Harnessing the Power of “I”

March 26, 2018

Stories by first-person narrators always grabbed me. The audacious Huckleberry Finn. World-weary Ishmael of Moby Dick. Ambitious Pip in Great Expectations. Bookish Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Sherlock Holmes’s meticulous biographer, Dr. Watson. The resolute Jane Eyre.

A first-person narrator creates a sense of intimacy. We identify with the narrator and imagine ourselves in the story. You feel as if you are there, walking with the narrator. You see the world through their eyes. Thoughts, fears, opinions, and biases are palpable. Their perspective sticks with you. A first-person narrator sheds all anonymity and fully owns the story. 

Yet, as I prepare corporate executives for media interviews and speaking engagements, I often sense a reluctance to get personal… to become the protagonist.  There’s a certain anonymity in the corporate world – a feeling that you can wrap yourself in an impervious vest of corporate messages without having to offer anything of a personal nature.  Once that protective vest is donned, the reflex is often to default to jargon – words like culture, authenticity, innovation, and bottom line. Big puffy words that have lost their meaning.

I once worked with a group of scientists who resisted my efforts to pull out a personal perspective. They said, “We’re not the story. Our data is the story.” I insisted they take a harder look. They were the protagonists in their story, whether they could see it or not. Would we have pasteurization without Louis Pasteur, the theory of radioactivity without Madame Curie, or frozen food without Clarence Birdseye? One scientist – who was doing pioneering work developing technology to support urban farms – finally admitted that his father had owned a small grocery. The act of providing food to the community was part of his DNA, and that additional perspective ignited his story.

When the protective vest gets strapped on, my comeback is to talk about the power of “I.” Corporate messages are the frame of a house, but what’s your I Statement? Why do you care about the story? What part do you play in making it happen? How can we see the excitement of your story through your eyes, and your I Statement? An I Statement is different from, “You,” or the royal “we.”  When you say, “I” you own the story. You open a door to a more personal relationship with your audience.  You become that compelling, unforgettable character at the center of the story.

My I Statement is simple and I share it often. I’ve been fascinated by stories since I was a child – from Shakespeare to science fiction. I majored in English Literature (no surprise, right?). I love the power of a story to convey the human experience and to bring people together. And, I’ve spent my career helping others bring their stories to life.

The next time you do an interview, or present to an audience, think about your role as the first-person narrator, and take some time to craft your I Statement. Your I Statement will …

Inject personality into your story…

…Give your storytelling a sense of Identity

Infuse your story with a sense of Immediacy, and…

Improve your relationship with your audience.

Tom Barritt is Partner and Managing Director of Ketchum’s Communications Training Network, a team of executive media coaches. He has helped executives shape stories that get noticed for more than three decades.