Storytelling Hack -- Reverse Engineering

You Start at the end

One kind of story coaching I do is to help former foster youth find their voice and tell their stories. I do this through a local nonprofit, Just In Time For Foster Youth (JIT).

These 18-25 year-old young men and women want to tell their story to:

  1. Help JIT raise funds
  2. Give back to JIT in some way
  3. Find their voice and tell their stories about what they've had to endure in order to make a difference in the world

Now here's the kicker -- to find their story, get it honed, work on their delivery, etc. -- I'm lucky if I get two 2-hour sessions with them for a total of 4 hours. Normally tackling a story that's as big as theirs requires 8 hours minimum, and that means they are using notes. Add more hours for no notes.

Why do I get so little time with them? Because they are working (sometimes 2 jobs), going to school, volunteering, dealing with family, raising kids, traveling hours on public transportation, etc.

In other words, their schedules are totally jammed just like yours.

They need results fast and don't have much time -- just like you.

As a result I've had to find/create storytelling hacks so they can:

  1. Find easy ways to tell their story
  2. Stand and deliver with confidence
  3. Feel great about themselves and their story
  4. Have the audience feel great about them and their story
  5. Inspire listeners to donate, volunteer, or help them in some way

Wow! What a tall order. But we do it. Here's how:

Story Hack #1

Reverse engineer the story

Start from the end and work forward.

Figure out FIRST what your key message is:

  1. What do you want to tell people at the end of your story?
  2. If there is a message -- something you want them to know -- what would that be?
  3. If you could leave them with a piece of wisdom you've learned about your project/your data/teamwork/leadership/life, what would that be?

Don't agonize over this. Just write down either:

  1. The first thought that comes to mind
  2. OR the thought that grabs you the most

What I've learned time and again from storytelling is that the key message typically gets refined anyway -- sometimes even changes completely -- when you fill in the rest of the story.

So don't get all twisted up about this. Just put something down.

Once you have your key message, pick your spot for how you want to start your story.

  1. Is there a place? "So there I was working in Chicago..."
  2. Is there a date? "You know, it was back in 2000 when..."
  3. Is there a person? "My boss came to me the other day..."
  4. Is there a setting? "One day I was sitting at my desk when..."
  5. Is there a project? "We've been digging into this project now for..."

Boom! You've got it. You've got your working key message and your beginning. Now the rest of the story unfolds.

Try this hack out!

Have fun and tell me how it goes.

If these young adults can successfully use this storytelling hack with their stories that deals with abandonment, abuse, trafficking and worse -- you can easily use it to craft your business stories.

More hacks to come for what to do in that mushy middle between the beginning and the end. After that, even more hacks to follow on delivering your story, practicing your story, capturing your story, mining your story, refreshing your story...the list goes on.

Story on!