Chapter 3: Draw upon your personal landscape

Find your best stories from your personal experience

Now that you’ve identified the work you want your story to do, and you’ve spent time building empathy with your audience, it’s time to move on to the creative process. In other words, it’s time to start building your own original story.

Business people typically rate themselves poorly as storytellers. This is a shame, as most people are brimming with powerful, authentic stories. To begin to unlock yours, it’s useful to break down the very idea of what a story is. This leads to our next Storytelling tip: Tip 2 – Focus on human experience and transformation.

So, how can you find a compelling, human-driven narrative of your own?

The secret is to reconnect your professional mindset to what is meaningful in your life. The focus is wider than simply what’s meaningful in your job, important though that obviously is. It’s about the broader landscape of your personal, intellectual, and creative experience, within which your work is just one aspect.

To become a better storyteller, first try to view yourself in new and different lights. The goal is to recognize that your unique experiences are rich with story elements and lessons that can engage and intrigue others in remarkable ways. This begins with looking inward.

The first step is to make an objective assessment of the things, people, and experiences that make you who you are. Throughout your life, you have been shaped and influenced by important relationships and intense experiences of trial, risk, struggle, and triumph. These are the source of not only your greatest wisdom but also your most powerful stories.

Your nose sits directly in front of your eyes, yet you never quite see it as you walk through the day. In a comparable way, most of us have blind spots when it comes to recognizing the latent power of our most important experiences. For both, a mirror can make all the difference.

The “mirror” we use this workshop is provided by questions found in the workbook.

WORKBOOK EXERCISE:

Go to Page 3 in your workbook, Scope the story: Empathize with your audience,” and follow all of the steps to find an authentic story that can help meet your Impact goal.

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Generate good “story nuggets”

In surveying your personal landscape, the best way to find a powerful “story nugget” is to look for an experience that vividly exemplifies an essential lesson or insight that helped to make you who you are. Here’s the formula: you must identify a single moment in time, at a physical location, with at least one actual human being, who is struggling with some type of problem. If you can’t fill in all of those blanks on at least one or two specific moments, you don’t have a strong candidate for a story.

The idea is to find a representative bit of drama: the specific point at which trouble either arrived, resolved itself, or got a whole lot worse. It might be the inciting incident, when the proverbial stuff hit the fan. It might be the breaking point where the cards came tumbling down. Or it might just a moment when truth was revealed in profound clarity. What matters most is that the moment is vibrant in your memory and essential to what you learned. This gives it the power to transport audiences out of their plastic chairs and boring conference rooms and into new places and moments, which they’ll feel they are experiencing with you.

Notably, the nuggets that evolve best into working stories tend to be rich in some brand of pain; often the more the better. Recall that a story is always “an experience of human transformation.” That transformation pivots on the fulcrum of personal struggle, and the value comes in seeing how a character either overcomes a challenge or is defeated by it. Stories tend to be worthless without this presence of pain and resolution.

Find your best story

Once you’ve got a solid list of potential nuggets that speak to your core values and beliefs, you’re ready to start considering which might best serve your strategic interests.

At this point, you can refer back to the impact statement you wrote at the outset and consider the mindset of your target audience. Right away, you may recognize that certain nuggets make no sense, or may actually backfire, in light of what you know from the process of building empathy. In other cases, your instincts may tell you that a nugget is too personal, or inappropriate to share with the audience. Ask what might resonate best with those folks, at a personal as well as professional level, make sure you’re comfortable sharing some authentic version of it, and let that be your guide.

With this work done, you’re ready to move on to shaping and then landing the story.

NEXT: LEARN HOW TO SHAPE YOUR STORY