“Please, tell us a bit about yourself.”
“Why did you leave your last job?”
“What happened to that guy you were with? You seemed so great together.”
Do these words fill you with dread?
Is this the moment that the story you have been telling yourself about these events becomes your undoing?
I am a professional speaker. So actually giving the speech is not my big challenge. However, sharing a story that exposes my vulnerability while on stage can be unnerving.
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I was once asked to give a 20-minute speech at my Rotary meeting, focused on what makes me who I am. Yikes – what a task. I wrestled with which stories would say just enough without feeling like an over-share. Was there a way to be playful and honest – and not undervalue who I am?
True to form, I began with the easiest story:
I started my life as part of a matching set. Even in the womb, I was a wee bit of a risk taker. I turned to my sister and said, “I think there is a mother, you wait here, I’ll go check. If I’m not back in five minutes, follow me.” She has always been the more cautious one – she waited a full hour before showing up. I have been trying to get her to take bigger risks ever since.
The speech went on to talk about first loves and becoming a single mom, then to the debilitating injury that dramatically altered the trajectory of my law enforcement career and ultimately led me to speaking internationally.
Attendees later asked me how I could tell painful stories with such playfulness. They seemed to really appreciate my storytelling style. To me, this is perfect. Every speech should leave the audience on a positive note that gets them booked for a return engagement.
Everyone has a story around the moments that define who they are. These are the interpretations of events that create the tapestry of our lives. From our hopes and dreams to our significant disappointments – and everything in between.
Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives. One doesn’t just lose a job or just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of our identity – our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves and what we think we are capable of.
Since we are the first and most important audience of our own stories, learning how to tell the story to garner greater lift is a gift we give ourselves. Then we can mentor that for others.
Consider this simple formula for storytelling:
Act 1: The protagonist is called to adventure. The rules of the world are established and the end of Act 1 contains the initiating conflict.
Act 2: The protagonist looks for every comfortable way to solve the problem. By the climax, she learns what it’s really going to take to solve the problem. This act includes the ‘lowest of the low moments.’
Act 3: The protagonist needs to prove she’s learned the lesson, usually showing a willingness to prove this at all costs.
If we hang onto the dark side of our stories, we feel less remarkable and often more stuck in Act 2. With careful consideration, we can reconstruct the value of Act 2 and embrace Act 3.
The truth is that every day, our stories are unfolding and new characters are being embraced – some perhaps more interesting than others.
So take your time and deconstruct that unresolved story that has been holding you back from living a remarkable life. Let go of the resentment and embrace the positive outcome potential.
No matter where the story eventually leads you, the ending will be your own design.
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.
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