Story Sells

Maya Angelou once said people don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel.  When writing essays for business school, it’s important to use stories to achieve this.

Imagine how many essays a typical admissions committee member reads.  Thousands.  Year after year.  Needless to say, they probably all start to sound the same.  Particularly when applicants use essay questions to list resume achievements like so many checklists, it likely borders on monotony for the reader.

Never list your achievements.

Listing your accomplishments is the best way to immediately become forgotten.  Instead, weave your accomplishments into a story.  Stories sell.  Stories get remembered. Why?  Because stories ignite the limbic system in the brain, the parts which control both emotion and memory.  That right there should be enough to convince you to tell stories.  When you move someone on an emotional level and simultaneously trigger their memory, you have a recipe for success in getting to yes.  By the way, the limbic system in the brain also controls motivation. Don’t you want the adcom to be motivated to choose you?

The biggest problem when using stories is in keeping them succinct.

Not only because MBA essays generally have word limits, but also because you want to be punchy and impactful, keeping it brief is paramount.  It’s also incredibly frustrating.  The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words begins to become a challenge when you can only use words to paint a picture. 

One practical exercise to use when pairing down a story into an elevator pitch is to start big.

Go ahead and write the entire story out without any regard for how long it is.  This will get your creative juices flowing and ensure you capture every detail.  Once you have the long version, you can ask yourself the most important question of all:  Why are you telling them this?  When you start with why, you will uncover the core elements of a story which must be told to convey emotion, passion and the critical information that makes something sticky instead of forgettable.  Once you have this done, it’s just a matter of cleaning it up and polishing it off!

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