5 Tips to Collect Your Best Stories
By John Millen
During a recent storytelling workshop with a senior leadership team, one leader said she felt like she didn't have any good personal stories to share.
She asked where I find my stories. I told her valuable stories are everywhere in our lives, we just have to recognize them and capture them.
As I began answering her question, as an example I spontaneously told a story about a personal struggle I had early in my career that helped me find my purpose. It’s an emotional story, with a happy ending.
My story bank
The reason I was able to “spontaneously” tell this story is that it’s in my story bank, where I preserve my best stories. Over the years, I’ve collected my own personal and business stories to use in presentations, coaching and conversations.
If someone asked me under pressure to tell them my favorite story, I might mention my surprise encounter with Oprah, or that time before I started a new job in Los Angeles when I auditioned for seven game shows in three days. But we’ll leave those stories for another day.
Your favorite story
Let’s talk about you. If someone were to ask you to tell your favorite story, what would you say?
Would you search your memory hoping to come up with a story that is worthy of being called your “favorite”?
Would you be flustered? Maybe tell the first story that comes to mind? Or would you give up searching and let this opportunity pass?
This exact scenario may not happen to you, but there are times that telling a story would be the perfect way to engage, inspire or persuade someone important to you. You might have the perfect story for a presentation, a job interview or even a first date.
That’s why I believe storytelling is a superpower in business and in life. It's because stories can help us build trust, understanding and connection in all of our relationships. That's why the best leaders tell stories.
With this in mind, here are five practical tips for finding and saving your best life stories:
1. Develop a storyteller mindset
Make a commitment to start finding and saving your stories.
Once you decide to capture stories you’ll notice that stories are everywhere. It’s like when your neighbor buys a car model you never noticed before. Suddenly, everywhere you go you’ll start seeing that car.
The same thing happens when you decide to collect your own stories, they’ll start popping up all the time –– when you’re in virtual meetings, driving or just waking up.
2. Save your stories
When all of these stories start coming at you, it’s important to have a disciplined approach to capturing them. If you say, “I’ll write that down when I get home” you’ll never remember that story.
I have a notebook I use to write my favorite inspirational quotes and my stories. I keep that notebook on my desk next to my computer. It’s a white Moleskine notebook with a black drawing of Batman on the cover. Don’t judge me.
To make sure I capture stories when I’m traveling or elsewhere, I have a notes file on my phone labeled “stories” and whenever I hear something that would make a good story, blog article or YouTube video I enter it on my phone. If I’m driving, I dictate a quick note.
3. Don’t prejudge your stories
During my training sessions, I’m privileged to hear amazing, often intimate personal stories. People will share tragedies and triumphs from meaningful parts of their lives. Cancer diagnosis, losing a loved one, being fired from a job.
When I ask whether they have shared these stories before, they often say no. Sometimes people say they thought no one would want to hear those stories.
That’s when people who just heard the story are often shocked because they found it so meaningful. They say “you have to keep telling that story!”
This is why it’s vital to start collecting your stories without prejudging them. There will be plenty of time later to edit and determine their use. For now, just start collecting as many as you can.
Your stories need to be told but will never have an impact in the world if you don’t start collecting them now.
4. Ask people for stories
As a leader, or a team member, one great method to find valuable stories is to ask others. Collecting stories about your organization, its successes and failures, helps to reinforce a positive culture.
Rather than asking the old, “how’s business?” what if you asked someone to tell you the most interesting story they’ve heard in their business in the past year?
When you ask that question, rather than getting the pat answer, “business is good” you’ll get a real insight into the person and the organization. That’s because to find a story, we have to search a different part of our brains, as it takes some effort and creativity.
You’ll be making a deeper connection with the help of a story. You should also make a note of that story for your collection. Don’t prejudge it, just record it.
5. Start sharing your stories
Once you have a few stories you can test them with trusted friends and associates. Don’t tell them you’re testing your story. Just start telling it when the moment is right.
Watch their reactions, especially their eyes. When you share your story, the two of you are making the most real, intimate connection available to human beings.
That’s because we as human beings are hardwired for hearing and telling stories.
By sharing your stories you’re giving people insights into who you are and what you value. You’ll find that your openness is rewarded with openness from others in return.
This is why I call storytelling “the leader’s superpower.” Telling a story is more engaging, inspiring and motivating than anything else you can say.
So keep your eyes open –– stories are all around you. Search your life and the lives of people you know for the moments you can share with others.
You’ll be on your way to telling the world your story.