Making technology more human-friendly, one word at a time.

The art of storytelling, tips from Atlassian's Head of Buyer Experience

I visited San Francisco for the first time in my life back in August and it was when I walked past Twitter’s HQ and waited in line with Twitterers (?) to pay for my ready-to-go lunch that I realised I was in the tech hub of the world. I mean, of course I knew it as a concept but it took a whole bunch of people with Twitter tags around their necks for me to actually know it in my bones.

So I added “attending a tech talk” on my '“things to do in SF” list.

I searched on MeetUp and found “How to Excel at Storytelling by Atlassian Product Manager” by Product School San Francisco and signed up immediately.

About the speaker Sajida Kaliyadan

Well, she’s amazing and I want to be her. She began working for banks in India and Singapore, then moved to New York to be the first female developer for an algorithmic trading system provider. Then, she did a part-time MBA and soon began working at Walmart Labs After 7 years of absolutely kicking ass, she joined Atlassian as the Head of Buyer Experience.

And I was lucky enough to hear her speak.

The art of storytelling for product managers - notes

Her talk covered tips for product managers to become better communicators, not just within the team and to developers, but also to management teams and investors.

Step 1: Start with the end

Define your outcome: What do you want to achieve? Ideally, have a primary and secondary outcome only. If absolutely needed, add a tertiary.

step2: Know your audience

You need to care about the people you’re working with (your team) and serving (your customer). Empathy is key. Ask yourself:

  • What are their goals/ interests/ apprehensions? This context will help you craft your message better.

  • How strong is your relationship with these individuals? You want to establish relevance and build a deeper connection with the people you’re speaking to.

Step 3: Pick your protagonist

Who is at the center of this story? HINT: It’s always your customer. When delivering key points in your story, alway use real-life quotes or case studies to back up facts and statistics. Humanise your customer.

step 4: Your story arc

Source: HBR

Source: HBR

You want to repeatedly contrast existing experiences versus aspirations (i.e. outcome outlined in step 1). Go back and forth between what is and what could be, what is and what could be, and weave your big idea into this story. You want to show how these changes can affect or improve the larger picture.

Note: I’ve come across this idea before and Martin Luther King’s speech is often used as a great example of this type of storytelling. Steve Jobs’ Apple presentations are also used as examples. Here’s a video by Nancy Duarte who came up with this type of storytelling technique. Oh, she also wrote an article about it.

step 5: Hone it and own it

Refine your story until you’re happy with it. Ideally, you want to start with a big picture perspective, contextualise it for your audience and make it relevant. Then, end by proposing a specific action your audience can take afterwards.

I made this with Photoshop. Bear with me.

I made this with Photoshop. Bear with me.

I decided to lay the funnel over the persuasive story pattern to see what it looks like and make this framework a little more confusing for everyone reading.

I also made this with Photoshop. I’m sure this is what it was created for.

I also made this with Photoshop. I’m sure this is what it was created for.

Lastly, practice your pitch or presentation over and over again until you’re confident with your delivery.

Q&A - tips for interviewing well

Much of the Q&A session revolved around how she landed a job at Atlassian and what she now looks for in people she’s interviewing.

  • When someone asks you to tell them about yourself, you’ve got 2 minutes to impress them.

  • When talking about career “moves”, talk about the positive impact you had in your previous role and why you decided to move on to a new role.

  • Don’t depend on the listener to draw their own conclusions, do it yourself, explicitly. (Hmm, I’m not sure if this point relates to the interview or the presentation. Seems like it’s relevant to both scenarios.)

  • When prepping for an interview, always do your research on the company’s competitors.

  • If you’re serious about switching to a Product Management role, find ways to get practical experience. For example, you could do pro bono work for a charity.