Why Every Speaker Should Have a Failure File

Sharing stories with the football team at my old high school.

The quickest way to connect with your audience is to share your failures, flaws, frustrations, and firsts. Why? Because most people have failed, they have flaws, they’ve had frustrations, and they’ve attempted something for the first time.

In other words, they can relate. Plus, your failure intrigues us because we want to see how you handled it and what tools you used to turn that failure into a success.

Keep a Failure File

For the reasons mentioned above, it’s important to have a Failure File. What’s that? It’s just what it looks like. Many speakers understand the concept of having a Story File (a file where they keep their developing and already-developed stories). Some speakers understand the importance of having a Foundational Phrase File (a file where you keep your sayings and takeaway phrases), but few of the speakers I’ve met over the years have a Failure File. However, you can start one now.

Start your Failure File

Instead of trying to bite off more than you can chew, I suggest starting your Failure File with three of the biggest let-downs or failures you can remember experiencing. These should be YOUR failures, not the failure of someone else. Here are some questions that can help spark some ideas:

–          Did you fail a class in school?

–          Did you get dumped by a significant other?

–          Did you cost your team the game in a sporting event?

–          Did you fail at something relating to fatherhood or motherhood?

–          Did you give a bad speech?

–          Did you lose a contest?

–          Did you go into debt or fail with your finances?

–          When have you ever felt embarrassed?

–          When have you ever felt ashamed?

–          What’s a flaw you tried to hide (i.e. my lisp)?

–          What’s something you tried for the first time and failed?

–          What frustrates you?

–          Have you ever felt like you were going to fly off the handle? Why? What happened?

–          Have you ever gone on a bad date? What happened?

–          When is the last time you cried out of sadness?

–          Have you ever been wronged by someone? What happened?

–          Have you ever wronged someone? What happened?

–          What is one of your biggest regrets?

Surely if you ask those questions and really ponder them, you will be able to come up with at least three stories that you can immediately put into your Failure File.

A Story from my Failure File

Here’s an example of a one-minute story that’s in my Failure File that I have not used much (and it is not developed yet) but I will develop and use in the future:

 The Good News!

One fantastic advantage to being a speaker is that you won’t mind failing because you know it will turn into one heck of a story. Some of my best stories have come from my failures. In fact, whenever I am upset about something I’ve failed at, I make sure I write down what happened and how I’m feeling because I know, chances are, it will show up in my speech.

Falling Down but Looking Up

On October 12th of 2013, I was coaching my son’s travel basketball team for their first practice when I went up to demonstrate how to shoot a layup. As soon as I jumped, I heard my knee pop and I ended up falling flat on my back as all the 4th graders watched. I couldn’t move so the ambulance had to come take me to the hospital. Keep in mind this was their FIRST practice!

On my way, as I rode in pain on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance, I remember thinking, “This will make a great story one day. Not today! But someday.” It has since gone into my Failure File.

What’s in Yours?

What is one story you can share about your own failure(s)?


For more ideas on how to use your failure stories to connect, see the following free video lesson.


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Craig Valentine

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