September 2011 Archives

Novelist Jess Walter has spent most of his life in Spokane, WA, and a lot of that time wanting to leave.

Jess_walter-1-210-exp.jpg He expresses his ambivalence about Spokane in a cleverly written piece, “Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington,” which mixes Spokane fun facts with pathos-filled anecdotes about life in that city. The piece, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly 37, does not seem to be available online, but you can get a little of the flavor of it in a blog post by Luke Baumgarten.

Walter read “Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington” during a talk at a library about an hour away from me (in fact, a town between here and Spokane) last night. The author utterly charmed the audience with his storytelling.

I had read just one of his novels, Citizen Vince, which I gave only a grade of B because I don’t really enjoy stories about the mob, and [SPOILER ALERT] the book includes a gratuitous and brutal dog killing. But I certainly recognize Walter’s superlative writing ability and humor and would love to read more of his work.

In addition to Citizen Vince, Spokane has been the setting for a couple of Walter’s other novels and several of his short stories. His love/hate relationship with Spokane clearly is important to his storytelling.

On the drive to and from Walter’s presentation, my husband and I appreciated, as we do just about every waking moment, the beauty of the Eastern Washington scenery.

I feel completely inadequate as a writer because I have never been able to convey the meaning, power, transformative quality, and wonder of having found this glorious place to live three years ago this week. We were coming out of a rough time in our lives, and this place was exactly the medicine we needed to heal us. We know it will sustain our souls for the rest of our lives. Like Jess Walter, we know on a profound level what it’s like for a place to become such an important component in one’s story.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


This week saw lots of buzz over the new Facebook profile timeline, which will be rolled out to users on the 29th. I couldn’t help loving the emphasis on story, as in the tagline “Tell your life story with a new kind of profile” on Facebook’s page about Timeline.

INtroTimeline.jpg The story focus does raise questions, though, especially for story purists. Will the content in people’s timeline’s really tell their stories? And my friend Stephanie West Allen raised the question, “Is Facebook writing our memoirs for us?”

Of course I couldn’t really offer an opinion on either question without experiencing Timeline for myself, so I deployed the quasi-hack that Facebook developers can use to get Timeline a little early. Below you can see a screenshot of mine (I have Timeline now, but it’s visible only to me until the rollout on the 29th).

Does Timeline really tell my story? I’ve always contended that we tell fragments of stories in social media, but they are largely incomplete and unconnected. Dr. Ananda Mitra, social media expert and Chair of the Communication Department at Wake Forest University, calls these fragments “narbs,” for “narrative bits.” Timeline, I believe, does move a bit closer to connecting the fragments by organizing content nicely and attractively. The story will always be incomplete because we will always have parts of the story we are unwilling to share.

I also truly love the fact that I can easily go back to the very beginning of my Facebook life. I was an early adopter of Facebook in 2005 because I had an .edu email address, which was required before the venue opened itself up to all users in 2006. My very first activity was in September 2005. With Timeline, I can easily relive memories — at least Facebook memories — from six years ago to today.

Which brings us to Stephanie’s question. For the most part, we choose the content that appears on our own profiles. Facebook is not writing my memoir, but Timeline would be an awesome tool and memory jog if I were writing my memoir.

Regrettably, I don’t keep a journal. When I first started using the Internet in 1993, thought of the emails I sent to my best friend as journaling. Today, we email much less, and I journal to a small extent through Facebook. Those emails — if I still had them all — would provide much more depth of detail and emotion as fodder for my memoir, but I still believe Facebook’s timeline would be a terrific tool for remembering and reconstructing should I ever choose to.

It’s true that I am disinclined to criticize Facebook much. The platform’s frequent changes bother only marginally. I am the first to admit that Facebook is a big part of my online life. While I think the “Tell your life story” claim may be a bit overblown, I am hardly inclined to complain about the recognition of the importance of our stories. Kat'sTimeline.jpg

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


TellMeCoverREVSmaller.jpg I got wind that Google Checkout might not be the most attractive payment option for my workbook, so I added a PayPal button. The ebook will be emailed to you upon payment of the bargain price of $2.99 via PayPal. See the payment options and download the Table of contents here.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Lou Hoffman’s telling infographic has been making the rounds this week. In the blog post in which he introduced it, he writes: “… we contend there’s often a gap between the content developed by the PR function and the type of content needed by journalists, bloggers and other influencers. Our infographic strives to capture this disconnect. business-communication.jpg

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


I have met my self-imposed deadline to complete Tell Me MORE About Yourself: A Workbook to Develop Better Job-Search Communication through Storytelling by today. (The plan was to offer it by the end of summer; I settled for the first day of fall.)


