“Ikenna, how do you find which tales to tell? Honestly, nothing this interesting and noteworthy ever happens to me.”
This was a question I once received from someone who had heard me speaking, let’s call him John. Of course, my first response was to give him a smile as if to say to myself, ‘I definitely nailed that speech’. However, I struggled to help John understand that every day brings with it stories. I term it a struggle because we entered into (almost) an argument with me trying to show him the tales that can be found in the most mundane day to day things. I want to believe that he left the discussion with a clear handle on how to find nuggets of stories daily. For me, I left the discussion with another story in my journal.
Two questions came out of that story, which I would like to share with you. How come we don’t find these stories and how do I make tales fit to the speech I am giving?
Before we go into that, how has your week been? I trust you are doing well. I had to travel for work last week, (loads of stories from that experience by the way), which made me experience the COVID-19 test for the first time. If you haven’t yet experienced it, allow me to talk you through it. On the plus side, it is over in seconds. But those are some uncomfortable seconds. The easiest way to describe the experience is, someone is trying to make you throw up and afterwards you drink a cold fizzy drink so quickly that it comes out of your nose. All that in a few seconds. And the annoying part, nobody asked me at the border to provide the result.
Ah, well. At least now I am cooped up inside my home the coming days, since I have to quarantine for at least 5 days before taking the test again. Fortunately, the weather is not very bright outside, so I don’t feel left out.
Shall we dive into today’s post?
Why can’t I find stories?
The real question (as I tried to tell John) is why don’t I recognize the stories? Just like John above, I used to see stories as those dramatic events which I see in movies. So till the day I can drive a car which will morph into a submarine or is invisible and has hidden weapons, it feels like there are no stories for me to tell. You probably can tell from this that I am an 007/Mission Impossible fan.
You can probably also guess that I am not a Tom Cruise who can jump off buildings with nothing but the ability to grasp a ledge.
What I am though, is a human being who has experiences through the day. And in those experiences, you find stories which when told, has the same ability to take your audience through the rollercoaster emotions of a good 007 movie.
Let’s take my recent journey. I got to the border and the custom agents, picked me out of the traffic that I should park. Considering that I had my test result with me in the car, I gladly pulled over and put on my face mask. The man looked at me and asked where I was going and what sort of job I did. I quite happily answered his questions, even explaining to him that pharmaceutical companies make medicines (language issues). Then instead of asking me for my COVID test result, he peeps into the car asking if I had more than 10,000 euros with me or any other contraband. I was like come on, what do you take me for? A drug baron or maybe a secret agent who carries strange things across the border? Well, I didn’t really say that, but those thoughts crossed my mind.
A story needs to have characters, events and most importantly an emotional impact. I can tell you that the above short story contains all of those. It may not have had me starring as 007, yet qualifies to be called a story.
How do I make this story work?
That would be the reason for these emails in the first place. To show you how to make stories work for you in a speech. However, you need to focus on the lessons from a story as the major determinant of how and where you can apply it.
Think of my journey across a border, depending on where I wish to use it, there are multiple lessons that can be drawn out of it. I went through an emotional rollercoaster in a very short period of time – mild apprehension at being pulled over, happiness at being prepared and disappointment that they didn’t ask for my COVID-19 test certificate.
Simply put, the lessons from your story determine how to use them in a speech. If I was to deliver a speech on dealing with being prepared, I could pull this one out of my journal and tell you how I was still glad that I did that test. Some days later, I got a call from the COVID tracking agency querying whether I did a test, and I could truthfully answer ‘yes’.
But you can only tell these stories if you identify them in the first place.
What are you doing with those ‘normal’ things that are happening to you daily? Have you started writing them down as stories to tell?