The Stories You Get to Tell

The Stories You Get to Tell

When someone asks you questions, you have a wonderful opportunity to share a bit of your story. As a leader – defined as someone who influences the mindset and engagement of people around you at work AND in life – make sure you’re ready for the next opportunity to share “you” with those who ask you to talk about yourself. Unfortunately, people don’t know the best questions to ask to get you to share your story. How often are you asked some variation of:

  • “Where are you from?”
  • “What do you do for a living?”
  • “What goals do you have for your life?

Sure, they’re easy questions to ask; comfortable even. But, they don’t give you the chance to share information people can use to understand who you are, what you care about, and where you are going.

Tell your stories so people see the real you.

Look around and notice what you have. In fact, make a list of 25 things. Not just the stuff you have; include the opportunities coming your way, the relationships you’re continuing to build, even the challenges ahead.

Each thing on that list is part of a story…a story from your past, a story you’re building now, or a story you’re stepping toward. This article will make a lot of sense to those of you who know that future you is going to be, do, and have different things than you do now.

If that’s true for you, it means you’re going to be writing your story anew!

No matter where you are from, no matter what you do for work, and no matter what you see when you look at your life a year, 5 years, or 10 years from now, you MUST continue to ask yourself, “Do the people around me see me working on the things I’ve said are most important?” They say actions speak louder than words. To which I’d reply, “Well-crafted words can shape the kind of person you are, the work you do, and the impact you make.”

What IS important to you?

A great way to answer that question is to craft specific, clear, and meaningful responses to just a couple of questions. I’ll call them your Signature Stories.

According to Professors David Aaker (Berkeley) and Jennifer L. Aaker (Stanford):

 “A signature story is an intriguing, authentic, involving narrative with a strategic message that enables a firm to grow by clarifying or enhancing its brand, customer relationships, organization, and/or the business strategy. “

As business-school researchers, authors, and professors, Aaker and Aaker are focused on using stories as ways to communicate strategically. To get even more from this concept of storytelling, I suggest you identify, build, and continue to refine the TWO stories you need to tell so that people can know more about “the real you.”

Question #1: Why do you do what you do?

Question #2: What significant challenge have you overcome?

Maybe you’re in a client-facing role professionally, can you imagine someone asking you, “So, what do you do for work?” (FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m writing this article on a flight – today I’m commuting from my home in Montgomery, AL to Boston, MA to facilitate a leadership conference. In just two flights and 4 hours, I’ve had 3 people ask me that question!)

Now, if you’re like most people, you’ll reply with an answer that more or less (depending) describes your job. That’s not what I do. When someone asks that question, I’ll say, “I’m an author and instructor of leadership studies, but what I’d love to share with you more than what I do is why I do it…”

Now (again full transparency), I’ve had people look at me weird and feign an interest; but that’s only been a few times. Usually, they’re willing to play. So, I go through the four I’s of storytelling…

But, instead of giving you my answers, let me walk you through a little “workshop.”

Are you ready?

Let’s do this… open your notebook, hold a pen in your hand (or for better results, stand in front of a flip chart or whiteboard), and write your responses to the following prompts.

As you’re doing so, imagine you’re sharing each your answers with someone who looks up to you, who respects you, who wants the best for you. Personally, I think of people like the university students I teach, my little sister, or the executives I coach nationwide.

·      Explain what you do for your profession. (Inform)

·      How long have you been doing it? (Inform)

·      Why is it important that THAT is done? (Invite)

·      What do people get as a result of you doing that? (Invite)

·      Why do you do it? (Inspire)

·      Why are YOU the best person to do it the way YOU do it? (Inspire)

·      How do you see the world a better place because you do it? (Inspire)

·      Describe several ways the WHAT or HOW that you’re doing will change in the future as you see it. (Influence)

We use stories to make sense of our world. No matter what you do as a leader, take time this week and start scripting your own signature stories. Want to practice? Here’s a worksheet you can use – of course, feel free to make it your own!

  • Event:
  • Characters:
  • Theme:
  • The Goal
  • Struggle:
  • Options:
  • Actions:
  • Result:

(Personally, I used a lot of these tactics when I wrote my own TEDx talk a few years ago. It really helped me to get that message TED-ready!)

Remember, to be a story worth telling – and remembering! – you’ve got to make sure it has all the critical elements:

  1. A Beginning: Where were you? What did you want?
  2. A Middle: What happened? What got in your way? What was the challenge?
  3. An End: How did it resolve? What did you learn? How are you different today?

If you’d like, jump over to a “conference” website such as or Watch a few of their stories, and ask yourself, “Are they worth remembering? Do I know more about that person? Am I more reflective about my own life?”

Then, the next time you’re in a position and someone asks you a question to get to know you, consider sharing the next draft of your Signature Story. And, of course, let me know how it goes!

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Authored by:

Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA is an executive coach and author of two best-selling books. He works with successful business owners and managers at mid-career to improve their mindset, skill set, and toolkit to be more productive, collaborate effectively and achieve their goals at work and in life. Follow him on Twitter @JasonWomack