You can check out the table of contents here: TellMeMoreContents.pdf

I’m selling the workbook for the low, low, low, low price of $2.99 (!!!) through Google Checkout. Here’s the link.

The workbook is intended as a companion to my 2009 book, Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career. It is both an update and extension of that book.

In the time since Tell Me About Yourself was published, I’ve learned an enormous amount and gained many new ideas and insights (most of them reported here in this blog) about using story in job search and career from colleagues in the storytelling, career, and marketing sectors. This workbook offers a way to expand on the ideas and concepts of Tell Me About Yourself.

The workbook also provides a way for users to implement the ideas and concepts in a practical, hands-on way. Since Tell Me About Yourself was published, readers have asked such questions as:

  • How do you tell a good story in the job search?
  • How do you find your stories?
  • How can my stories have the most impact?

Thus, this workbook is intended as the nitty-gritty how-to that goes beyond the concepts and examples in Tell Me About Yourself.

Do you need to have read Tell Me About Yourself to benefit from the workbook? I would recommend it so you understand the principles and benefits of storytelling in the job search. But you don’t necessarily have to buy a copy. A free earlier edition is online. Anytime I refer users to Tell Me About Yourself in the workbook, I give the page numbers from the print edition and the Web address of the online edition.

The workbook follows some of the content of Tell Me About Yourself closely, especially in story development, resumes, cover letters, and interviewing. I felt the content of Tell Me About Yourself was largely sufficient in explaining story concepts in areas such as networking, personal branding, portfolios, and workplace storytelling; thus, the workbook touches on them only briefly or not at all.

The workbook also adds a new content area that was not in Tell Me About Yourself at all. The entire first chapter is devoted to using story to help users determine a career path.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Jane, her bio, Part 1 of this Q&A, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Q&A with Jane Freese, Question 5:

Q: If you could identify a person or organization who desperately needs to tell a better story, who or what would it be?


A: Political liberals need better stories to market their ideas. Conservatives can frame their arguments within a context of what is already known and accepted. Progressives have a greater challenge in that change targets the unknown and the unknown is frightening. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff founded the liberal think tank, the Rockridge Institute, as a way to study and advance liberal ideas through framing — use of stories and metaphors. Sadly, the institute closed in 2008, but in his book, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision, he discusses how political arguments have an implicit and explicit narrative structure. Presenting a persuasive argument means telling a convincing story replete with heroes and villains.
President Obama won the election largely on the appeal of his personal story and what it said about us as a society. What the president needs now is a winning progressive story that inspires us to change direction. Compromise is rational and doesn’t stir emotions. In his jobs speech on September 8, 2011, President Obama referred to the political position, held my many conservatives, that rugged individualism requires we tell everyone they’re on their own. “[T]hat’s not who we are,” he said. “That is not the story of America.” We are beginning to understand that a great country needs a great story, one that reflects our highest aspirations.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Jane, her bio, Part 1 of this Q&A, Part 2, and Part 3.

Q&A with Jane Freese, Question 4:

Q: You recently held your first Telling About Yourself workshop. How did it go, and to what extent will you tweak it for the next time?


A: “Storytelling for Job Seekers” was a confusing title for many since it is an unfamiliar concept. I’ve tweaked the title to simply, “Job Finders Workshop.” The storytelling aspects have surfaced naturally. I’ve discovered that when people talk about themselves they are unaware of the story elements embedded in their narrative. It is useful to repeat back to them, in story form, what they said. I listen to them so they can listen to themselves. Once I explain storytelling and its uses, workshop participants are eager to learn more. They appreciate how storytelling can be used to create a full picture of who they are to potential employers.
In a flooded job market, there are hundreds of applications for one job. Job-seekers need a way to stand out. Personal branding is a way of distilling a person’s story into a few key elements — a mission statement and a tag line. It is the foundation on which to build a strong, memorable, personal brand.

