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How to Build Your Story Bank

A couple weeks ago, speaking at a convention in Las Vegas, I was asked a question about how to find your purpose.

As I began answering the question, I spontaneously told a story about a personal struggle I had earlier in my career that helped me find my purpose. It’s an emotional story, with a happy ending.
 
My 'Story Bank' 
The reason I was able to “spontaneously” tell this story is because it’s in my Story Bank. Over the years, I’ve collected my own personal and business stories to use in presentations and personal conversations.
 
If someone asked me under pressure to tell them my favorite story, my encounter with Oprah during a half-marathon might appear, or I might tell them about having a week off before I started a new job in Los Angeles and how I auditioned for seven game shows in three days. But we’ll leave that for another day.

Your favorite story
Let’s talk about you. If someone were to ask you to tell your favorite story, what would you say?
 
Would you search your memory bank hoping to come up with a story that is worthy of being called your “favorite”?
 
Would you be flustered? Maybe tell the first story that comes to mind? Or would you give up searching and let this opportunity pass?
 
This exact scenario may not happen to you, but there are times that telling a story would be the perfect way to engage, inspire, or persuade someone important to you.
 
Stories can build understanding and connection in relationships – so they’re helpful in business and in life.
 
With this in mind, let me give you a few tips for collecting your own stories:
 
Create your Story Bank
You should consider developing a disciplined approach to finding and saving your best stories so that you have a collection ready to use. By sharing your stories you’re giving people insights into who you are and what you value.
 
You’ll find that your openness is rewarded with openness from others in return.

Develop a storyteller mindset
Once you decide to capture stories you’ll notice that stories are everywhere. That’s because we as human beings are hardwired for hearing and telling stories. We tell stories all the time, to others and to ourselves.
 
When you decide to collect your own stories, they’ll start popping up all the time -- when you’re in meetings, driving to work or just waking up.
 
Set a method for collecting your stories
When all of these stories start coming at you, it’s important to have a disciplined approach to capturing them. If you say, “I’ll write that down when I get to home” you’ll never remember that story.
 
I have a notebook I use to write my favorite inspirational quotes and my stories. I keep that notebook on my desk in the office. It’s a white Moleskine notebook with a black drawing of Batman on the cover. Don’t judge me.
 
To make sure I capture stories when I’m traveling or elsewhere, I have a notes file on my phone labeled “stories” and whenever I hear something that would make a good story (or a Sunday Coffee post ;-) I enter it on my phone. If I’m driving, I dictate a quick note.

Strategic approach
During my training sessions, I’m often privileged to hear amazing, and often intimate stories.  People will share tragedies and triumphs, contributing meaningful parts of their lives. 
 
When I ask whether they have shared these stories elsewhere, they often say no.  Sometimes people don’t remember to tell them or they didn’t think the stories were important.
 
This is why it’s vital to take a strategic approach to collecting stories.  Our stories need to be told, but we are the only ones who can tell them.  Take a few minutes to sit down and recall the stories from your life.

Ask for stories from others
If you’re a leader, or in sales, you should also be asking other people for stories. Collecting stories about your organization, successes and failures, helps to reinforce the culture you are seeking to strengthen. 
Rather than asking the old, “how’s business?” what if you asked someone to tell you the most interesting story they’ve heard in their business in the past year?
 
When you ask that question, rather than get the pat answer, “business is good” you’ll get a real insight into the person and the organization. That’s because to find a story, we have to search a different part of our brains, as it takes some effort and creativity. Watch a person’s face, especially their eyes, when they search for a story.
 
And when they share the story with you, the two of you are making the most real, intimate connection available to human beings. You’re sharing yourselves.
 
I call storytelling “the leader’s superpower” because telling a story is more engaging, inspiring and motivating than anything else you can say.
 
So keep your eyes open; stories are all around you. And search your life, for the moments you can share with others.
 
You’ll be on your way to telling the world your story.