We only had 5 minutes left in our presentation coaching session when Qiang had the breakthrough I'd been hoping for.
He worked in HR for a big organization and had to give an update on the progress they'd made toward their strategic goals for diversity, equity and inclusion. Qiang hadn't done a lot of public speaking so wasn't comfortable with the idea of making the talk a bit personal as a way to engage people and show them why this work mattered; he really just wanted to stick to the numbers. We'd looked at a few ways to try to bring stories into the presentation but hadn't found anything that would make it really rock.
Then as we were wrapping up, he said, "Well, there is one story I could share but I don't know if it's any good."
Now, I'm finding that this is really common in my coaching practice. People have great ideas and know what they need to do – they're just afraid to do it. So I invited Qiang to tell me the story.
A few years earlier, he was working as an HR manager at a different company, when another Asian employee stopped him in the cafeteria. "I just wanted to thank you," she said. "For my whole life, I've hidden my Chinese name and gone by an English one, that's easy for people to pronounce here. Then, I heard about you and saw you being successful, doing important work and using your real name. That gave me the courage to stop hiding and start using my real name too – to be proud of who I really am."
At the time, Qiang was just pleased to be able to help out a fellow employee. But now, thinking about the platform he was about to have when he made his presentation, he realized that sharing this story would be a great way to demonstrate the power of identity, to show that representation matters and to help others understand why his DEI work was so important. So we took the extra time we needed to find a way to bring Qiang's story into his talk and make him comfortable delivering it.
I get it. Opening up and sharing our stories in public can be scary (and sometimes dangerous). Yet it's exactly what we need to do to build trust and relationships, to bring abstract concepts like DEI to life, and to rally people around our purpose and vision for the future. Deciding to share that story in public not only helped Qiang connect more deeply to his work but also built his credibility with his peers.
We all have stories to share – sometimes we just need a little help to find the courage to take that plunge.