[Image credit: Self portrait as a puzzle by Tony Karp]

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Jane, her bio, Part 1 of this Q&A, and Part 2.

Q&A with Jane Freese, Question 3:

Q: Your discovery of applied storytelling for business and job search sounds a lot like mine in that it came about during an academic program. Can you tell that story and the story of how you developed that knowledge into a workshop?

A: I took a course in storytelling for information professionals through University of North Texas. It was my last semester. I didn’t expect that storytelling could be applied to job seeking. I found, to my surprise, a tremendous amount of information about storytelling in business.

jobinterviewmemorable.jpg Interviewers want to know who you are. Storytelling is a wonderful tool for making job applicants memorable. Facts can be presented on the resume and application, but the cover letter and interview is a job-seeker’s opportunity to create a more rounded representation of his or her values, experience, and character.

Books by Katharine Hansen, Stephen Denning, Robin Fisher Roffer, and Annette Simmons were helpful in developing the objectives for my workshop. By using examples from the life stories of people such as Nelson Mandela, Harlan Ellison, and Ida B. Wells, to name a few, I advance five storytelling objectives: Identify emblematic moments for use in telling a story.

  1. The value of using details in storytelling.
  2. The value of being authentic.
  3. Acknowledging lessons learned.
  4. How stories can implicitly reveal a person’s character.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



See a photo of Jane, her bio, and Part 1 of this Q&A.

Q&A with Jane Freese, Question 2:

Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?

A: I became involved in story through a storytelling course for information professionals taught by Elizabeth Figa at the University of North Texas School of Library and Information Science. Her course has won several awards, so I enrolled thinking it would be fun. It was more challenging than I expected.
Most of the other students were interested in how to use storytelling in their work as school librarians or in youth library services. I was interested in applying it to finding a job after graduation. Libraries are being hard hit financially, so I needed to expand my job search to information careers outside of libraries. I expected that I would need to market myself, and storytelling presented a method to do it. I didn’t expect to find as much information about storytelling in business as I did. Delighted to find your book, Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career, and other books about personal branding that stress the importance of storytelling in the job hunting and interview process, I wanted to share what I learned. Consequently, I formed the Storytelling for Job Seekers Workshop.


What interests me most is how storytelling impacts our inner lives. Once I became attuned to stories, I realized how the stories we tell to ourselves about ourselves guide our course through life. Our stories tell us what we value and believe. What I think we don’t realize is that how we view and interpret the events in our lives is a choice. It is our story, unique to us, and how we chose to tell it to ourselves and others is under our control. For job-seekers, storytelling is a powerful tool to highlight skills, experience, character, and values. Armed with self-knowledge, we can target employment we are best suited for and communicate authentically what we have to offer.
The rule of thumb for resumes is that any experience prior to 10 years ago is irrelevant. For older job-seekers, this discounts their best assets: knowledge and maturity. Storytelling offers them an opportunity to present their valuable past experience.

Image credit: California Teachers Exchange

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.



I’m so happy to have a new Q&A to run this week. I believe I encountered Jane Freese during my usual wanderings and research for blog content and was thrilled to find yet another kindred spirit working with storytelling and career/job search. I am most excited to have her join the Q&A series. This Q&A will run over the next five days.

JaneOustsideAZ20090104_06.jpg Bio: Jane Freese guides job-seekers in storytelling techniques through her “Storytelling for Job Seekers” workshop in Las Vegas. A former journalist and retail manager, Freese formed the workshop after completing her master’s degree in library and information science. Eager to put her knowledge of business storytelling techniques to work, Freese created a way for people to help one another compete in a tight job market. In addition to facilitating the workshop, she operates her own writing and research business. Her blog about job hunting, personal branding, and storytelling can be found at

Q&A with Jane Freese, Question 1:

Q: In this essay, you write about “emblematic moments in telling a story. Can you talk more about what you mean by emblematic moments?

