One of the questions presenters ask me the most is, “Craig, where do you come up with your stories?” I generally look in the following 10 places for clues as to which stories I should develop and share.
1: Go to that part of your life where you don’t want to go. These are often where you’ll find your most powerful stories. For example, the year after I graduated from undergraduate school was very rough for me. In fact, I was kind of embarrassed by it because I had 5 jobs and failed them all. As a result, I wanted to forget that year ever happened and I certainly didn’t plan to ever speak about it.
However, Patricia Fripp made me dive into that year and pull out a gem. Now I often close my speeches with that powerful story. Go to that place in life you’ve hesitated going into, and you will most likely find a gold there too.
2: Go to the stories that you normally tell family and friends. These stories are part of your overall story and that’s why you keep telling them. Now it’s time to bring them on stage. For example, here’s a story I have been telling my friends for a couple of years now.
“I had just boarded a plane headed for Vegas and, after I sat down, I thought, ‘Uh oh. I forgot my headphones.’ So I stood up and reached into my bag that was in the upper cabin and unfortunately my keys fell out and landed on the lady’s head sitting in front of me. Now, keep in mind we were flying to Vegas so everybody was happy including her. She turned around with this big smile on her face, handed me my keys and said, ‘Really? Keys? Why would you drop your keys on my head?’ My first thought was, “Well, maybe I was trying to open your mind.'”
Every time I’ve shared that story with my friends, they’ve laughed. As a result, I started sharing it in interviews and in Zoom workshops and people have always laughed. Now it’s time to take it to the real stage and test it out and see what point works best with it.
3: Go to the moments that cracked you up. For example, 8 years ago my 7-year old son and I were watching the Equestrian competition for the 2012 Olympics. The oldest participant was a 74-year old man from Japan. The commentators kept harping on the guy’s age and then my son looked up at me with this confused expression and said, “What I want to know is, how old is the horse?” That cracked me up and I’ve been sharing it every since.
4: Go to where someone wronged you. Think about a time when someone did something to you that just wasn’t right. Chances are your audience will relate to how you feel about it.
5: Go to where you wronged someone. Why in the world would we want to share a story about when we did something wrong to someone? It’s simple. Because we are not perfect. Plus, you don’t want to keep telling stories about when you were the victim. If you do, sooner or later your audience will think, “This is a pity party.” Instead, mix it up. Share a story about when you were the one who was wrong and the lesson you learned to correct it. Chances are some of your audience members need that lesson right now.
6: Go to “turning point” moments. In 1994 I walked into a bookstore and it changed my life. I have never been the same. That trip has become one of my most powerful stories. Think about turning points in your life where you’ve never been the same.
7: Go to the painful moments. I know it hurts but it’s important to go to the painful moments in life in order to bring out the priceless messages you can share. What hurt you emotionally? What did you do to get better? In there is an important message.
8: Go to the victorious moments. Think of a time where you won or accomplished something worthwhile. What happened? What was the obstacle you had to overcome? How did you do it? I’m sure a great story lies in there.
9: Go to the embarrassing moments. I know it might sound strange but people love embarrassing moments as long as the moments are happening to someone else. Still, when you share your embarrassing moment, your audience members will likely reflect on their embarrassing moments too.
10: Go to the “stopped you in your tracks” moments. For example, I was talking on the phone to an outstanding Director from a pharmaceutical firm. She happened to be tired that day because of a barrage of meeting and phone calls she had. Before we hung up, she said, “Craig, feel free to call me if you need anything as you prepare for our speech.” I said jokingly, “I don’t want to be your 25th call of the day.” She said, “Even if you were my 25th call, I’d treat you like you were my first.”
That wonderful statement (and attitude) stopped me in my tracks and I’ve since shared her words many times. Whenever someone’s statement stops you in your tracks, consider turning it into a story.
Speakers like to talk about taking an audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride. Well, that’s all fine and good but how do you do it? You do it by gathering stories from different emotional centers. If you follow the list above, that’s exactly what you’ll accomplish. As a result, your audience will not just hear a speech. They will feel an emotional experience.
Remember – If it doesn’t touch you, it won’t touch them.
Where do you uncover your stories?
One year from now, how would you like to be 3 times better than the speaker you are today?
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