Pumping Up a Flat Story

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Do you ever tell a story, in a speech, in a meeting, or at a dinner, and it rolls along like a flat tire? Maybe it seems like everything’s ready to move but something feels kind of wobbly? Or instead of an “A-ha” at the end, you just get a long vacant look?

Well, a couple of years ago, in an attempt to pump up some old wobbly stories, I developed my story box. To motivate myself to really fill it up, I decided to set a goal: 30 stories in 30 days. I decided to dedicate an hour a day to finding and shaping new stories. For efficiency’s sake, I decided I’d combine this with a daily walk in the hills – after all, this is work, right?Improve_your_story

First, I looked for what I used to call “Dinner Table Stories,” named after my dad’s stories that he’d test out on us at the dinner table. Some of them would land with laughter, or a realization – others would end with blank stares. I found I had a pretty good series of dinner table stories…like the Moroccan Taxi Story, for example (you can ask me:).

By Day 10 or so, surprisingly, I ran out of those, and began to look simply for key moments in time. Moments that stick in my memory, but that don’t quite have a story attached to them. Like the time I sailed off the mountain skiing at Snowmass and almost killed myself. And finally, I scanned each phase of my life for insights that I had learned in each phase of my life, but never really had stories to go with them, and looked to see if there was one ready to emerge.

It was hard going some days, my mind just didn’t want to wander to a new story. It wanted to solve other problems that I faced, or just rest. But I made it! And through this process, I came up with three basic tips to help pump up a story…here they are for you.

1. Find the change. A story is a module of change – no change, no story. So…what changed for you in the story? Was it a belief in something, or a way of doing something that changed? Did you decide to never go back some certain place anymore, or to take things for granted? See if you can you land your story stating how the world is now different. There is always an opportunity to accentuate the contrast in the story, so if you feel like there’s a glimmer of change that occurred as you now see and tell the story, see if you can focus on aspects of your life before and after the experience that emphasize a change.

2. Remember the lesson. What did you learn from the experience? Was there a lesson that you took away from this that informed future decisions? Can you tell the story in a way that helps that lesson to truly come alive?

3. Bridge, don’t force.  Consider your audience, first and foremost. Think of the key thing you’d like to illuminate to them. That’s the last piece you can unfold, the ‘why’ of the story. Sometimes, of course, this is clear from the story itself, and adding to it is more rattling on. That’s great. But often the bridge takes a little shaping, and offers even more surprise to land the ‘ahhh!’ From your audience.

Finally, of course, you want to test it out. Find a story buddy, or a friend to share the story with before you bring it to your team or a wider audience. Test the resonance, how the air flows. Are there any gaps? Any places you could pump even a little air into?

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