A: An emblematic moment is a holographic event. It can be a pivotal moment in a person’s life or an event that epitomizes a greater context. A pivotal event can be a moment of realization, even when the recognition arises long after the actual experience.


For example, in the 2008 documentary, “Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth,” Ellison relates a memory of standing over a bathroom sink after being beaten up by a gang of bullies. His mother is dabbing his wounds with a wet washcloth when she says to him, “Well, you must have said something.” Ellison is stunned by her remark, but he knows in that moment that he has no allies in the world except himself. This realization is sad yet liberating. It empowers him to become fiercely independent, a fiery individual, and one of our most celebrated science fiction authors.
A simple question such as, “When did you first come to the realization that you wanted to be a teacher?” can reveal an emblematic moment and lends itself to personal storytelling in a job interview.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Eric Kramer, whose specialty is presentation interviews, has just published a huge, comprehensive interviewing book, Active Interviewing. The book offers a full chapter, “Tell Stories That Engage and Persuade.”

ActiveInterviewing.jpg He notes that stories in interviews should have a plot, theme, and dramatic tension. The listener of a story in a job interview — the interviewer — should be able to say “This is a story about _” upon listening to an interviewee’s story, Kramer says, and be able to identify the skill, accomplishment, trait, strength, or other qualification talked about. Because Kramer is a big fan of dramatic tension as a way to engage listeners in the job-seeker’s story, he touts the inclusion of barriers in interviewee’s story formulas; thus, Situation —> Barriers —> Action —> Result.

The author emphasizes a concern about interview stories that I’ve mentioned before in this space — a caution against “too much team.” “Being a good team member or leader is a critical skill in today’s companies,” Kramer writes, “However, the company is not hiring your team; it is hiring you.” The point is to give yourself sufficient credit when describing a team accomplishment, and to make your role clear.

Because I’m a bit obsessed with tracking and leveraging accomplishments, I especially appreciate Kramer’s list of “Success-Story Memory Joggers,” concise prompts that help job-seekers recall their achievements so they can craft stories about them. Here are a few from the list of 21:

  • Accomplished more with the same/fewer resources? (How? Results?)
  • Received recognition/special awards? (What? Why?) [I always prefer to say “earned” recognition/special awards because “received” implies passivity.]
  • Increased efficiency? (How? Results?)
  • Solved difficult problems? (How? Results?)
  • Accomplished something for the first time? (What? Results?)

Kramer notes that stories provide an excellent way to answer the dreaded “What is your greatest weakness?” question because you can show the interviewer you are aware of your weakness and tell how you’re addressing it.

Kramer nicely ends the chapter with a list of why stories are effective in interviews.

TellMeCoverREVSmaller.jpg Kramer’s chapter dovetails nicely into the workbook I’m releasing at the end of this week (give or take). He talks about factors that ensure good story delivery in interviews — sincerity and wholeheartedness, enthusiasm, and animation. I’ll likely give a nod to these traits in my own chapter on story delivery in interviews in Tell Me MORE About Yourself: A Workbook to Develop Better Job-Search Communication through Storytelling. The workbook is an interactive companion to my book, Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career. The workbook will have roughly 100 pages of content, encompassing 70+ hands-on exercises that job-seekers can do to develop their job-search story skills. Should also be a great tool for instructors and workshop leaders who want to teach folks how to develop stories for the job search. One chapter addresses an area I didn’t even cover in Tell Me About Yourself — using story techniques to figure out a career path. The latest iteration of the cover design is at left. I’m selling the book (which will be a downloadable PDF) for the insane price of $2.99, payable through Google Checkout. Drop me an email to be notified of the actual publication release.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


In writing the story of my Toastmasters experience over the last year during which I’ve been a member of my local club, I’ve focused on speech-making, especially — naturally — the storied aspects.

KoolAid.jpg Up till January I thought I would proceed blithely along working on the 10 speech projects in the first Toastmasters manual, earning the Competent Communicator designation, and possibly even quitting after that, as a large number of Toastmasters do.

But in January, our club president announced a vacancy for one of our club officer positions — vice president of public relations. I thought to myself, hey, I have some experience in that area, so, uncontested, I threw my hat in the ring. I was elected and then re-elected in May for a full term.

