Leaders I work with in coaching always ask me, “How do I tell stories about me, without making it about….me?”
Leaders who speak on stage have an appetite to tell personal stories about their experiences. Understood. We all have great things we saw, experiences that happened to us or lessons that are dying to be shared. Problem is, many leaders I coach shy away from telling those stories. Or when they do, they share their stories awkwardly because they want to do it quietly. Somehow, they’ve been made to feel that it could be inappropriately all about them, or that they’ll turn their greater narrative into a confessional, coming across as narcissistic or, worse, that it’s too sappy.
One of my early and most important mentors always said, “Fear creates what it’s trying to avoid,” and in this case it’s true. If you’re compelled to tell a personal story, or you’ve received some feedback that it’d be a good idea to tell a personal story, make sure to tell it in a way that’s not misplaced and arbitrary. Know why you’re telling your story so that you can do so with ease and without being too long and overly descriptive. Often, I’ve seen clients come off as sappy when telling their stories because the story has no purpose. They create what they’re trying to avoid.
Here’s the cure: Know very specifically why you’re telling your story and where you’re telling it. Done.
Sounds simple, but if you get really specific here you’ll understand what the personal story is doing for you—what it services and why. Once you are super-clear on your purpose, the method you use to share your story will also become clear. What is the punch line? How does it set me up for the next thought? What am I really saying or showing about myself in using that personal story and is it in service to my audience? Does it need to be short, long, funny, or draw a metaphor?
If you know that formula, you’ll know how to tell your story so that it’s not coming from a point of fear. Instead, you’ll be able to share your story boldly, clearly and purposefully in a way that makes your time on stage compelling. In a way that makes you compelling.
When I work with my clients, it’s not uncommon for us to stop a rehearsal and spend, 20 minutes understanding the purpose of a personal story and another 20 minutes twisting how that story is told so it has a purpose. It’s worth it. When you’re not afraid to tell the story you need to tell, you’ll share it in the right way.