Patricia Keener Q and A
I was drawn to the work of Patricia Keener because of its intersections with my own. Although her practice is wider than mine, career coaching is part of it. I’m so pleased to present this Q&A with Patricia.
Bio: Patricia Keener is a training consultant and coach whose focus is on organisational communication, presentations, professional development, and cross-cultural adaptation. For the past 19 years, she has worked with international businesses using training, workshop and coaching techniques to help her clients develop their interpersonal skills, improve their business effectiveness, understand cultural differences, and become better at giving presentations.
Her work has also included development of training strategies and programmes for industries including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, financial services, FMCG, government organisations and management consultancy. In her career coaching practice, she works with a variety of clients including senior-level executives, middle managers, and MBA and graduate students
Patricia is an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and a member of the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research UK and the Association for Career Professionals International. She both a coaching and career coaching qualification and is a certified NLP Practitioner. Pat is licensed to use Argonaut, an on-line cross cultural assessment tool and CareerStorm navigator, an online careers assessment.
For more information visit her Website, Keener Inspiration.
Q&A with Patricia Keener:
Q: You and I share an interest in storytelling for career development. To what extent and in what ways do you integrate story into your work with job-seekers?
A: A lot of my career work is with international people looking for work in the UK. They may be overseas students who are finishing a graduate or MBA programme here, or other Europeans coming to work in the UK, or partners of employees who are here on an international assignment and wish to continue their own career progression. I have found that particularly with this group, using stories throughout their job-searching process was a very effective way to address such issues as: differences in culture, language challenges and often gaps in their CV from a global lifestyle.
I run a workshop called “Using Storytelling for an Effective Interview” that is designed to give the participants a clear idea of why stories are an effective way of demonstrating what they have to offer, how to find the stories they can use and then what they can do to prepare and polish them. The most important thing at interview is to be as authentic as possible in, let’s face it, a stressful environment. Instead of asking clients to rigidly adhere to practised answers for interview questions I ask them to create different stories they could share that would demonstrate their competencies. It helps to take the pressure off and create a more comfortable atmosphere. After being on the other side of the table, interviewing a series of candidates two years ago, I really began to appreciate the ones who could be interesting and engage me with stories rather than blandly answer my questions with facts. I’ve also used stories as a basis for creating compelling elevator pitches, cover letters, and backing up personal-branding statements.
With the experienced executive clients I work with who want to make career changes or who have been made redundant, it is often tempting for them to jump right into the job seeking process. They want to get their CV together and send it out before taking time to do some self-reflection on just what it is that make them a unique candidate to a perspective employer. Some people can be put off by doing “touchy feely coaching exercises,” but if you explain that they are creating their career narrative, suddenly it seems a lot easier to convince them to do it.
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/ narrative?
A: I’ve always been a storyteller in one way or another. When I was 11, I joined the Young Author’s Club after-school activity where I had a chance to write a story and then bind it so it looked like a real hard-backed book. I thought then I’d like to be a writer when I grow up. Soon afterwards I was bitten by the acting bug and went on to pursue a BFA in Acting and work as a professional actor for a few years, dabbled as a stand-up comedienne, even these days still do some occasional extra work. I also enjoyed business and had the annoying habit of being promoted a lot in my “day” job. I realised the area of my management role I felt most inspired by was developing people and so moved into training and coaching.
Early one morning I was asked to run a workshop for a colleague whose back had gone out. The team I’d be delivering the course to hadn’t been working well together and had had several misunderstandings. On the spur of the moment, I was reminded of a poem called “The Cookie Thief” from the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and another story about “The Man Who Went to Heaven.” I was amazed at what impact these stories had to get people thinking about their own experience in a non-threatening way. Instead of the push they had been getting to work better — it suddenly became a pull — seeing themselves in the story. I received great feedback on the course.
