Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and then went on to become the greatest basketball player of all time.
Amazon.com started with one guy selling books from his garage and then went on to become arguably one of the most powerful companies on the planet.
J.K. Rowling’s story about a teenage wizard was rejected by 12 publishers only to go on to become a brand worth $25 billion dollars.
You have likely heard one, if not all, of these stories. Why is that? Because storytelling is a uniquely powerful tool for humans.
From explaining which berries are safe to eat to which brand of shoes to buy, stories have played a critical role in human history. They become part of our culture and motivate people unlike anything else. But we seem to have forgotten the most important aspect of storytelling: it isn’t just for billion-dollar brands. Each of us has our own unique story and we can use that superpower of telling our story to appeal to, connect with, create trust, build relationships, and empower others.
Whether you are preparing for job interviews or trying to cut through the noise as you start a new business, identifying, refining, and sharing your story is the most effective way of getting the attention of others and getting them to connect with you on a personal level.
Identifying Your Story
I know what you are thinking, I hear it from clients all the time. You’re thinking I don’t have a personal story and by the way I hate talking about myself in private, let alone in public. There is nothing really that special about me, after all, I have never traveled the world or climbed Mt. Everest or saved a school bus full of children. What interesting story could I possibly tell about myself that will make a difference?
What is important to realize is that telling a good story doesn’t require anything miraculous. Just make it authentically you while focusing it on your audience and you will win every time! Just watch any great comedian: a comedian can make a thousand people laugh hysterically talking about mundane things that we all do everyday. Your personal story can be equally as ubiquitous and powerful as a comedian’s joke.
The key to developing a powerful personal story is to identify the things that make you unique and that demonstrate the value you can bring to others via a personal relationship, client or an organization.
If you aren’t sure where to start, you can begin by answering a few simple questions about yourself:
- Who Am I?
Where was I born? Where do I come from? Who is my family? What is my background? What am I grateful for? And what or who has made me who I am? What makes me, well, me?
- What Is My Experience?
What work have I done? What am I inspired and motivated by? What am I passionate about? What have I had to overcome and what are my triumphs?
- What Value Do I Bring?
What am I good at? What are my special skills? What has made me unique and special? Why do people love me, and what do I do to maintain that? What kind of attitude do I have? What can I do for others? What makes me successful that is not about my technical experience?
We spend everyday with ourselves and sometimes we forget what makes us special. After answering these questions, a few unique personal events, values, and passions should emerge about yourself that that you may have forgotten. These will form the foundation of your personal story which is pure connection currency.
With all the pieces of your personal story laid out in front of you, the next step is to assemble it into something that can really pack a punch.
Assembling Your Story
After thinking about the above questions, you should have an idea of what your personal story might be. But it might still be a bit raw, a random assortment of personal facts.
To create a fully-formed, powerful, personal story, you need to take those personal facts and turn them into a narrative that shows your strength, skills, passions, and values.
Your personal story should be the answer to the following question: how would you explain your personal story in a way that is brief, interesting, and that people can connect with?
Your personal story isn’t a script per se, but instead a framework or outline for how you present yourself. As an example, maybe you have overcome a difficult childhood experience that now fuels you to help others. Your story would explain why that particular event fuels you, what you learned from it, and how you are using that experience to help others.
While this example story would be unique to you, anyone could connect with it because everyone faces challenges at some point in their life. Overcoming challenges is a part of the human experience. And that is the purpose of your story: to give people a chance to connect with you over a shared experience and foster a genuine relationship
Share Your Story Every Day
From recent college graduates to ex-Marines, I work with people all the time who have an amazing personal story, who know they have an amazing story but, before working with us, simply never tell it.
And this is tragic because their stories are so powerful. I, for one, use my personal story everyday to motivate my colleagues, pitch potential clients, connect with my current clients, or just start a conversation at the gym. It is my offering to others for them to latch on to, connect and identify with, and use as a way to bridge the gap between others.
Your story can do the same. Whether you are speaking to an interviewer or a potential client, your listener is going to feel differently about you if they feel they share a genuine connection with you. You become “the guy who overcame X…” or “the young women who successfully did Y.” And that is exactly what you want.
Storytelling is an art and the people I coach to help develop their personal story put a lot of time and effort into developing it into something that maximizes its punch. It can take over 100 times practicing your story to get it right. After they put the work in, telling their story becomes natural and a critical tool that they can use in an endless number of situations, helping them to make important connections every single day. It is the absolute secret to getting the guy, the girl, the sale, the promotion, the win, the mentorship!
Go friggin tell your story, please!