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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

How to Find the Best Stories

There are many ways to collect good stories. Books, magazines, movies, your local library, your organization's formal or informal archives, story clubs, book clubs, and stories about one's children, friends, and family life can all work well if they are not overdone or over used.

Many presenters use stories that they have found in issues of popular publications such as Reader's Digest and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books. Although the stories are often cute, funny, and heart-warming, we must issue a word of warning: you can't use them because they are copyrighted. As well, as soon as you start to tell a story your audience has already heard, your credibility goes out the window. The listener thinks, "I've heard that from someone else. I wonder how much of the rest of this presentation is someone else's."

David: When I heard Master_Presenter Bill Gove explain that public speaking was simply a matter of "Make a point, tell a story," I thought at the time, That's good advice if you have a big story. If you've climbed Everest, well, that's a story. Or if you've conquered cancer and then gone on to win the Tour de France, that's a story. But I had to admit that I had done nothing that significant enough to use as "my story." So, though I understood what Bill Gove said, for the next four years, I didn't do it. Then, one morning, I was reading the newspaper. I saw in a trivia column written by L. M. Boyd a small item that jumped off the page at me. It said: "Every human being alive experiences these six emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, disgust, and fear." I don't know why at that moment I thought of Bill Gove's "Make a point, tell a story," but the moment I brought those two thoughts together is the moment I changed the way I spoke. I thought, If I have a little story, a little slice-of-life vignette that triggers at least one of those emotions, that story will connect with anyone. What a revelation that was, because I stopped waiting for my big story and started using my little stories. And from that moment on, I stopped giving "speeches" and started speaking conversationally as I told my little stories. It has changed my approach, and it can do the same for you.

Other excellent sources of stories are our families, children, relatives, and friends. However, the story must be pertinent and under no circumstances should the presenter appear to be bragging, as this is very likely to alienate you from the audience. Often, a story where you show yourself to be far from perfect and where the story illustrates your point is the most intellectually powerful, fun, and entertaining. This is because the audience is more likely to identify with you as soon as they know you don't consider yourself superior. In other words, a humbling story is more likely to connect with the audience. For example, in one of Brad's negotiation presentations, he uses the following story to illustrate the concept that almost all negotiations must balance preparation and flexibility, and one way to improve this is to "Expect the Unexpected":

A number of years ago, I was working as a regional manager for a national company. The work was very demanding so I booked Thursday evenings as private time. During this time I was taking ice-skating lessons and had an extremely capable coach. My friend and colleague, Harold Taylor, a nationally recognized expert on time management, taught me that firstly, if I wanted to protect my private time, I had to schedule it into my daily planner and secondly, that I had to treat it as equally important to other meetings that I had. He also warned me that I would be tested. However, I didn't expect to be tested so soon, so often, or so severely.

I started my lessons, was making progress in my skating and felt good about having a complete break from my work. In other words, I was feeling very good about taking care of myself. The following Thursday, the President and CEO of the national organization was visiting our region.

The president was well known for being able to work very long hours and a full day of meetings was scheduled in addition to a business dinner for that night. I asked if we could eat early because I had a meeting Thursday night (I did—although it was with my coach). The next week, the vice president was in town and once again we had a business dinner scheduled for Thursday night. Again, I asked if we could eat early because I had a meeting scheduled for later that evening—with my coach. I was beginning to feel like I had mastered one of the elements of time management and self-care.

The next Thursday night I was thoroughly tested. My children attended École Beaufort, a French immersion school in our neighborhood. Thursday night was the school's celebration of La Carnival, which recognizes the coming of spring. My son Andrew very much wanted the whole family to go to La Carnival. I thought that this was a teachable moment where I could help my son learn that parents deserved some private time as well. I carefully prepared for this negotiation. I was going to talk about the fact that I take my son to hockey and soccer on a regular basis, that we take a father and son trip once a year, played sports together, etc. However, before I made these points, as a good negotiator does, I asked my son, "Why is it so important to you that I go to La Carnival?" This gorgeous blue-eyed, blond haired 8-year-old looked up at me and said, "Dad, because I like you a lot."

I was wiped off the table. Speechless. I thought about it all the next day and came up with the following interest-based solution. My main interest was taking the lesson and for one night could easily miss the warm up and cool down. So I approached Andrew and asked him if it would be all right if we as a family went to La Carnival and were there for the start. I would miss the warm up, take my lesson, miss the cool down and be back at the school by eight o'clock. "Sure Dad." By taking an interest-based approach, both parties' interests were well satisfied.

Brad finds that audiences always relate well to this story and you, too, can find stories from your personal life that not only make the point, but also help to make you appear more human and approachable. At the same time, you must not overuse personal stories or you will appear to be egocentric, conceited, and unapproachable.

We recommend you start and maintain your own personal story file. From now on, any time you encounter any event or moment that triggers one of the six universal emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, disgust, or fear) write it down. You don't have to write the entire story, but you should jot down a reminder of the moment. Put it in your personal story file. Your "file" doesn't have to be anything elaborate, but you must find a place to store the golden stories that you discover. You can also start or join a story club. For example, you and several friends can form a group and every time one of you finds a good story, e-mail it to each other for feedback. Set up a special folder on your computer desktops. When you find a story that has potential, put it in this folder. You want to avoid finding and then losing the perfect story. You may think, "I don't need to write it down; but you'll be amazed at how many good stories you let slip away because you just forgot them.

Superb storytelling is one of the hallmarks used by Master_Presenters. However, Master_Presenters don't rely on storytelling alone. Storytelling is one of the three parts of the Three "S" Advantage. In the next section we will cover all three parts.

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