Latino father reading a book with his daughter

Those of us in marketing are full of pretty words around storytelling.

We carry on about the “hero’s journey” and how we have been storytelling since we lived in caves to hide from sabre-toothed tigers.

Yet storytelling is nothing magical even if some people do it so well that it feels like sorcery.

In fact, storytelling is such a common thing in for species that you’d think that there would be a simple formula for it, right?

Well, of course there is.

How to be a storyteller when you’re not a good storyteller.

  1. Think of a challenge you had to overcome in your life
  2. Add in the reasons why you probably should have failed to overcome it
  3. List the steps you took to overcome it
  4. Add in one final obstacle that should have stopped you
  5. Describe the feeling you had when you did overcome it
  6. Finish with a lesson you learned from the experience that someone else could take inspiration from

But my story isn’t exciting.

This all sounds great, but your story isn’t as impressive as someone else’s story.

Or you haven’t had much trauma on your journey.

Or your story seems so much less important than the big stories out there.

I’ll agree that there are some incredible people out there who have overcome overwhelming adversity to become exceptionally successful. And their story deserves to stand out.

Yet your story is no less significant to the person who really needs to hear it.

In fact, the most incredible stories are often the ones that everyday people can’t relate to. Sure, they are inspired. Maybe they are even motivated. But they are not necessarily connected to the person behind them. And they certainly don’t see themselves working with them.

We have all seen people so attractive that it was hard not to notice them. But it doesn’t mean that we’d ever want to be with them.

With that out of the way, let’s explore each step of the storytelling process a bit more closely.

Step 1: What challenge did you have to overcome?

Some people were born into poverty. Or migrated from a war-torn country. Others were born with a disability. Or they had rotten parents. 

For most of us our challenges in life weren’t that extreme. But we still had to overcome a challenge at some point that required us go beyond our everyday routine. 

That’s where your story starts. 

You were going about your business, living your life, doing your job or just being yourself when something happened. 

I didn’t love or hate my job as a Technical Manager. I just tolerated it. I worked. I got paid. I was in a comfortable position. Then one day, all that was taken away from me.

Your story about overcoming a challenge is underway.

Step 2: What odds were stacked against you?

­There are a world of reasons why you shouldn’t have overcome your challenge. Lack of money. Lack of education. Lack of opportunity. Lack of courage. It could be anything.

But the best thing to talk about here are the circumstances that are most unique to you. And they have to be your circumstances.

We’re taking the sudden turn of events and adding extra salt to the wound. Not only did something bad happen, but it’s especially bad for you. 

I had been in this job for 13 ½ years. I didn’t even have a job interview or this role. In fact, I hadn’t had a job interview in about 20 years. And the job I’d been doing here was so specific that I don’t even know if any of this stuff is relevant to another other role out there. 

Your story isn’t just about a bad turn of events. It’s a bad turn of events that couldn’t have happened at a worse time to a worse person.

Step 3: List the steps you took to win

Your life didn’t stop there. Somehow, you’re still around to tell this story. So what did you do next? 

Here’s your chance to give the reader a bit of a clue as to how they might try to overcome their problem that is, most likely, very similar to your problem. 

I had a lot of unclaimed leave and I’d be given an accrued long-service leave payout. I could essentially take 6-9 months of work to do something else. So I did. I gave myself a month off and then started my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.

Now we’ve got a pathway towards a more hopeful future. A set of steps that allowed the character (you) to take stock, seek advice, think critically, decide on a course of action and take it.

Step 4: The Final Battle

No one’s plans always go perfectly to plan. There’s always something that comes up to try and derail you. 

In a video game, it’s called the final boss. I like to call it the final battle

This is an unexpected obstacle that couldn’t have been planned for and can’t be avoided. Just like Bilbo Baggins and his company of dwarves having to cross a lake to the Lonely Mountain to fulfill their quest to steal the Arkenstone from beneath a sleeping dragon, your character, too has to face their final avoidable challenge.

I had hoped to finish my qualification within 3 months at an accelerated pace. But I had struggled more with this course than I had expected to. I hadn’t done any formal study for nearly 20 years. I wasn’t used to writing assessments, essays and asssignments. I wasn’t used to hours of lectures and watching online videos. I was way out of my depth.

With time and money running out before I needed to get a job, I had to turn to a tutor to help get me through the final assessments and exams. I often felt like an idiot for ever thinking I could do this.

Step 5: How the outcome feels

Just as we had high hopes for our character, they have descended into hopelessness once again. But they are not the same person they were when they started this journey.

They have learned big lessons along the way. They are more resilient, more resourceful and more capable now.

And it’s this combination of their own grit and some help from others that has led them to triumph.

But a theoretical win on its own isn’t enough to stir hope in someone. To be inspired and motivated we need to be able to feel every bit of that win for ourselves.

For Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit it was that feeling of connection to his dwarf and wizard friends. A connection he had never experienced before. For Lis in Eat Pray Love, it was the unrushed and casual happiness that she had found in her new life overseas with her new partner who finally understood an embraced her free spirit.

Yet all that doubt was washed away the day that I received my final results and had my certificate issued.

The three-month plan had taken six months. Yet those extra months were what I needed to make new connections in a new industry, get experience in a training organisation who allowed me to intern with them, and finally, work at a pace that I needed with people who were more helpful that I ever assumed people could be.

In seven months I had gone from shocked and devastated to not only having a new qualification, but, due to all the new connections I’d made, I also now had a new job. No. A new career.

Step 6: The life lesson

Our hero has found the elixir of life. They have rescued the princess. They have slayed the dragon. They have won.

Their story alone doesn’t help me to change my life. But the lessons they have learned along the way now have added meaning.

Time and action heal all things eventually.

I needed time to grieve my old life. I needed to hear from others who could see things that I couldn’t. I needed to give myself a time limit for my grieving. I needed to take decisive action towards a new life. And I needed to accept help when it was needed.

I needed to break with who I was to become who I needed to be.

I don’t just have a new career. I am a new person. And I really like who I’ve become.

The Kicker.

The story I just told was completely made up. I took elements from my own life and merged them something that a potential client, a Registered Training Organisation, might want to have told about the impact of workplace training on people’s lives. 

It doesn’t take creativity.  It takes a process. A simple, repeatable process that almost anyone can follow. 

Of course, we all get that “empty page” syndrome when we’re not at our best. But even when that happens, there’s always a next step. Working with someone who draws your stories out of you an onto that page. 

Part of what I do with people is help them to recognise their stories and show them how to bring them out and use them to promote their business, their products and their services. 

Most of the time, we can do it in a couple of one-hour sessions. And once they’re going, they never need to consult with me again. And that’s the greatest thing a trainer like me could ever achieve. Someone never needing me again. 

To start your story process, book a 15-minute chat to see what’s possible. You never know just how epic your story might be.

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