I posted an excerpt from my A-Z story list in the last post regarding stories in speaking and someone asked for the full list. As you will see, this can be quite an extensive task to get through. You should feel encouraged to do so though as it will give you a great deal of material that helps you connect to your audiences with emotionally relevant stories. As I was writing this list, new stories came to my mind. Or, more accurately, I recalled stories that had slipped my mind but are good ones. The same will happen to you.
For anyone who is thinking of using stories in a professional setting and doesn't have the time or interest to go through the full list, try the following simplified list. These should be looked as starting points to build your professional repertoire.
- A story of when you helped someone in a way that made a big difference.
- A story of when you received help that made a big difference.
- A story of something funny that happened.
- A story of when you made a mistake. Own up to it and show some vulnerability. Don't try to sugarcoat this one.
- A story of a professional failure you observed and/or were part of.
Tie stories into what you're saying and help people remember better.
In part III of the storytelling posts, we'll look at the different ways a story can be used and how to tie it into what you're saying.
Enjoy the rest of 2016.
Just to clarify the list below, all you need to do is put down a story that connects to that letter in some way. It doesn't have to be exact; just do you best.
- A - Asking for tickets to a Muse concert when I worked in a radio station. I was told no, as they were reserved for a client. Fair enough. At 4.45 pm I got a call from the salesperson saying that if the tickets hadn't been claimed, they were mine. I quickly realised the power of asking for something, not pushing, just asking.
- B - Getting to explore the (previously locked) old city walls of Bratislava, Slovakia because I said yes to an invitation from some friends who do medieval swordfighting. It turns out they know the people who have the key.
- C - All the many coffee stories I have from working at Starbucks for 8 months. Perhaps the most frequently used being the effect of giving power to customers to choose whatever they want. Most people take it well and just enjoy their coffee, but a few take it to extremes with their specific demands.
- D - Grilling bacon and paprika sausages over an open fire at next to the river Danube using freshly cut branches from the trees as our skewers. A really low tech and wonderfully real experience compared to my previous outdoor grilling experience. It felt so much more real and less sanitised than what I'd had a few times in the US.
- E - Having a political/ideological discussion next to King Istvan of Hungary's statue below Esztergom basilica. We got into a conversation with an American guy who was teaching in Budapest and his father who was over visiting from the States. It was a great experience to speak to someone who was 110% convinced that a free market economy and private enterprise could solve all problems. We discussed education, healthcare, social housing, freedoms and so on in half an hour overlooking the Danube and with a stunning building behind us.
- F - Getting fired by one client where I was teaching English. As painful as it was to hear them say they wanted to change teacher, they were completely right and I had been lazy while teaching there. I didn't really want to teach them any more and rather than being confident enough to admit it, I rather let things drift along doing them in a half-assed way. It was a painful, but important lesson and something that pushed me harder towards doing what I'm passionate about. For reference, this happened about 5 months ago (from the time of writing the post) so it's current news.
- G - Going out with my friend and her friends prior to her high school prom. We went to the local gay bar, which I didn't realise at the time. It turned out that some of her friends were lesbian or gay and so we dropped into this establishment. As it was a quiet night with few guests, it took me about ten or fifteen minutes to realise that the reason the women weren't turning their heads to me wasn't that I was ugly. Instead I took some satisfaction in noticing that a few men checked me out. I wasn't interested but it was nice to be admired.
- H - Chilling out with a friend in his friends' garden hot tub after a night of partying. Sitting in the hot water, drinking a cold beer with a friend while the snow started falling on us was something really special. All of it came from the confidence to say yes to an offer rather than just go home. My first reaction was to think that it would be easier and less stressful to just go home and sleep. I'm so glad I'd watched the movie 'Yes Man' a short time before and decided to give it a shot.
- I - Learning to be a lot more introspective over the last year or so than perhaps any other time in my life. I made some mistakes, was exposed to new ideas and had the chance to take a look at myself, what I was doing and how I viewed the world. As painful as it has been to accept, my actions weren't as positive and forward thinking as I thought they were. I tried to persuade people by proving them wrong with my logical arguments (thus proving myself right) without truly understanding their point of view. By looking at myself in a new light with increased understanding of interpersonal communication, I have become a better listener and a kinder human being. I still feel the need to debate and persuade people to my point of view, but now I first take the time to listen and understand them. Why do they feel what they feel? Everyone has reasons for their beliefs that are valid (to them) and need to be appreciated and understood before you can go about changing them. Give people space to be understood and the entire communication takes on a new tone. It's helped my marriage, my working life and my friendships.