Thus, began my parallel experience with the leadership side of Toastmasters. Interestingly, the Toastmasters organization has just undergone a controversial “branding refresh” in which the leadership track has gained much more prominence, with a new tagline, “Where Leaders Are Made.”

My officer gig is a big job. I edit the monthly newsletter, maintain the public portions of our Web site, work with the media to get publicity for our club, put up posters, run our Facebook group and YouTube channel, create a club presence at local events, and more.

Not long after I started it, I got interested in the official leadership track, the Competent Leader manual of leadership projects analogous to the Competent Communicator track. I realized these leadership projects were pretty easy to do, especially as an officer, since some projects can be outgrowths of what I do in that position. Other leadership projects are a function of the normal roles members take on in meetings, such as Toastmaster and General Evaluator. And at least one project I did — chairing a speech contest — didn’t fall into either of these categories.

I muse about why I’m motivated to pursue these Toastmasters goals. I’m at the point in my career where a leadership designation from Toastmasters probably wouldn’t help me much. Even the communication designation is questionable. I would currently assess myself as a speaker who is good enough to occasionally be engaged to speak at conferences in exchange for travel expenses but not good enough to be hired for money. I have no doubt that Toastmasters could eventually help me be the kind compensated with money. Where I once had the puny goal of Competent Communicator, I now want to reach the pinnacle — Distinguished Toastmaster.

Still, the whole endeavor reminds me a bit of the kind of goal-setting that goes into, say, earning Girl Scout badges.

And I find myself at times rather consumed with meeting these goals while also fulfilling my officer duties. Most of the time, it’s a labor of love, and I do it because it’s a lot of fun, and I absolutely love the people in our club. Occasionally I feel a bit put-upon and as though folks have no idea what goes into, say, a speech contest or a booth at the local fair. Our members want great things for our club, but many have work and family responsibilities that make it hard for them to take charge and make those ambitions happen.

I have a lot of flexibility because I work at home. I have no children at home, and I have no grandchildren.

ToastiesWhereLeaders.jpg This week I found myself mentioning to one of our district officers that I, too, might someday like to be an officer at that level. Doing so is one of the requirements for the next leadership designation after Competent Leader — but I’d be interested even if it weren’t, even though it’s almost a two-hour drive for me to the hub of where things happen in our district (I haven’t even told my husband I’m considering it.)

And I really have very little idea why I want to keep reaching for Toastmasters goals. Well, maybe one … I have so rarely in my life felt a sense of belonging that I have deeply cherished the experiences in which I feel that sense of belonging — working at my college newspaper, my PhD program … and now Toastmasters.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Stories in the Dust

It has been trendy for several years to incorporate story into marketing, branding and advertising, either by integrating brands into a story or celebrating the concept of story/storytelling itself in connection with the brand.

swiffer.jpg In the early days of this blog, I started tracking these kinds of campaigns in a long-neglected (long, long) inside page.

While I rarely disparage any positive nods to story and storytelling, I have to say that sometimes these story-themed campaigns are a bit of a stretch.

Such is the case with a campaign for the Swiffer 360 Duster. An ad in a recent magazine starts out: “Your stuff tells a story. The knicknacks and photos that fill your home say something about you.” The ad continues for several more paragraphs, but the basic thrust is that if you don’t dust your tchotchkes — especially with the Swiffer 360 — you are denigrating your story. You are tantamount to a hoarder who can’t throw anything out and fills your home with meaningless, dusty clutter.

I appreciate the effort to celebrate story. But I gotta say, this campaign really makes me chuckle. The tagline? “Swiffer. Keep the memories. Lose the dust.”

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


No sooner had I noted in yesterday’s post that I tend to hear about new initiatives by my story colleagues in bursts of multiple announcements than Terrence Gargiulo announced a new, downloadable storied activity on Scribd.

RelicActivity.jpg The utility of the easy activity, called Relic, Terrence says is to “create a safe and fun vehicle for people to share something personal, use an object to trigger stories, and gain insight into stories that have had a formative impact on us.”

