I didn’t set a New Year resolution this year. I have goals I am working toward, but not a major declaration that is normally expected of a resolution. One goal I have kept since 2015 is to tell a story at least once a month somewhere in DC, MD, or VA. That means that once a month I find at least 1 place that I stand on stage, most of the time at a microphone, and tell a story to a group of people. Sometimes there are a few hundred people, sometimes there 5- 10. In full disclosure, I include conferences that I present at, some trainings, Toastmasters meetings, and wherever I get a chance to do it. So far, I’ve done pretty good at finding a place.
While I do have some repeats, many of the stories I tell once on stage. It wasn’t until last year that I started to realize this was an unusual thing for some people. One thing I believe whole heartily is that storytelling is a skill. Everyone may not have the same skill level, but everyone can improve their skill. I’m willing to bet many people reading this right now are capable of having a great number of personal stories to tell. You just have to know where to find them.
With that in mind, I’m going to tell you how I find the stories I tell. Spoiler alert, it’s not that shocking or revolutionary. I’m willing to bet people who tell stories of all sorts do something similar. As I said, since I get the question a lot, I figure I’d share. There are 2 I use regularly and one that I am going to test out soon after I get the book I need.
A Story a Day
Since I have many things I am involved in, I have a need for many mentors. One of my mentors for public speaking said to me, “Every day, write one story from your life.” My response? “What am I supposed to at the end of 2 weeks? I’m pretty sure that’s all the stories I have.”
Turns out, I have about 100 stories ideas. Some have made it to full stories that I have used. Some are still works in progress. Where did those stories come from? I wrote done every memory I had had in my life that I could remember. How I chose the fire service as a career. What it was like when I first moved from Philly. The night Baby Girl was born. I would write down as much as I could remember. And over time I would go back to add things as I remember them.
Understanding that a good story shows a change in the main character, I looked at those stories to see if it changed how I saw life. Then I talk about how that change happened. What I find is a long list of ways to connect to story listeners.
Homework for Life
In the book Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks, he talks about his ongoing exercise Homework for Life. It’s even one of the TED talks he delivers (Homework for Life | Matthew Dicks | TEDxBerkshires). Here is a summary how it works: everyday, write down something memorable from the day. Something that makes you stop for a moment and say “hmm, that was interesting”. It need not be a full story. After about a week or so, look at what you have written and see what can be built out. Aside from helping me to find stories, it has been a phenomenal way to remember small moments in time that I would have forgotten about. Checkout the TED talk to more details about the process.
The Artist’s Way
This is something I only recently heard of, but it sounds promising. A story teller from Richmond VA was looking people to join her for regular get-togethers. I won’t be able to make the meetings, but it seems like something that can be followed individually as well. Here is what I know: the book is by Julia Cameron. It leads you through exercises that help spark your creativity. I can see this being extremely useful for storytellers who hit a point that finding new personal narrative stories may seem hard to find.
One common theme that all of these processes have is trying to find stories every day. It is much easier a task to look through stories you have in a collection to tell, vs coming up with a story on the spot. Remember that for any story, the character (normally you in the personal narrative story) undergoes a change of some sort. You can use these 3 ways to find the changes you have gone through and start your story ideal. There are other techniques for finding stories. These are just the ones I am currently using to tell my story on purpose.