received (measures success but does not gloat).

Lasting result(s): We then continued to collaborate with the Chinese faculty (initiative to take opportunities to the next level, able to work with a variety of people and at great distances, project driven).

The WOW: Once I earned my graduate degree (has advanced education), I was invited back (obviously performed well and impressed others) as a visiting professor (given status) and spent the rest of the year touring China (can have fun while learning, able to take some risks).

So whether you're coming to my house for lunch, meeting new people at a networking meeting, or the person being interviewed, it is imperative you think of your responses as selling your brand, and craft your answers using the easy formula — set the stage, what was different and what you did, results, and the WOW! Make it easy and interesting for the listener. They don't need to know every detail. If they're curious they'll ask for more. If you have satisfied their need, move on to the next question or another person.

Why Don't You Have a Career Coach?

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive coach, career coach and management consultant based in New York City. She shares with success driven executives and professionals techniques, skills and goal setting strategies that accelerates their career trajectory, increases people management skills, and assists them in career change or job transitions. Receive Jane’s free “Competitive Edge Report” and the free audio download “Creating a Career Strategy” by visiting http://www.ExecutiveCoachNY.com.