I commented on Terrence’s Facebook profile that I had once participated in this activity during my doctoral program. All the participants were away from home, so the instruction to “bring an object that has personal significance to them” was challenging. I found a photo of my beautiful daughter Mary in my car and brought that to the activity. The photo was taken in the Florida Keys. It told the story of a time in her life when nothing was more important to her than freedom. She had left home at 17 because she was desperate to be free of parental restrictions. Taking this trip to the Keys was one of the ways she spread her new wings of freedom at a young age. Deep down, she loved and appreciated her parents, and over the years, her family grew to mean much more to her than the quest for freedom had.

MaryFlowerCropped.jpg In my PhD program, the activity wasn’t facilitated as well as I’m sure Terrence does. The facilitators didn’t manage time well, and I remember feeling frustrated because I got to share my story only minimally or not at all. It’s a terrific activity, though. It would be great as an icebreaker or team-builder, and Terrence provides a debriefing, variations, tips, applications, and a case study.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


I like to share news of initiatives from my story-practitioner colleagues, and announcements of these new endeavors often come in spurts. Within hours of each other yesterday, I got word of new ventures from two practitioners who’ve participated in my Q&A series.

SuccessthroughStories.jpg Gabrielle Dolan, with her partner, Yamini Naidu, of Australia’s onethousandandone consultancy, announced a global online coaching program, Success Through Stories.

As part of the launch, they’re offering a three-part series of free online training videos designed to show users how to “achieve business success by using stories to connect with your customers, increase sales and grow your business.”

I’ve seen the videos Gabrielle and Yamini have produced about using stories in presentations, and they are very well done, so I’m looking forward to the training videos, which also come with worksheets.

To access these free videos, go to Success Through Stories and enter your name and preferred email address and the first video will be instantly sent to you. You then get the subsequent videos at intervals of a few days.

findingyourvoice.jpg Meanwhile, Karen Gilliam has released a new book, Finding Your Voice. Here’s a description:

Inner light, soul’s code, spark of the divine, true self. Whatever words may strike a chord and speak to your heart, the journey on finding, trusting, and using your voice is inside-out work of a lifetime. Finding your voice is not the destination; it is a manner of traveling as told through the story lens of my journey.

In the book, Karen talks about Sankofa, which she also discussed in her Q&A. In connection with the new book, Karen says about Sankofa:

Use the thought-provoking questions to revisit and re-claim your past; to reflect and reminisce on the present. Explore what it means to be faithful to your true nature. Find and use your voice in a world that needs it; for no one else can dance your dance, sing your song or write your story.

Update: Lisa Rosetti added this about Sankofa:

I found the Sankofa Bird amongst the Akan symbology in West Africa; a whole symbolism — a language full of values and wisdom. The meaning of the Sankofa Bird to me is: Return, Discovery, Wisdom and Resourcefulness. So, not being afraid to abort a personal journey or direction that is leading nowhere (Course Correct, Flexibility), and about understanding what you need for your journey (Resourcefulness). It is also about passing on deeper knowledge and values to the younger generation, helping them on their journey (Guide). That’s my take on Sankofa!

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


Last week I began an exploration of how the virtual world affects the way we tell our stories and construct our identities. I began with a reflection on social media’s response to Trey Pennington’s death a week ago today. So exactly what perspective was I trying to convey in Part 1? Perhaps … We often withhold important parts of our storied identities in the virtual world. Lyndsay Grant writes:

… there is [a] less empowering side to narrative capital: the imperative to cultivate the ‘right’ sort of life story. The kind of story that grants access to networks of power and influence, the kind that presents the constantly upbeat version of ourselves that everyone wants to be friends with or the professional version that is sought after as an employee or expert.

I’m sure Trey withheld his depression, pain, and suicidal thoughts in the real world, as well, yet posthumous writings by those who knew him best suggest that these parts of his story and his identity were more apparent in the flesh-and-blood world.

Some additional perspectives on storied identity construction in the virtual world:

SwersStory.jpg We scatter fragments of our stories through social media, but curation is usually required to connect the dots, filter out the noise, and really tell the story. Such was the case in another posthumous situation. In A Facebook story: A mother’s joy and a family’s sorrow, the Washington Post, with a family’s permission, edited and annotated the Facebook wall of a new mother to tell a tragic story. Reading the wall in raw form, I’m sure, would not tell the story the way the Post’s curation did.