- J - The intense juxtaposition I felt when working for a radio sales team in the US. On the 6th floor was a creative team of popular DJs and their supporting people. It was fun, engaging and full of creativity every day. I used to go up there every time I got a chance just to see the radio team at work and even gawk through the glass wall the IT team had set up in front of the main hardware room, containing all the equipment for five top radio stations. On the fifth floor, where I sat, it was a normal business office focused on advertising sales. For me, it was perhaps the worst fitting position I could have as it lacked security, had a poor salary, was a noisy open space, staffed by people mostly working on 100% commission (so highly stressed) and I was a terrible fit for the position. I wish I hadn't stayed so long but it taught me a lot about what not to look for in work.
- K - Having the painful pleasure of getting my butt kicked in a full contact cage fight with a friend. I had been training in a variety of martial arts since my secondary school years but never had a real fight or even a fight in training that could be called close to real. My Tae Kwon Do and Karate clubs were much more sport focused. This is not necessarily a bad thing but as a smaller guy, I've always been concerned about my ability to be safe(r) should I need to protect myself or someone else. Before leaving the US in 2011, my friend Jojo and I decided that we needed to push ourselves and have a fight. We went three round (9 mins total) with all the normal rules of an amateur cage fight, which allowed us to kick, punch, knee, elbow, throw, trip, choke and arm/leg lock one another. As the smaller, faster fighter, my plan was to keep moving and out-kickbox Jojo, whose wrestling was better than mine. It all sounded great in theory until we were actually in the cage about to start. Then adrenaline hit, my mind went black and all the theory vanished. I started well but slowly got beaten up over the course of 9 minutes. It was a painful lesson in the difference between theory and practice.
- L - Getting to join the so-called Lenovo team in one language school where I and three other teachers designed and delivered lessons for a lot of students in Lenovo. It was a real hotbed of ideas and learning for me as I got straight into the deep end and had to develop myself very quickly to match up to my colleagues' standards.
- M - Agreeing to enter a speech contest after a former student sent me a link. There, not only did I discover a natural aptitude for public speaking, but I was also singled out by a very experienced trainer Tony Achmat (Check out a video of him here), who then trained and mentored me. Helpfully enough, he's direct and when I need it, will give me a verbal slap and wake up call. He challenges and engages me when we get the chance to meet. I've learned a lot.
- N - Truly discovering the power of networking and getting to know people over the last couple of years. Over and over, I've been offered great opportunities or been able help others get in touch with the right people who can help them. It has been eye opening and something that I'm now passionate about sharing with people and encouraging them to do. I have many of my current jobs and projects solely from the people I know and haven't been to a standard job interview for quite some time. Long may this continue.
- O - Trying online dating and, while it was successful and fun overall, getting my share of bad dates and funny stories. The highlight was probably the young lady who was unfortunate enough to missing several teeth at the age of 23. Like a terribly British gentleman, I carefully ignored it and pretended that the date was going fine, aiming to leave as soon as (politely) possible.
- P - Learning about office politics when working in radio sales in the US. It's a very successful company, though while I was there, my office seemed to be a very untrustworthy place. I learned that you should be very careful what you say and to whom in case it is passed on to someone else you didn't intend for it to reach. It took a lot of mental and emotional energy away from work to be wondering if you were putting out the right image and hiding the right information.
- Q - Our high school A level biology teacher verbally berating us and questioning whether we were still boys or becoming men (we were 17yrs old +/-). We had just finished a test and generally done rather poorly as we gave classic high school answers (i.e. the information required but without further thought or connecting it to other things we'd learned). He verbally laid into us and, quite rightfully, pushed us because we needed to stop thinking like children and start becoming adults. It was only going to get more challenging as we started university and later entered the working world. People have less and less tolerance for adults and employees who fail to think things through than they do for children. My class certainly got an earful of that from Mr Manley on that day.
- R - Realising that I was head over heels in love with my wife (girlfriend at the time) as she climbed up a pile of sand towards me. It was some kind of construction supply area next to the river Danube where a variety of sands, pebbles and gravels had been piled up. We took a bike ride along the river to enjoy the summer weather and stopped there because I wanted to see the view from atop the piles. She was wearing a yellow, bright summer top that matched the colour of the sunflowers we'd collected (her favourite flower and one she used to collect with her grandfather). I remember that I had felt funny all day and couldn't realise what was causing it. It only hit me, but hard, when she started climbing up the sand and I just thought "I love her..."
