Let Me Tell You A Story

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This is a speech I gave in 2010 for my Walker Talkers Toastmasters Club

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Let Me Tell You A Story

  1. 1. Toastmasters Speech 5 (Dec 16, 2010) Everyone has a story worth sharing. As a former submarine sailor, and newspaper crimereporter, I perhaps have more than my fair share. One of my strengths, I have recently realized is my ability to tell stories. Sometimes I use thispower for good. And sometimes I use it for not-so-good intentions, such as when I woo a younglady with funny stories. I believe that sharing stories is one way to establish a relationship with the people around me.Im not afraid to laugh at myself, especially if helps putting people at ease. “That reminds me of a story” is often the beginning of some sea story that may or may not betrue, but more than likely ends with a laugh and a smile. Lately, I have been thinking about the importance of storytelling to us personally andcollectively as a society. I have also been thinking about its importance to our businesses. I have shared several of my stories with you in the past. One story that comes to mind was when I told you about my first experience solobackpacking in the Oregon Cascades and how it took me several attempts from the trailhead tomuster the courage to push alone into the wilderness, and how I went to sleep under the stars andDouglas fir that night afraid I would be eaten alive by cougars and bears. What prompted me that evening to quietly begin scribbling my last will into my waterproofoutdoor journal was the pulsating noise I heard outside me tent. Was it the heavy breathing of abear ready to attack? brrrr I learned the next morning that it was about half a dozen birds, finches perhaps about the sizeof my thumb, that were fluttering back and forth from some nearby tree branches to an old firepit, looking for leftovers. brrrr I often tell that story for a couple of reasons. One is that it makes people laugh and shortensthe distance between them and me. Another reason is more personal. The story reminds me thatfear is often just this tiny voice, as Jeff mentioned a few weeks back, that can inhibit us fromaccomplishing our dreams if left unchecked. I was reminded of that story again last night when I attended a networking event for SearchEngine Marketing professionals. Now, I am not much of a search engine marketer, but I am 1
  2. 2. Toastmasters Speech 5 (Dec 16, 2010)adding the skillset to my resume. This was my first time attending the event, which was beingheld in a downtown Portland restaurant. As I entered the crowded room, I did not recognize anyone, though I don’t know why Iwould or should, as I mentioned this was my first meeting. The little voice of fear started wailing its siren as I signed my name on one of those “Hi, MyName Is” stickers. I slapped the sticker on my chest and just as abruptly turned around and walked right out ofthe restaurant, ripping off the sticker and jamming it into a pocket as I walked back to my car,already mentally kicking myself for chickening out. As I began the drive back home, I was reminded of the story of those finches and askedmyself was I going to let that little voice of fear place a road block on my career. As I idled in rush-hour traffic, I realized I didn’t want to let this career-building opportunityto pass me by. I decided to turn around and start all over. I was going to jam that little voice offear into a pocket instead. I am glad I did. I walked back into that restaurant, ordered an Oregon craft beer, grabbed anew My Name Is sticker and began introducing myself to strangers. The next two hours flew by, with me realizing that many of these folks were as nervous asme, and similarly new to the event. The right stories make people act. My ferocious finches story made me act. If our lives are aseries of stories, so it is true for our businesses. “Meaning is the new money,” writes Daniel Pink, a best-selling author of the book, a WholeNew Mind, which I am currently reading. In the book, Pink posits that a new Creative Age is upon us. He says we’ll need to use boththe logical and creative sides of our brains to be successful in the future. Among the six senseshe says we can use to develop our whole new mind, is the sense, or act of, storytelling. “The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the abilityalso to fashion a compelling narrative,” Pink writes. What does that mean for a business? Let me tell you a quick story about a college kid at Indiana University in the late 1990s. There is an expression called the Freshman 15, which references the amount of weightgained during a student’s first year in college. This can be attributed to all-you-can-eat cafeteria 2
  3. 3. Toastmasters Speech 5 (Dec 16, 2010)dining, fatty fast food, drinking alcohol, long hours studying or partying, and not enoughexercise. For this IU student, the Freshman 15 was more like the Freshman 150 pounds. To combat his growing obesity, the student, whose name is Jared, started eating healthy, low-fat sandwiches at his local Subway shop. Maybe you have heard of his story and his size 62jeans? Since Jared’s advertising campaign began about 10 years ago, Subway sales have more thandoubled to $8.2 billion. The chain reportedly saw a 10 percent dip in sales when it brieflystopped using Jared’s story in its advertising in 2007. The right story for your business will make customers act. From cave paintings, to social media, from the eloquence of Shakespeare to glitz ofHollywood blockbusters, we have depended on stories for vision, entertainment, andinformation. I have them. Businesses have them. Customers demand them. “As Alan Kay, an HP executive and cofounder of Xerox PARC, put it, “Scratch the surfacein a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person totell us stories.” What is your story? 3

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