Stories in social media have no beginnings or endings — or do they? In Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings? in New York magazine, Paul Ford contends that social media is not a narrative form: “Social media has no understanding of anything aside from the connections between individuals and the ceaseless flow of time: No beginnings, and no endings.” In contrast, in old media, Ford asserts, stories begin and end. Articles end. TV news segments end. “No matter what comes along streams, feeds, and walls,” he writes, “we will still have need of an ending.” The two preceding perspectives suggest that death ends stories in social media. The eerie postings on the Facebook walls of the deceased, however, indicate that while we may cease to be the authors of our own stories when we die, those we leave behind add new threads and layers to our storied online identities when we’re gone.

The “autobiographical impulse manifests itself in cyberspace” where the number and variety of ways for this impulse to manifest itself have never been greater. The quoted portion of the foregoing comes from Elayne Zalis, who remarked a couple of weeks ago on Facebook that it was time to revisit a paper she wrote back in 2003, “At Home in Cyberspace: Staging Autobiographical Scenes,” in Biography, Volume 26, Number 1, Winter 2003, pp. 84-119, University of Hawai’i Press Noting that “the autobiographical impulse manifests itself in cyberspace” and “professional and nonprofessional communicators alike construct personal home pages, online diaries, blogs, and generic hybrids that fuse elements of traditional and new media, Elayne introduces her essay: FamilyPortrait.jpg

… this essay considers how a selection of generic hybrids opens up new arenas for staging autobiographical scenes differently. Produced by writers, Net artists, and media makers, Family Portrait, Grandfather Gets a House, The Family Album Project, Home Maker, and Heard It in the Playground are united by a common tendency to raise questions about the meaning, recollection, and locus of “home” in a digital age. Tapping into diverse repertoires, these Web sites transform personal home pages into “new spaces for cultural intervention” that merge “private” and “public” spheres …. Experiments with collaborative storytelling, hypermedia, and interactivity enrich the autobiographical performances, and engage visitors who stop by en route from one site to another. Based on my own excursions in cyberspace, I will conduct a guided tour of these virtual domains.

1str_01-1str_03_over.jpg I asked her if these virtual domains still exist eight years later. Perhaps surprisingly, four out of the five do:

Add to those myriad more that have emerged in the years since, some of which you can see on my inside page, Links about Journaling, Memoir-Writing, and Personal Storytelling.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


In memory of the lives lost 10 years ago today. Each life lost was a story.


Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


We live in a world in which Facebook or Twitter are often the venues through which we learn of a shocking and tragic death and those same media become the platforms for a unique, new style virtual memorial service in which stories of the deceased are shared.

Treymemorial.jpg Such was the case when Trey Pennington took his life this week. The day of his death, Sunday, saw an outpouring of shock and devastation on Trey’s Facebook wall. Yesterday, a candlelight memorial took place simultaneously in both the real (in his Greenville, SC, hometown) and virtual worlds (see also this post). Here was the place Trey’s friends told their stories of him — in words, pictures, and videos.

Common themes in the initial reactions to Trey’s death included the fact that he had been depressed, that he was enduring a painful divorce, and the irony that a man with more than 100,000 Twitter followers and nearly 5,000 Facebook friends would feel desperate and alone enough to take his life. A few people beat themselves up for not hearing cries for help, or hearing them and not doing enough. Some hints arose that Trey had difficulties with the church on the grounds of which he killed himself. On Tuesday, some loved ones cried out against the language that same church used in its memorial service for Trey.

Some of the more striking and frequently cited pieces of writing after Trey’s death included The Difference Between Me and Trey Pennington by Bridget Pilloud, Today My World Changed by Kris Colvin (which mentioned that Trey had attempted suicide once before), and Trey Pennington, a Good Man from Trey’s best friend and cousin Rhonda Snowden Norsby. Doing a search on Trey’s name, of course, yields many more tributes and reflections.

