Last week I shared with you the three parts of a great story in a presentation or speech. This week I’ll show you where to find great stories in your own life experience. Here’s the quick recap of storytelling essentials:
1. Set up—the details that puts the listener into the story.
2. Struggle—the difficulties faced.
3. Solution—how things worked out and what you learned from the entire process.
Once I share that formula with people who attend our seminars, they invariable say, “but I don’t have any great stories like that to use.” Yes you do. We all do. The key is just learning how to recognize them. And you don’t have to look that hard. You just have to know where to look.
You’ll find plenty of great stories if you start your search with step two, the struggle. Think to different times in your life when you struggled. We’ve all had them, plenty of them.
Here are some prompt questions to help jog your memory:
- Who was the first relationship you had that ended in a break up?
- Did you ever think you were going to lose your job?
- Did you ever struggle to pay your rent or your mortgage?
- Did you ever have a time when you thought my might flunk out of college or fall into academic suspension?
- When was the first time you had a major blow up with neighbor?
- Ever get into a fist fight and lose?
- Who was the first teacher or coach who yelled out you in front of others?
- Ever lose a significant amount of money in an investment?
- When did it happen?
- What time of the year?
- Where were you?
- What was the weather like?
- What were you wearing?
- Who else was involved?
- Any significant sights or sounds around when it happened.
You want to use just enough details to paint the picture, build context, and help the listeners feel like they are right there with you as the story begins to unfold. Here’s an example: It was 1988, I had just gotten married and my wife, Lee Ann and I, had a little yellow townhouse with a tiny office in the front of the house. I put the first computer I ever bought in that office, an IBM System Two. And while Lee Ann looked over my shoulder, I turned that computer on for the first time and saw…
That’s what the details do. They put the audience into the story with you.
Then flesh out the struggle. Why did you think you were going to lose your job? What was at stake? Why couldn’t you pay the mortgage? Again, use enough detail to put the audience into the story without bogging the story down with meaningless detail.
It took a second for anything to come on the screen and when it did, my heart sank. The only thing on the black screen was C:/>. Lee Ann looked at me with a burning stare. I had spent our only $2500 in savings on a computer and the only thing on the computer was C:/>. She raised her eyebrows, her way of letting me know she was pretty sure I didn’t know what I was doing and her way of reminding me that she had wanted to buy an Apple. I wanted to climb into a hole.
After the struggle, bring in the solution:
After I returned to the store where I bought the computer, the salesman told me I had to learn how Microsoft Digital Operating System worked. I had to learn how to use MS-DOS to tell the computer what to do. I wanted to tell the salesman what to do. Instead, I bought a book, learned how to use DOS and eventually got that computer to work, but the process taught me that all new technology ventures always take more time and always have a steeper learning curve than what salesman want you to believe. And in my case, they usually led to added stress on my marriage!
Just like that, you can have a story that you can use to make a point about relationships, about technology, about dealing with sales people, or about learning curves. And like all good stories, I found it just by thinking back on my struggles.
So now it’s your turn. Write up a list of ten struggles you have had in your life. Then follow the process I just laid out:
- Retrofit the details for the set up
- Flesh out the struggle
- Identify the solution and what you learned from the solution.
The more often you walk through the process, the more you will start recognizing good stories when they happen to you.