Do you want to make a deeper and more lasting impression on your audience? To deepen that connection, you must go deeper within yourself.
Doesn’t that just make sense? Everyone has a story; in fact, many stories. Do you ever feel jealous of other presenters who have great stories and wish stories like that would happen to us? They have, and we usually bury them in our memory because they’re painful.
I just spent the weekend leading a Champ Camp with Judy Carter about ‘Finding Your Message.’ We sat on the side of the room and talked as the students were involved in an exercise. I don’t even remember how it came up, but I was telling her how, when I was growing up, I had to wear ugly black different size shoes and how I now have a passion for ‘cool’ shoes. She asked if I’d ever told that story. Nope. I’d written an article about it, but had never told it from the stage. She reminded me that it’s a great story, from ugly-to-cool. We need to tell the stories of our transformations.
Many speakers want to become professionals long before they know their own unique message. We must first figure out ‘our story’ before we can share our message — kinda like saying we can’t market until we know who we’re marketing to… who needs to hear our message.
So, how do you find your story? Early in my career, I was listening a speech by Bobbi Gee. She directly asked, “Why should anyone listen to you? What have you done? What have you overcome?” Wow! I had no idea. That was why I was sitting in her presentation. After months of pondering that thought, I realized that my story was that I had become a comedian even though I wasn’t funny. That led me to seeing some of my value, long before I won the World Championship. In fact, if I trace the origins of my winning speech, it was really that question from the mid-1990’s.
What can you do to find your story? As you may know, I’m in the midst of writing my own screenplay. My exhaustive studying of master screenwriters has taken me through a journey of discovery. I’ve found countless correlations between the process of screenwriting and the process of storytelling for speakers. This idea was spawned by Syd Field’s The Screenwriter’s Workbook. In this book, Syd mentions that he has seen many screenplays that were OK, but just not compelling enough. What does Syd recommend to his students? For each of the main characters, he suggests writing a biography of their life. What was it like for them growing up? What did their parents do for a living? He says that if you go deeper in to the lives of your characters, you can ad more detail and ‘back story’ to the screenplay. Investing a little time in writing the biography will make the story writing easier and the added detail will make the story more compelling and real.
Here’s your assignment, if you’re willing to accept it:
Write a 2-to-3 page biography about yourself. Take a few days to think about it and reflect. You never have to show anyone. The self-discovery could lead you to the best story you ever told, one with more of a lasting impact. What memories — good and bad — do you have about growing up?
Here is what I wrote (rambling, typos and all!):
My name is Darren LaCroix. I was born in Worcester, Mass in 1966. I was born with a deformity called a clubfoot. My mom felt like it was her fault and over compensated to help her deal with the unnecessary guilt. In those days doctors didn’t want to operate on infants. Most doctors told her that they would have to wait until my early teens before they could do anything. My mom persisted she found Dr. Karen. He operated on me when I was a year and a half old. I remember he was a pretty cool guy too. He found a way to take ligaments from one side of foot and add them to the other to help twist my foot straight.
I had a few operations and several casts. Mom felt bad. I didn’t really know any different. Mom said when I was little, if I wanted something across the room, I just went and got it, dragging my little cast behind me. That’s kind of how life is I guess.
For a while I had to wear those leg braces. Not very cool. Wearing a cast much of my infancy, my left foot didn’t grow as fast, so one foot was smaller than the other. We had to go to a special store, Stride Rite, to buy shoes. They were the only place that would sell us two different sized shoes. When all the other kids were wearing the cool sneakers I was wearing ugly black ones. Mom was very loving, but she did not have a great sense of fashion. She found me this red corduroy cape and a matching Sherlock Holmes hat. I got teased at school, “Darren, Darren the Red Baron.” Ouch.
My sister, Donna was the oldest. She was the smart one. My brother David was the funny one. He was a super jock and quite clever too. He was six years older than me. I think I was a surprise. They broke my parents in for me. They would get so frustrated because my mom didn’t make me eat anything I didn’t want to. They were forced to eat Lima beans. They were creative in finding ways hide the evidence. They would either hide them in their milk or feed them our dog Sandy, under the table.
Mom and dad were great. They were like June and Ward Clever, but their roles were reversed. Mom ruled the roost and dad was a quiet guy who loved to fish. I have no idea how we survived on such little income. Dad worked at the electric company, mom made wedding cakes out of our home to earn extra cash to provide for us. She was also an artist. She did oil paintings of nature scenes and covered bridges. Mom would always watch the news and make me afraid of the big cities. That was where all the crime was.
Dad has the biggest heart and could fix anything. When it came to woodworking was his gift. Sometimes we called him Geppetto as he even made Christmas gifts for my nephews. Dad’s parents were adopted and 100% French. Mom’s parents were 100% Polish. My great grandparents came to America from Poland.
Every Sunday we would go to church, then my grandparents would stop by with fresh bagels from Water Street in Worcester. Mmmmmm. Nothing like a fresh bagel and cream cheese and grandma’s fresh picked strawberries.
Growing up I remember a book I found in the library. It was my first exposure to motivation. I read the biography of O.J. Simpson. Then he was famous as a running back for the Buffalo Bills. I was inspired to hear how he had rickets growing up. He had to wear the same braces I did. This moved me.