Missing in all this was any kind of “mainstream media” coverage of Trey’s death — radio, TV, newspapers. I would like to think I sought out such reports not for maudlin or rubber-necking reasons but because I hoped for some balanced and factual coverage as a counterpoint to the emotions exploded on social media. Rumors were starting, and a few things turned out not to be true. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned to think journalists would have the straight story, but that’s what I hoped for. Trey died around 11 a.m. Eastern, and not until 8:44 p.m. did I see a brief, not very detailed report from a local TV station. By the next morning, the report was gone.

Apparently many media outlets have policies against reporting suicides, in part because doing so inspires copycats or “suicide contagion.” WYFF, the TV station with the report, which eventually reappeared in greater detail, noted, “Because of the public nature of Trey Pennington’s career as a leader in the social media community, is making an exception to its general policy in order to cover Pennington’s untimely death.”

One reason Trey’s death was so shocking was that in constructing his personal story and identity online, little of Trey’s pain and suffering came through. I do remember a Facebook post a few months back to the effect that his wife was turning his six children against him (if I am remembering inaccurately, I hope someone will correct me), and Trey asked for support from his vast network of contacts. Beyond that, Trey seemed to me to be the same kind, enthusiastic, effusive person he had always appeared to me. Would the tragic outcome have been any different if he had expressed more of his pain publicly? We cannot say.

We all construct our stories a little differently (sometimes a lot differently) in the virtual world from the way we construct them in real life, a phenomenon that fascinates me. I pass no judgment on this practice. I am struck that Trey can no longer tell his story in either realm — but so many are now telling Trey’s story and how their own stories intersected with his.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


I am shocked beyond belief to learn my my friend, Trey Pennington, killed himself this morning in front of his church in Greenville, SC.

TreyP.jpg I never met Trey, who participated in my Q&A series, but we always hoped to meet.

I know no details of what happened, other than that dozens, if not hundreds, of people are paying tribute to him on Facebook. [Update: A local news station posted a short piece Sunday evening that was gone by Monday monring.]

I am so sorry to hear this devastating news and so sad for all who loved and cared for Trey. I know his story will live on, though that’s of little comfort at this moment.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


The other day, I saw that Park Howell had posted a new slideshow on SlideShare about how to craft a story. As he has in the past, he also posted excellent and comprehensive Speaker’s Notes so the slideshow makes sense without narration. I was excited because I was already including Park’s suggested story structure (see this post) in my upcoming workbook to accompany my book Tell Me About Yourself, and the presentation would provide an additional resource for readers. I especially liked the fact that he was talking about three-minute stories, which are only a bit longer than what I recommend in a job-interview situation.

9Beats.jpg But then yesterday — even better — he posted a 15-minute video of himself delivering the presentation. What a rich combo — slideshow, speaker’s notes, and the actual presentation. The presentation, embedded below, includes a hilarious storied commercial Park’s firm created. (The embedding isn’t working as I publish this post, but you can click on the link below where the embedded video should be.)

The presentation builds on what he’s been doing for a while now, inspired to some extent by the writing of Donald Miller. Some of his posts that show the background and evolution of these ideas include:

Park’s two posts based on attending one of Miller’s Storyline seminars

In his blog post about the presentation (which took place at the annual International Super Rally of Forever Living Products, Park talks about the training he conducted:

Storytelling workbooks were handed out to what’s essentially the United Nations of network marketing. Forever Living is the world’s largest grower, manufacturer and distributor of aloe vera-based health and beauty products; a $2.5 billion operation with millions of Horatio Alger stories the world over. Our job was to help these distributors bring their unique experiences to life… in three minutes or LESS.
Using the workbooks, the audience outlined their stories as the training progressed. Some of the Forever faithful even found the gumption to come on stage and share their journeys to demonstrate the power of well-told tales.

The Power of Story Part I: “How Stories Sell” from on Vimeo.

Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.


A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
Applied Storytelling:
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  • organizational storytelling
  • storytelling for identity construction
  • storytelling in social media
  • storytelling for job search and career advancement.
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A Storied Career's scope is intended to appeal to folks fascinated by all sorts of traditional and postmodern uses of storytelling. Read more ...
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Dr. Kathy Hansen

Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...


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The following are sections of A Storied Career where I maintain regularly updated running lists of various items of interest to followers of storytelling:


Links below are to Q&A interviews with story practitioners.

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