Annette Simmons, in her book Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, lays out six different types of stories. Here’s my digest of the first three — in a short story format.
“Who I Am” Story
Goal: You want to break down preconceived notions or judgments about you and your motivations.
Use: You do this by revealing a flaw or mistake you made, to make you more human and approachable.
Example: An author’s audience thinks she’s there to sell more books. She tells a story about how her social worker father wanted her to become a lawyer so she could help people and be her own boss. Instead, she moves to Australia. This shows she didn’t come from a privileged background (is like her audience), and that she can make foolish choices (this is an extreme way to get out of law school!).
“Why I’m Here” Story
Goal: You wish to replace suspicion and give people a reason to trust you by showing you don’t have a hidden agenda.
Use: You show that you’re a good person and want to work with others to achieve a common goal.
Example: A new school board member is appointed to a committee that evaluates a head teacher. At a meeting, this director challenges the teacher on whether she has met her objectives for the year. After the meeting ends, the director approaches the teacher and says, “I’m sure you realize that my challenges are not personal. I think you’re doing great work. But my duty as a board member is to make sure the education budget is spent wisely, so I must ensure that bonuses are only paid when they should be.” In an ideal world, the teacher says she understands and is grateful for a rigorous exchange.
Goal: You want to demonstrate an idea in a memorable way.
Use: You make a lesson clear and help people remember why they are doing something.
Example: For centuries, the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” has taught children not to call for help unless they need it — otherwise people won’t believe them and come to their aid.
Myths About Story
These approaches help debunk some popular myths about stories.
- They don’t need to be magical or transcendent. Stories need to be true, relevant and sincere.
- Anecdotes and jokes aren’t the same as stories. Stories have an arc — a beginning, middle and end — as well as characters, pacing, gestures and a purpose.
- Storytelling isn’t bragging or dumping on listeners about your struggles. Stories invite them to feel more comfortable with you and move forward with sharing their needs (rather than being impressed with or feeling sorry for you).
- You shouldn’t memorize a story and tell it the same way every time. Stories should be tailored to reflect the audience.
- There isn’t one universal story you can trot out for every occasion. Stories need to be strategic and fit a particular situation.
During the next month, look for opportunities to use these kinds of stories effectively. In the February issue, I’ll share the other three types — to help you expand your repertoire.