- S - Gently floating on my back and swimming slowly back to the scuba diving boat having finished a great night dive on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I remember the water being warm and calm, and the stars were unbelievable. With no other lights in view (the boat was behind me) and in the middle of the ocean, the stars stretched from horizon to horizon...our milky way was right there. S
- T - Reading the final book from Terry Pratchett (The Shepherd's Crown) and being on the edge of tears. Not only was it a lovely story in which one of the most pivotal characters in the Discworld dies, but it also was the moment that I realised this incredible world I'd grown up with and read about voraciously was now finally closed. It felt like the difference between having a family member with you or them passing away and you being left with memories and photos. No matter how lovely they are and how often you can go back over them, you know that it's never going to grow again. It's moved from something alive to something frozen in a museum.
- U - Taking on a six month PADI divemaster training course in the Cook Islands, in the South Pacific. I spent almost every day scuba diving and gained an incredible appreciation for the underwater world. Fish, coral, turtles, sharks, crabs, sea cucumbers, starfish, seaweed, nudibranchs and more. I've never felt weightless before. It was magical. I also grew up a lot as I was on the far side of the world from home and living with the school owners. They weren't about to put up with any teenage laziness (I was 19 at the time), which pushed me to mature and get out of my self-centred worldview.
- V - My manager when I worked in Stabucks, Brian Allen, volunteering to teach me about drinking coffee. It wasn't just the basics of how it should be made and taste, but he also pushed me to really appreciate the layers and complexities of flavour and etiquette in coffee. He insisted that I try a new coffee each shift, test things with different strengths, compare the taste of espresso shots straight in the cup vs poured from a shot glass to the cup (it changes the flavour). A lot of people I've met criticise Starbucks for not having a good coffee, when in many cases they are referring to the highly customised drinks that make up a lot of their business. While there are a number of corporate components to the company that can be criticised, at the heart there are some real coffee lovers working and leading there.
- W - Snorkelling in the Cook Islands while I lived there and getting to see a Humpback whale mother and calf underneath me. It was truly stunning to see such animals in the wild and just a dozen metres or so from me. To be honest, it was also quite scary as I realised just how small I was in comparison.
- X - Finally getting an X-ray and follow up MRI on my injured knee. It was much too late really as the big damage was done in early 2011 and the medical check up was done in Slovakia in 2014. The injury is not crippling (a grade 2-3 lesion on the posterior medial meniscus) and only causes problems when I tweak the knee from time to time. Mostly it's interesting as a story relating the differences in medical options in the US vs countries with more socialised medical systems, such as Slovakia. In the US, my co-payments for treatment were high enough that I really couldn't manage it on my limited salary, despite having medical insurance through my job. Here in Slovakia, I paid 2 euros on top of my insurance for all the work (doctor visit, specialist visit, X-ray, MRI, specialist follow up) and that was for the DVD with the MRI images of my knee.
- Y - Getting a dog that my parents decided to call Yonder because it would be funny to ask "Where's the dog?" "Yonder." Ba dum tis. While the name may not have been the best joke in the world, she might have had the greatest personality of any dog. She had the enviable ability to love people so much that they couldn't resist falling for her. She would just love you until you loved her back. Couple that with a snuggling nature and the love of jumping through the wheat fields like a four legged kangaroo (no really) and it was a great package. I miss her, as does my wife, who met her only once and freely admits to no otherwise liking dogs after she was bitten by one. Yonder remains one of the few exceptions for her where she enjoyed time with a dog.
- Z - Understanding the scale of our world a bit more during my stay in Australia. We were travelling up the West coast and the coach driver said we'd stop at a lookout point. It had been a barren ride for some time so we all agreed. Once we got up on top, perhaps 20-30 metres above the ground level, we looked all around and there was nothing...zero. The hill we were on let us see only the road in each direction, a few shrubs and whole lot of nothing else. I never imagined being able to see such a huge area that contained so little. To me, that was a moment where I started to consider just how big our world is and, by extension, just how big cosmic things are when our world is such a tiny thing. A bit existential perhaps but a powerful moment for me nonetheless.