Over the years I have created a portfolio career working first in sales, professional development and presentation-skills training and then adding intercultural training and career coaching to the mix. I liked the variety of doing different things, but began to notice how there were similarities across the kind of work I was doing and how often I was using all three of my strands of expertise at the same time. It wasn’t until I was re-doing my website and I really had to think about how I could effectively communicate the different things that I do that I realised in each instance I was helping individuals or organisations to better communicate who they were or “their stories.” I had already been using elements of story in my work, but once the word “story” popped out at me as the connector of all my work, it suddenly made sense how to weave them all together. Since then I’ve been drawn to all things story-related.
Q: What are a few of the most important principles of effective presentations — especially as regards integrating stories — that you impart to your clients?
A: I work with a wide variety of different clients on improving their presentation skills; many with a technical or clinical background where it is important to relay that type of information to an audience. One main point I stress is that creating a presentation is more than taking your research or notes and putting them into a PowerPoint presentation. Presentations are meant to be persuasive and motivating to an audience and sit between Report writing (all the facts and figures) and Story (communicating in an expressive and dramatic manner.) Nancy Duarte in her book, Resonate, has an excellent section that explores this idea in more detail. I attended an international medical conference in Germany, and one of the best presentations was given by an Italian doctor who not only shared the results of his study on using a new treatment for HIV, but then a before-and-after picture of a young patient whose story he shared, thus he was able to tie together the technical information with the emotions of the audience. Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling, said, “Story is your opportunity to create in your listeners’ imagination an experience that feels real.”
Using stories, case studies, examples, analogies and metaphors are all tools that can create a more memorable presentation. Unlike a typical story setting you might use for an interview where you are the hero of the story, in a presentation — the audience is the hero. It is important that your information is relevant to them and they can see themselves in the story. In essence you act as a mentor to the audience. Imagery makes the story/content come alive in the audience’s mind, so I encourage my clients to use word pictures. Just like a story, a good presentation needs to have a clear beginning, middle and end.
Stories we believe can be very powerful. I was working with someone who experienced incredible nerves while presenting but in one-to-one conversation was a confident young woman. Some questioning and listening later revealed that she had had some negative feedback from a boss of hers a few years ago about her ability to present that was underlying every subsequent presentation she was asked to give. She had created a story in which she believed that she was rubbish at presenting. By using some NLP re-framing techniques, we began to look at how we could better resource her and create a new story.
Q: Where are some of the places in the UK specifically you have observed storytelling recently?
A: It seems as if I’m encountering story everywhere I go this year. At the iRelaunch London conference, which was designed to help people with gaps get back into work, they talked about the importance of knowing their career story and being able to confidently tell it.
At The Society for Storytelling’s annual conference called Wise Enough to Play the Fool, I had the opportunity to meet people who use storytelling in education, prisons, business, and performing on the storytelling circuit. I attended several interesting workshops: “Stories Work” with Katrice Horsley, the UK story telling laureate; “Truth and Lies” with Christine McMahon; and The Comedy Equation with American Lynne Cullen American Lynne Cullen, as well as enjoyed some great examples by up-and-coming storytellers.
Upcoming story projects that I am working on at the moment include revamping my four-week Career Workshop to focus on “Telling you Career Story” for September; creating a workshop on resilience (which will have a large story element) for secondary-school students; compiling a collection of stories of successful international job-seekers as part of a book; and running a webinar on “How to make Impact at Work,” which has a section on using storytelling to influence in business.
Q: What future trends or directions do you foresee for story/storytelling/ narrative? What aspirations do you have personally for your own story work?
A: Already the digital age has created a call for a different approach to storytelling — your bio on LinkedIn, your brand on Facebook, your message on Twitter. I think that has influenced how organisations have communicated their story and is a place where people need to really consider their personal branding.
There are all sorts of innovative applications happening using stories. Doctors at Harvard Medical School are given stories and novels to read to encourage humane treatment of their patients. Lawyers continually use stories in court to persuade. Public-health bodies lobby TV shows to get their health issues included in popular narratives. Even a study last year in the US showed how people with hypertension did better listening to stories.
From a career perspective, it’s more challenging than ever to stand out from all the other applicants; being able to express yourself in a story projects confidence and often makes you a more memorable candidate.
I’d personally like to explore corporate storytelling, how companies are being supported in redesigning their stories while they are experiencing change and how stories can help people to develop their own personal resilience.