I was naive enough to believe my dreams could come true. I grew up in a family where they believed success was for other people. Not us. If we could just go to college and get a good job, have a family and retire from that job, that’s the most you could hope for.
My brother was a super jock and still has track records at our hometown high school. I liked sports, though I was never very good at it. I used to pitch side arm. In high school the good hitters had trouble with it, the bad hitters cleaned my clock!
My sister was a scholar. The first grandchild from our family to graduate college and graduated Suma Cum Laude. I was an average student. I had challenges reading so I was in remedial reading classes to. I got hooked up to a reading machine to help me focus one word at a time. That was before they knew what dyslexia was – or ‘saw.’
People liked me, but I always wanted more. Always loved the movies because I saw life as challenging. That people needed an escape. I thought it would be cool to make movies to help people have that escape. Even wrote a little movie for me and my cousins based on a Styx album. You might not even be old enough to know what an album is. Its an MP3 made out of a big black plastic pancake.
I thought we had it tough, not having much money. Not having cool stuff, but my parents loved us and did they best they could. Everyone see’s their situation as the worst. We look at people who have it better than us and get a little jealous. I grew up in a plastic bubble. I had no idea how lucky we really were. Then again, do most people?
I loved seeing people laugh. There was nothing that made me happier than seeing people happy. I wasn’t very funny though. My brother and cousins, they were funny. I enjoyed that was the ultimate for me.
Never won anything in my life. I just wasn’t lucky or really good at anything.
In high school I played baseball and football. I was a relief pitcher in baseball and second-string quarterback. I could throw better than the first string QB in practice, but had no business being first. I was too afraid.
My biggest accomplishment in my life to that point was the summer before senior year. I was tired of watching the varsity sports from the sidelines. This was going to be my year. I was mad as heck and I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I started lifting weights and running four miles a day. My brother forced me to lift. He literally stood over me on the bench press with his fist in the ready to punch me if I gave up too soon. I hated it at the moment, but appreciated it later on. I ended up getting the nickname “Chester” that year. I had great pectoral muscles.
I remember watching an NFL Film highlight when running back Walter Payton broke a rushing record. It was played to the Bond theme song, “Nobody does it better.” I sat in awe and wondered what it would be like to be the best at something.
My high school aptitude test said I should consider being a TV Camera man. My reaction was funny and sad now. I thought, “How cool… .to be working with TV stars! That would be awesome.” The problem with that was, I barely could dream being behind a camera, and it did not even come close to my consciousness that I could be in front of the camera.
I went on to Bryant College, a small business school in Rhode Island. I studied marketing and finance. I didn’t like finance, but took it just to shut my brother up. In fact I took extra classes over the summer just to qualify for a double major. When in college I started a summer business with my friend Jim. It was a driveway sealing business. The idea came to us when we were sealing his father’s restaurant parking lot overnight, so he didn’t have to close down his parking lot. We still blame it on the fumes. Jim was the one who got me into motivational tapes and the guy who game me the Brian Tracy program that is now infamous. Over my bed, in my childhood bedroom where my dream started hang a Successories poster of a skier going off a cliff with the saying, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” I needed that message.
After college I wanted to go to Hollywood and become an actor. I took a trip out there with my friend Don. We ended up in the audience and got on camera when Harry Loraine memorized all of the audience’s names. It felt like fate we were destined to be there. Never had the guts to make the move though. I did end up doing lots of local commercials in Boston. My acting teacher, Bob North taught me that the day you are ready to give up, is the day you would have landed the role. He proved to be right. The day I was going to quit was the day I landed a national Konica Copier spot. I wore the ugliest tie ever in that spot. Still have it hanging in my office to remind me of that lesson. I went on to get my S.A.G. card, and though I’m still a card-carrying member, I haven’t used it since those days.
When I was getting started it was tough to get camera time. I remember being at the town hall and seeing a poster for a public access TV course. It was free. I could afford that. I got together with some of my funny friends and started a public access TV program. We did skit comedy. It was fun and invaluable experience. Camera time, camera time, camera time.
I am a hopeless romantic. When I started pursing my comedy dream, I fell in love with a much older woman named Jane. Her support was crucial at the beginning. She would drive with me into Boston to open mic night every Sunday. I got the guys who worked for me at the Subway shop and I coached in football to come with me late one night and accompany me on the guitar when I sang Extreme’s song, “More than words” outside her window. I then asked her to marry me. She couldn’t do it. She was much smarter than I was. She knew my family would have a hard time accepting her and her daughter because she was much older. I was crushed. The only way I could deal with it was to dive deeper into comedy. I felt no pain when I was on stage making people laugh. Even if the laughs were few and far between.
I keep adding to it. More ideas come each day.
If you want a deeper impact, you need to go deeper. You never have to show it to anyone. The exercise will still be valuable. Most of the time we’re too close to see our own value. Help from friends can be powerful.
If you’re willing to show someone else, consider this:
After you write your biography, I suggest asking trusted friends to take a look and tell you what’s interesting. What are the “commonalities” that people who look at it mention? If you’re a speaker or a Toastmaster, ask your friends or colleagues if they’d give you a few minutes of feedback. What you hear might just change the course of your speaking.
I’d like your help: If you’re willing to give me feedback on mine, please do and post on my blog. What seems interesting to you? What intrigues you? What might you want to know more about? Is trying to discover what makes me an interesting backstory?
Please share your comments below!