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The Power of a Personal Story

IStock_000035105200_webAfter conducting a great actor-based training session on Motivating through Storytelling for Business last week, I learned something from an unexpected source: my eleven year old son.

One of his classmates shared how she is experiencing a difficult time because her parents are divorcing.  The class was discussing what it's like to go through a difficult time in your life.  This prompted my son to share a personal story about how we had to evacuate our home in California a few years back because of a wildfire that was coming towards our neighborhood.  We could literally see the flames from our window, though the fire was at a far enough distance that our house was not in imminent danger.  He shared how that was tough for him, and how fearful he became of fire over the next few years.

That had a positive impact on his classmate, to the point that she went home and told her Dad, and her Dad mentioned it to the teacher a few days later (who in turn mentioned it to us).

I found it fascinating because it is hard for me to equate a kid going through divorce with an evacuation.  After all, we got to go back home and all was well.  And yet it did have an impact.

I believe it was because:

  • He was authentic and sincere.
  • It was a personal story - not an anecdote or someone else's story.
  • He was willing to share it in a vulnerable setting.

In a business setting, do we need to be wise about telling personal stories?  Sure.  But personal stories can be a powerful way to come alongside a team member, motivate a team, build trust, and have a positive impact on the lives of those around you.  Too often we separate our personal "selves" from our work "selves", but when we are vulnerable and sincere, we become better leaders and influencers.

"But I can't think of any personal stories!"  That is a statement I often told myself, but in reality we have many stories we could tell if we would stop coming up with excuses as to why we shouldn't tell them.  Our stories do not have to be unique or compelling or even emotional - just personal to us.  That's the power.  Here are some ideas to help you prime the pump:

  • What happened to you today?  This week?  This month?  Last year?  In the past?
  • What happened to you at home?  At work?  Someplace else?
  • What is something on which you worked (i.e. a project)?
  • What is something a team experienced on which you worked?
  • What is an adventure you took (i.e. vacation, team building, hobby, fun event)?
  • What is an event or story that really gripped you?

Perhaps we could learn something from a pair of eleven-year olds.  I know I did.




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