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Career Conversations: An Interview with Agent and Storytelling Expert Ruben Porras-Sanchez (Part II)

by Leah Curney, on May 17, 2019 12:00:00 PM

Last week, we shared the first part of our interview with Harry Walker Agent and Story2 storytelling coach Ruben Porras-Sanchez. Here’s the second part of the interview, where Ruben shares the incredible story of how he used his storytelling skills to get the job he wanted.

Was there a particular story you told during the application/interview process that showed how you would be a great fit for this organization?

My final interview was with Ellen Walker, one of the owners of the company. About an hour into being interviewed, Ellen said, “I have one final question.” Then she set the context for asking the question.

The position I was being considered for was an Agent, within a unique structure. An Agent’s primary responsibility is securing paid speaking engagements for our speakers. For that reason, Agents are the primary revenue-generating arm of the agency. Ellen asked, “Do you equate money with success?”

I paused, smiled, and said, “Hm...This is the make or break question.” She assured me that it wasn’t. I went on to say, “I completely get why you’d ask that. Agents are responsible for generating revenue for the agency. But, if I’m being honest with myself, I’d have to say ‘no.’”  She tilted her head and slightly squinted her eyes as if she were preparing herself to listen closely to the explanation.

I continued, “You see, my dad was a double amputee. He lost both of his legs during a hit-and-run car accident when I was eight years old. My mom was a housekeeper at the time and trying to complete school. She ended up dropping everything – quitting her job and her ambitions for school – in order to stay home and take care of my father. While he was in the hospital recovering for nine months, she’d put us to bed and head right to the hospital to spend nights with him. She took him to rehab, his doctor appointments, and driving lessons. She did everything with him. When my dad learned how to drive using hand controls, he eventually went back to work, and she’d wake up every morning at five to take him downstairs and be home at three in the afternoon to bring him upstairs. My brothers and I played sports as teens, and she went to nearly every one of our games.

She is a godmother to more people than I can count and takes that responsibility seriously. Growing up, every Friday my mom would cook these huge meals and feed my brothers and me, all of our friends, our neighbors, and the homeless guy from our neighborhood, Matt. She just always did stuff like this and she still does it till this day. Did she make a lot of money? No. But to me, she lived an incredibly successful life.” At this point, my eyes were welling up with tears and I wiped one away just before it could roll down my cheek. I looked up at Ellen and said, “But if you’re asking me if I’m hungry, the answer is yes. I plan on proposing to my partner this year, and I would have a wedding to pay for. He and I have been talking about buying a house and having children. So, if you’re asking if I’m hungry – absolutely.”

I will never forget what Ellen said after that interview. “Wow. Thank you for this, Ruben. I have never had an interview like this before. It was…it was truly something. Thank you.”

How does storytelling play a role in your day-to-day work life and communications?

I’m an Agent, which is short for Sales Agent. In order to do sales, you have to tell a story. You have to give people a reason to believe in what you’re selling, but even before that, you have to give them a reason to believe in you. The way I know to do that is by telling people a story about me, why I’m in this industry, and why I know I’m the best person to help them secure a speaker for their event. For years, I’ve traveled the world to events like theirs--to tradeshows, fundraisers, sales meetings, leadership retreats. I’ve been in the room and experienced firsthand the impact an effective speaker can have on an audience.

I have personally fielded letters from event organizers saying, “We have never raised this much money before. Thank you.” Or, “Our sales team is on fire! We’re going to crush it this quarter and the next, for sure. Thank you.” Or “Thanks to you, our leadership team is taking a completely different approach and we know it’s going to make all the difference. Thank you.” So, I know exactly the result they’re going for and am personally invested in having that turnout for them. After I sell them on me and give them a reason to believe in me, I then have to give them a reason to believe in the speakers I’m suggesting, whose job it is to tell stories. Many of my speakers have written books. In order for me to sell them best, I internalize their stories. I read their books. I listen to their podcasts. I learn about their backgrounds, and I use it as a tool to give people a reason to believe in the speakers I’m pitching.

“Did you know when Judith Jamison took over Alvin Ailey they were headed into bankruptcy? She turned that company around completely and grew it into this global phenomenon.”

“I just learned that Shaq was one of Google’s pre-IPO investors. Who knew?!”

“People think the Power of Habit is about quitting smoking or losing weight, but it’s so much more. When Charles Duhigg wrote that book, he was actually studying the dynamics and habits that create the most effective teams. So, yeah, you can use what you learn from his talk to help with weight loss and quitting smoking, but his entire talk is about what organizational leaders can do to foster the habits within their teams in order to produce the best results for their company.”

Or, “I was just at an event with Bryan Terrell Clark. I’d send the man anywhere. He’s brilliant.” All of these stories are incredibly useful in not only revealing who the speakers are but in instilling the confidence in the event organizers that I know what I’m talking about, and it has the added benefit of being true.

What I love about storytelling, as it relates to my job, is that while I’m learning about my speakers' lives and reading their books or watching them speak (and sharing their stories), I’m essentially selling myself on who they are. I’m giving myself a reason to believe in them, and with that, I pass that energy and passion on to the sponsors I work with.

What do you love most about going to work each day?

By far, the coolest thing about going to work each day is that I know every time I book a speaker for an event, there’s an impact and an impression that the speaker will have on the people in the room. Audience members will leave energized and ready to hit new sales goals. I think about what that will mean to those sales teams' families, and it makes me smile a bit. Students will hear a speaker share something that may shift their paradigm or open their eyes just a bit more, and because of it, there are new possibilities available to them and that excites me.

Donors at a gala will be inspired to contribute more money, resources, and time to a cause all because a speaker shared a story that moved them at their core, and I think “wow, this group is going to secure the funds they need to continue doing the work they do.” Business leaders will have their minds blown by some of the world’s most innovative business leaders, and as a result, these companies develop new technologies and create new markets that push industries forward; and so on and so on. From one program to another, I think about that, and I think that I had a small hand in helping to create these events. It really is the best feeling ever.

What advice do you have for people (of any age) wanting to thrive and grow in their careers?

Whenever we’re applying for anything that’s worth having, the folks reviewing the application really want to know two things:

  1. Who are you as a member within a community with others?
  2. How will you contribute to that community?

In my opinion, your life story is one of the best tools you have in letting people see who you are authentically and how you can be counted on. Share yourself vulnerably, passionately, and unapologetically.