“I don’t have any interesting stories.”
When I start working on storytelling skills with my clients, I almost always hear some version of this.
Sometimes it’s job-specific:
“Sure, I have interesting stories about my personal life, but how can I use storytelling when I’m giving a talk about interest rates?”
Some folks insist that even their personal lives are devoid of “story-worthy experiences”:
“What life experiences could I possibly pull from? I’ve barely left my house in 8 months!”
And look, I’ll level with you, it’s definitely easier to craft a compelling story when you’ve got something super dramatic to pull from.
But at the same time, we all know that compelling subject matter does not guarantee a compelling story.
You know this if you’ve ever sat through a relative walking you through a laborious play-by-play of their recent vacation.
Your eyes glaze over as Uncle David describes the security features at different airports.
You think to yourself,
“How is this story so boring?! It has exotic locations, exciting events… I know from Facebook that at some point Aunt Marie got her sunglasses stolen by a monkey at a monastery. So why is this conversation so excruciating??”
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, did you ever have a teacher growing up who could make ANY subject interesting?
One of my high school English teachers was like this.
Mrs. Stoll routinely had a whole classroom of hormone-riddled 16-year-olds hanging on her every word as she discussed Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
Note: The subtitle of that book is “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.”
Suffice it to say, Mrs. Stoll was doing some heavy lifting in that class.
What can we learn from the parable of Uncle David and Mrs. Stoll?
Recounting life events exactly as they happened is not a story.
Stories have structure. They have pacing. They have beginnings, middles, and ends.
It’s equally possible to tell a thrilling story about computer code or a mind-numbingly dull story about scaling a mountain during a blizzard.
(I have personally heard both.)
So, if you’ve been telling yourself, “I can’t be a storyteller--I have nothing to pull from,” I’d like to challenge you to reframe that thinking.
Too many people let this misperception derail their professional and personal goals.
They know they want to improve their public speaking, but constantly put that dream on the backburner.
They tell themselves, “Sure, I’d love to learn how to be a better storyteller, but there just aren’t opportunities to flex that muscle at my current job.”
The truth is, the opportunities are out there.
You just may not be seeking them out.
Trust that you already have "story-worthy" material to pull from. All you need is a little bit of structure.
Sara Glancy is an NYC-based actor and public speaking coach and the founder of Speak Masterfully, a service that helps professionals take the stage with less fear and more fun!
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Photo by Jessica Osber.