In a networking breakfast, a colleague shared a story that had me transfixed: I vividly imagined the moment when she sat at her desk at 8:30 one night and realized that she needed to leave her career in Information Technology to pursue an life-changing opportunity in Org Effectiveness. Her story told me who she is and what she stand for. Through our mutual storytelling, we left Perkins later that morning with an emotional connection. The odd thing is that throughout breakfast, she kept saying, “I’m not good at telling stories.” But I thought her stories were sincere, heartfelt, inspiring, and memorable. Since then, I’ve encountered others who feel the same: their understated, yet authentic stories make them real and relatable, but they are convinced that they can’t tell a good story.
We’ve all known the larger-than-life storytellers, whose charisma and energy captivate others. We’ve also met the spin artists who weave interesting tales, but you’re never sure how much truth has been exaggerated for the sake of telling a good story. If these people are the role models for storytelling, I can understand why many shrink away from the whole idea. If you speak the truth about your own experiences and connect it to the topic at hand, you can build connections and understanding with others. You can be a successful storyteller by using the basic elements of storytelling and speaking with authenticity.
- Your True North — Your moral compass defines your values, philosophy, and core beliefs. These stories convey who you are and build your credibility.
- Your Personal Style — Introvert or extrovert, serious or playful, animated or understated . . . it doesn’t matter. Tell the story in a way that is you and you will have impact.
- Your History — Sharing the experiences, events, and people who have defined your life makes your story real. How does your history reveal universal truths that everyone faces (birth, death, love, loss, joy, sorrow, glory, and blessings)?
“Be a first rate version of yourself, rather than a second rate version of someone else.”
— Judy Garland
Your Life Stories
Explore the stories from your life and work that reveal who you are and what is important to you. These stories make you human and touchable. Stories that evoke an emotion — sad, happy, funny, frustrated–will be remembered and build bonds with your listeners.
- Family and friends–Family vacations, dinner table conversations, or an episode that seemed like a disaster but became a source of laughter for years to come
- Work and career–Choosing your career/vocation, getting promoted, working for a great boss, workplace drama, changing jobs, or retiring
- Life turning points–When you decided what college to attend, when you got engaged, having your first child, or becoming an empty nester
- Lessons learned–Your biggest mistake, time you were glad you listened to your parents, when you thought you had the answers but you screwed things up because you didn’t
- Your vulnerable moments–School bully, failed love affair, a cherished pet, a bad boss, or betrayal from a true friend
- Your hobbies and passions–Enthusiasm is contagious and authenticity makes you real.
Download Free Tools
Play around with the “Mining for Stories” interactive worksheets to help you find story gems and apply them to your work (click on the links to download interactive PDFs). You can select three different frameworks to find stories:
- Mine Your Life for Stories–This tool takes you on a walk down memory lane to help you resurrect stories from your life and work. You’ll explore the deeper meaning of these “story gems” and determine if they can apply to casual and formal leadership moments.
- Mine a Company for Stories–When you need to unearth company or brand stories to support corporate or marketing communications, this tool can help you uncover rich stories that share authentic company values.
- Mine Your Research for Stories–Scientists and engineers use this tool to explore how to find ways to convey technical information the context of human narratives.
Arts and Entertainment
Fiction and non-fiction stories provide rich insights and inspiration for your stories. As you experience these stories, connect them to your opportunities for influence and inspiration.
- Movies and theater
Taking time to relax and process the events and experiences in your life will get your creative energies flowing and help you turn your life experiences into meaningful stories. If you already practice some of these habits, let your imagination weave stories during these times of reflection.
- Nature (sunrise, sunset, woods, mountains, ocean, lakes, rivers, streams, gardens)
- Journal writing
- Guided imagery