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I like to think of myself as a storyteller. That’s because my fondest childhood memories involved stories. It started when I couldn’t wait to get ready for bed because my mother would come in and share another epic story which I’m pretty sure involved several horses, mountains to summit,  gold, apples and a prince, there was always a prince.   While I loved her bedtime fantasy stories, I also hungered to learn more about my parents real life stories.  Where they grew up.  Why they chose to leave their countries of origin.  How they met.  Why we moved, again and again.  The names of each of my first cousins, 30 on my Danish side alone. Because those stories tell me who I am.  And they’re all part of my story.

When the Late Late Show with James Corden debuted just two and a half weeks ago,  Corden and Tom Hanks acted out snippets of Hanks’ movie career in seven minutes.  So impressive and hilarious!

While this isn’t Tom Hanks life story it certainly is his movie career story.

Telling your story is now part of a growing trend in blogging, marketing, recovery, psychology and advertising.  And it’s no surprise.  We share stories every day, and those who tell their stories best get our attention.

imgres-1Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, author, and writes on the blog, Owning Pink. In an article in Psychology Today, Rankin explains how owning up to her story has changed her life:

If I could sum up everything I’ve learned from over four years of blogging, it would boil down to one thing—you are not alone.

So many of us are tormented by the insane idea that we’re separate, disconnected beings suffering all by our little lonesome selves. I say this from experience. That’s exactly how I felt when I started blogging, as if I was the only one in the whole wide world who had lost her mojo and longed to get it back. Then I started telling my story—and voila! Millions of people showed to tell me they had lost their mojo too—or even more inspiring, that they had once lost theirs and since gotten it back.

How had they gotten their mojo back? By telling their story.

But how do you tell your story?  Do you just share everything all in one fell swoop?  Do you examine your audience?  Do you know your story?

imgres-2Since author Jeff Goins believes it’s critical to be able to tell your own story, he has some suggestions on how to get started:

You need to practice. You need to become an expert at telling your own story. Consider some of the basic elements of any good story and how they apply to your story:

  • What’s the conflict?
  • Who’s the hero?
  • Where is the suspense?
  • How will the conflict resolve?
  • What’s the point?
  • Why does it matter to me?

Classic stories, myths, and fairy tales tend to happen in three acts. They raise each of the above questions and then answer them. The conflict gets worse for the protagonist before it gets better.

Goins goes on to point out how storytelling is now a major marketing tool:

Think about the organizations you know that are really making a difference. Chances are, they’re telling a compelling story. I can think of several that immediately come to mind:

  • TOMS Shoes began with a story that Blake told and continues every time someone buys a pair of shoes.
  • Charity:Water starts with the story of a birthday party and still offers you the chance to donate your birthday to help people lacking clean drinking water.
  • Apple‘s story is about the underdog eventually beating out the competitor who wronged him. Every customer gets to live out this same story each time they buy a Mac or iPhone.

For those struggling with addiction, AA long ago realized that if people were willing to tell their stories, true recovery could take place.  The Hazelden Foundation has drug and treatment facilities all over the country. One of their exercises encourages addicts to tell their story.

To take your first step in recovery, you need to tell your “story” to your counselor and group. You need to talk about what your life was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. Think about all the times you were powerless over drugs, the people your drug use affected, the consequences you’ve suffered as a result of your use. Be completely honest with yourself and with your group. It’s time to tell your story.

Sherry-HambySherry Hamby, Ph.D.,  is Research Professor of Psychology, University of the South, and Director of the Appalachian Center for Resilience Research. In an article on resilience and sharing your story in Psychology Today, she writes:

I have been surprised at the power of emotional, autobiographical storytelling. Emotional, autobiographical storytelling means writing about events and people that have mattered to you in your own life–not just describing the facts of your lives. Research shows that even brief autobiographical storytelling exercises can have substantial impacts on psychological and physical health even months after the storytelling.

imgresAnd in advertising, being able to tell a story is one of the best tools for getting a message across.  Jon Thomas, in a Post Advertising article, writes about how stories shape information into meaning:

There’s nothing more mind numbing than hearing or reading a bunch of facts and figures. And anyone can recite numbers to an audience. A true marketer will weave a story around the information to create meaning for the audience.

Thomas insists that stories are less likely to be resisted:

When we know we’re being marketed to, we close our ears. We don’t have 30 seconds to be interrupted. But when we’re told a story, miraculously, we have 30 minutes to listen. Our arms unfold and we lean forward, excited to hear what comes next.

How powerful is that?  The imagery of unfolding our arms and leaning forward really resonates with me. It’s how I want to connect with anyone I’m listening to and who may be listening to me.

From those days of clinging to my mother’s bedtime stories and the stories of my parents’ lives, I now have the joy of a blended family and grandchildren.  So imagine the thrill I got when I had the chance to tell a bedtime story to my granddaughter for the first time.  Now she lights up and asks for those stories and can be distracted from almost anything if I will only sit down and start her story, which almost always involves several horses, mountains, lakes, packing for snacks, and a princess. Because right now she only wants to be a princess.

Given the tips from Jeff Goins above, I’ll have to make sure her stories have three acts. I can’t wait!

What’s your story?  I’d love to read it.

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