Over the years I’ve learned and taught quite a bit about storytelling, but there has been one secret I held close to the vest. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to share it but I needed a story that would illustrate it.
What I learned from Keith Harrell
It all started when I watched a video of my favorite speaker, the late Keith Harrell (if you have not seen him, you must). He told a story about having a stuttering problem when he was in Kindergarten (5 years old). The teacher called on him to say his name and he couldn’t. He stuttered and couldn’t even finish his name and the kids laughed.
He ran home (about two miles) and his mother was waiting for him on the front porch. She hugged him and told him that she was proud because at least he tried. And she said, “One day my little baby’s gonna stand tall, and you’re gonna say your name as loud and as well as all the other boys and girls.” Keith then turns to the audience and says, “She told me that over 40 years ago…I think she was talking about today.” Then he looks out at the audience and says, “I’d like to take a moment to finish something my mother told me one day I’d be able to do.” He faces the audience completely and says, “My name is Keith David Harrell.”
I have never been touched so much by a story and every time I watch it, I go through the same emotions. So, as a speaker, I eventually asked, “Why? Why does his story touch me so much?” It took some time but then I figured it out. It’s because the story ends today.
Make Your Story End Today
Keith’s story didn’t end years ago or months ago like most speakers’ stories. Instead, it ended right there on the stage that day when he said, “I think she was talking about today. I’d like to take a moment to finish something my mother told me one day I’d be able to do. My name is Keith David Harrell.” The story finished right there in front of that audience on that day. That audience essentially became the Kindergarten class but 40 years later. That audience became the ones to witness Keith’s triumph over his obstacle and they experienced that triumph with him.
Once I realized what he did, I knew it was time for me to tell my “turning point” story that I had hesitated to share in my first 10 years of speaking. When you have an event that dramatically and instantly alters the course of your life, it can be a challenge to make sure the audience “gets” how much it means to you. But, using this “Make your story end today” tool, my story came alive.
Listen to this story and see if you can see how it ends today rather than years ago or months ago. See if you can figure out how the audience actually becomes a part of my journey rather than just listening to what happened to me way back when.
Note: This story is 6 minutes long (2-3 minutes longer than most of my stories). Please don’t read on until you finish listening to the story. Click the Play button below to listen.
How did my story end today? It was the moment I said, “I wasn’t supposed to find her…I was supposed to find you…just in case you need a sign” Many of my audiences begin clapping right then and there and “feel” that they are a part of my journey. And guess what? They are! I believe what I say with 100% conviction. And then the final line comes as a call-back to what the lady said to me. “Good luck living your dreams.” I’ve had many people over the past few years say to me afterwards, “I believe you are a sign for me today.”
I do not recommend using this tool more than once per speech. In other words, only use it with one story. Chances are it might end up being your closing story. That’s a great time to use it because it brings emotion into the room and ends your speech on a high.
Think about one story that you either already tell or plan to tell and see if you can find a way to make that story end today.
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