August 25, 2013 fm

How To Discover Treasures Of Storytelling

The best piece of content in public speaking are stories. The best stories are your personal stories. The best personal stories are those which had a high emotional impact on you. And I dare to even go one step further. I say that the real treasures of storytelling are those personal experiences in your life that had a high negative emotional impact on you.

Unfortunately, we tend to burry those treasures of story-telling as deep as we can in the soil of oblivion.

It’s time to bring them to light!

A great and simple way to unearth those hurtful truths is the lifeline exercise.

Create your own lifeline in five steps

  1. Print the lifeline template below (click on the image).
  2. Define the age axis according to your own age.
  3. Enter key incidents above or below the age axis, depending on their positive or negative impact.
  4. Connect the dots.
  5. Add short descriptions to the dots with the highest emotional impact. — Done!

Click for PDF

From my experience, especially, the experiences with a high negative emotional impact make great stories to tell. Those are the most effective manufacturers of goosebumps.

When you put your stories to paper find answers to the following questions.

How did those experiences shape you as a person?

What were the lessons learned?

How can you turn them into fountains of inspiration for others?

To get an idea, here are the five high-negative-emotional-impact-stories of my life:

  • When I was bullied by my entire football team after I had disrespected the parents of one of my teammates.
  • When I let down a friend at high school who then died of cancer.
  • When I found one of my best friends dead on a tree instants after his accident.
  • When I lost my beloved dad.
  • When I found myself in a desperate economical period.

Try it out and create your lifeline. For sure, you’ll discover great treasures of story-telling.

Comments (2)

  1. Antonio


    I think you are giving great advice.

    However, to integrate high negative emotional impact stories in a speech, you need to have a minimum of maturity as a speaker. So that you can handle the story, and make the point of your speech. Goose bumps for the sake of it, is not effective speaking, and I’m sure you have seen by now many speeches about “how did I survived cancer” by people that don’t know what to do with those stories afterwards. It becomes gratuitous drama.

    So I would add one point to your blog post: identify your stories, and start practicing with the low impact ones, and make your way to the high impact ones, and use them when you know what is the point you want to communicate.

    Thanks for sharing your insights!


    • Thank you, Antonio, for your wonderful comment!

      I agree. Pathos can become pathetic. Yet, the vast, vast, vast majority of speakers, especially business speakers, don’t use any pathos at all in their speeches and presentations. Ask Aristotle – This is a big mistake!

      I think it’s a great learning curve to start with low impact stories, as you suggest.

      The exercise itself though is an effective way to reflect on ourselves. I’d never cut out high impact incidents. They are, for sure, the best stories to tell. If not today, then tomorrow. Trainings and Toastmasters help to accelerate the process. 😉

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