Every year around this time, I remind people of this powerful secret to tap into their own life stories.
What happens when you get together with friends and family around the holidays? Conversation! Questions are asked, and stories are told. If your family and friends are anything like mine, you revisit the same stories again and again, and they are still funny! Well, stories are at the heart of what we do as presenters and communicators. Some of the best wisdom I’ve heard from Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, is that those stories you revisit on special occasions are the exact stories you should be telling on the stage.
We often take for granted the value of the stories we tell repeatedly around friends and family. There is a reason for telling them over and over: They are classics. They are usually funny and/or embarrassing. Sometimes we forget that people love relatable stories. Great stories from growing up, embarrassing moments, and tales of sibling rivalry hold universal messages. World Champion Speaker David Brooks says, “We all have different stories, but we all share the same seven emotions.”
Your classic stories usually need only two additions to take them to the stage. First, what is the message? Finding the point and how it can be turned into a takeaway for your audience is crucial. Great stories have many possible points. If you are not sure what the point could be, tell the story to several of your speaking colleagues, and ask them. They will see value and points that you may be too close to see.
Second, fill in the implied details that may be missing to make it work. If you have a story about Uncle Bob who has a fear of heights or is a bad golfer and those details are crucial to the story, you must let your audience know.
Everyone in your family may know Uncle Bob well, so in the normal telling of the story, details are not needed. Consider, however, what you would say if you brought a new family member to the dinner table to hear the story for the first time, and they didn’t know the backstory. When someone says, “I guess you had to be there,” that means that the storyteller left out some information that is important to the story. The storyteller did not take us through the tale properly.
Why this article today? Because you may be planning to get together with friends or family over the week, and I want to heighten your awareness before you do. I suggest you save and read this again soon after you attend these gatherings while the conversations are fresh in your mind. Gold is present at the dinner table. Capture it!
When I teach storytelling at our live Champ Camps, I emphasize the power of having a story file. This is just a simple word document that you leave on your computer desktop where you capture your ideas for stories. You can also use an app like Evernote, but the key is to capture the idea immediately. In fact, you could even record the telling of the story into your smartphone, so that you can go back and study it later. The more stories you have, the easier it is to create, update, and customize your presentations. You do not need to write out the whole story in the story file; just jot down keywords, details, and dialogue that help you remember and retell the story.
In my opinion, one of the most challenging careers as a presenter is as a pastor. Why? It is because they have to create new content weekly. Yikes. I only have four speeches, but they are really good. I can constantly tweak and hone them. A pastor has to create and deliver brand new content every week. Why bring this up? Because my pastor, Vince Antonucci, from Verve Church in Las Vegas, found the following questions useful. He gets great value out of Step One of our program, Create Your Keynote by Next Week, where we ask the listener 141 content-generating questions. Vince said, “It’s great for helping me to think of stories and illustrations for sermons.”
I pulled out some of the best questions to help you find some great stories while you are with your friends and families for the holidays. You might even print these questions and bring them with you to the gatherings you attend. (Maybe I’ll turn this into a board game!) Keep in mind that you are looking to uncover simple, powerful stories from your life and the lives of those around you.
1) Where were you born? What is that place known for?
2) What did your parents do for a living?
3) What advice did they give you that you still remember?
4) Who were your best childhood friends?
5) Were you interested in sports? If so, what sports? WHY?
6) What were your extracurricular activities? Band? Debate team? Chorus?
7) Were you influenced by your grandparents? School teachers? Sports coaches?
8) What was your favorite holiday growing up? Why?
9) As an adult, what stories do you vividly remember and can repeat, word for word, that you heard from your parents? Grandparents? Uncles and aunts?
10) What favorite stories does your family share at family gatherings?
11) Do you have pets? What have they taught you?
12) What was your first job?
13) Growing up, what were your favorite hobbies?
14) Who have been your mentors and role models? What did they say to you that sticks with you even now?
15) What have you done with their advice?
16) What stories have you told that, when you are at a social gathering, prompt one of your friends to say, “Hey, tell them the story about when . . .”
18) What stories do you have about your first car?
20) What adversities did you overcome in your childhood?
21) Have you or anyone else in your family served in the military?
22) What are your brushes with fame? What did you learn?
23) What do your friends and family tease you about?
24) The one question that led to my World Championship speech came from my coach, the 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking, Mark Brown. He asked me to picture vividly a child in my life and then consider this: if you were going to die tomorrow and you could teach that child only one lesson from your life experience to help them through the rest of their life, what would it be?
Stories, stories, stories! The best part is that they are yours, and they should be easy to retell with just a little bit of effort. Keep in mind, you are just looking to capture stories at this point. You are not trying to retell them or make the point. That will be next.
The value is already in the story. It is classic because it has been retold many times and is memorable for a reason. The secret is seeking. Look deep inside your past and find the gold. Family and friends can be great triggers to help you find what is already there. I challenge you to look in your memory files, or, better yet, have an open discussion around the dinner table about these questions. I’d be willing to bet some great stories will arise that you would not have thought of on your own. I bet there will be some laughter, too. Turn on an audio recorder, and you might just make a classic recording that people will want to take home to relive.
I’d love to hear what happens. Share which questions resonate or what gold you find. Please post your thoughts and ideas on my blog. Utilize this “Holiday Story Secret” brilliance from Patricia Fripp, and it just might change your career.
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