…even if they aren’t already aware of it.Everybody Has A Story
I was conducting a presentation skills seminar for a group of engineers, and I was using one of my favorite exercises. Tell me a story in a sentence. Now tell it again in 30 seconds. Now tell it in 90 seconds. (It also works with children, sometimes to disastrous effect.)
In this case, we were preparing these engineers to go into high schools and middle schools, to get children fired up about math, science and engineering careers. Before you can get others fired up, you have to figure out what lights your fire. There was one young man in the back who didn’t know he had a spark…
As it happens, he was a summer intern, on pace to graduate in December from Alabama A&M University. Marcus was extremely shy about sharing, so I asked him about the moment when he felt the most electric.
Forgive the paraphrasing, this is as near as I can recall his story…
I forced a fumble.
That was it. He forced a fumble. It was just the first sentence, though, and at least now I had some details to work with… he was a football player. So being the ex-reporter, I started asking questions.
Who was it against?
Jackson State, my freshman year, 2007.
When did it happen in the game?
It was in the 4th quarter. We’d blown a big lead and had lost the ball. I hadn’t played a down all year, and the two guys ahead of me on the depth chart got hurt. So I went in, and on my very first play, I caused a fumble.
Oh, I didn’t let him off the hook…
Where were you on the field?
They were in field goal range, and on third down I sacked the quarterback, and one of our guys recovered the fumble and ran it back for a touchdown.
So, you won the game, right?
No sir… we lost it in overtime.
Okay, so it wasn’t a win. But the real victory comes because Marcus now has a story that cuts beyond fear and apprehension, right to self-actualization.
It’s not a story about a football game. It’s a story about:
- conquering doubt
All of the above are universal themes of the human condition; they apply across all people and attach to many common situations. Marcus Powe is now armed with a weapon that can inspire thousands of people (if not more.) It’s a story carrying multiple payloads. It’s a story that is pliable enough to mesh with several punchlines, or lessons. And it’s a story that he can now tell, because he sees the value in it.
Key #2) Lose the humility. Many who succeed are fearful of being considered braggarts. But it’s not bragging if the purpose for the story isn’t making others marvel at what you did, rather lighting the way for what the audience can do.
Key #3) Don’t skirt the details. They make the story interesting, and tangible. The more visceral the detail, the better. (I would continue by asking Marcus what he smelled after coming to the sidelines…)
You probably have a few stories that can inspire others… do you know what they are?