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Did you know … a story is defined as an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment; or a report of an item of news in a newspaper, magazine or broadcast.

Stories have the ability to empower both the story teller and the people who hear the story. How does this work? How can you become empowered through telling your story? How can you empower other people through hearing your story?

Recently I’ve been asked to do a lot of storytelling. This tradition goes back to the beginning of time, so I thought that I would use this issue of Search Light to share how you too can use the power of telling stories.

People relate to stories much more than they relate to statistics, facts and figures. Why? Because human beings are irrational and emotional; we don’t fit into boxes of standard shapes and sizes. We like to hear stories because we can relate to different parts of them. We can compare ourselves to other people’s stories, events and situations, to see how we’re doing in relation to them and to give ourselves points of reference in our lives.

Stories can be used to impact on people who you want to affect or influence. You can flex and craft a specific story to have a certain impact on a specific individual or group of people.

Every life has a story. Every story has a message. And I am the best person to tell that story.

How do you create your story? How do you make sure that it has the outcome you desire for each situation?

  1. Decide on the outcome that you want. This could be to inspire people in the audience to give you their business card, book you for a talk, or take another action that you want them to take.
  2. Work out which specific parts of your story will help you to achieve your outcome. Which elements of which of your stories can you use? You don’t need to tell the whole of your life story every time. It’s important to select the parts that the audience can relate to, that can help them to visualise the story and the outcome.

Incidentally, I have heard that some people with HIV or AIDS have found it quite difficult to read my book, because of how much they can relate to my story and the other narratives included in the book. It’s too difficult for them. However, my book was not written with other people living with HIV or AIDS in mind. I wrote it to help other people understand how to respond to people living with AIDS or HIV.

When you tell stories through books it can be harder to control the impact they may have, as you won’t always know who has picked up your book to read. When you’re planning to tell your story to a live audience, make sure that you research your audience so you know who will be there. Then you can craft your story with them in mind.

  1. Think about the body of your story:
  • The words are so important. Think very carefully about the words you want to use as they can affect the impact of your story. Write a script if it helps, but don’t try to learn it verbatim, unless you’re giving a very short talk (not more than 5 minutes.) But do learn some of your key phrases, to make sure that the impact lands properly.
  • When you’re telling your story to a live audience, make sure that you pause and gauge the reaction of the people listening to you. If they are laughing, allow them to laugh before you go on. If you want to let a point sink in, use a longer pause ……….. to give your audience time to think.
  • Consider the journey that you want to take people on with your journey. Plan the route so that they know where you’re taking them and where they’ve been.
  • Don’t be afraid of emotions and know how to deal with your own emotions when telling your story. Be brave and don’t be afraid to show the impact that your story has had on you, but don’t turn it into a sob story.

4. Listen to other people’s stories. Everyone has a story and you can find inspiration on the street every day. Before I became ill, I used to pass the same Big Issue vendor every day on my way to work. I never stopped to speak to him or buy a copy of the magazine. When I finally returned to work, as I was recovering, one day I took the time to speak to the vendor, who told me that his name was Steve. He was homeless because he’d suffered from cancer and had lost everything. He slept in a doorway and all his possessions fitted into a single carrier bag and yet Steve was always friendly, cheerful and clean. He was always happy to chat and positive – even on the day that his shoes had been stolen overnight. Steve’s pride and dignity wouldn’t allow him to accept my offer of buying him a new pair of shoes, but he did accept a second hand pair from one of my colleagues at work. I don’t pass Steve’s pitch every day anymore, when I did see him, Steve was still smiling. Behind every smile there’s a story!

  1. End your story with a bang and not with a whimper. It doesn’t need to be a loud bang – it could be that you want to send your audience away with something powerful to reflect on, or a specific action for them to take. Make it clear what you want them to do, say or think and you story will have a much greater impact on your audience.

How can you use stories to empower yourself and the people who hear your stories?

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