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By John Millen


During a recent keynote presentation, I wanted to make a point about the need to pay attention in a world of distraction.
 
I spontaneously told a story about my initial training to run a marathon 20 years ago. I was living in Southern California, where I grew up, and signed up for my first half-marathon as a training run in San Diego.
 
I had never run 13 miles, but I was intent on finishing. For a few miles, I’ll never forget, I ran next to an African-American woman wearing a black and white striped outfit and big sunglasses. We exchanged pleasantries, but I didn’t talk much with her, as I usually do with people I meet, because I was so focused on finishing.
 
I did notice that passing runners would smile and wave and say “hi” or “hey” to her. I thought she must belong to a local running club and it was so nice that people were being supportive.
 
Eventually, I moved on and was relieved to finish the race strongly. That afternoon, resting in the hotel room with my family, I saw that woman on TV. She was running her first half-marathon, too. It was Oprah Winfrey.
 
My wife still kids me about that. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed having my own talk show, anyway.

My Story Bank 
In any case, the reason I was able to “spontaneously” tell this story is because it’s in my Story Bank. Over the years, I’ve collected my own personal and business stories to use in presentations and personal conversations.
 
If someone asked me under pressure to tell them my favorite story, Oprah might appear, or I might tell them about having a week off before I started a new job in Los Angeles and auditioned for seven game shows in three days. But we’ll leave that for another day.

Your Favorite Story 
Let’s talk about you. If someone were to ask you to tell your favorite story, what would you say?
 
Would you search your memory bank hoping to come up with a story that is worthy of being called your “favorite”?
 
Would you be flustered? Maybe tell the first story that comes to mind? Or would you give up searching and let this opportunity pass?
 
This exact scenario may not happen to you, but there are times that telling a story would be the perfect way to engage, inspire, or persuade someone important to you.
 
Stories can build understanding and connection in relationships – so they’re helpful in business and in life.
 
With this in mind, let me give you a few tips for collecting your own stories:
 
Create a Story Bank
You should consider developing a disciplined approach to finding and saving your best stories so that you have a collection ready to use. By sharing your stories you’re giving people insights into who you are and what you value.
 
You’ll find that your openness is rewarded with openness from others in return.
 
Develop a storyteller mindset
Once you decide to capture stories you’ll notice that stories are everywhere. That’s because we as human beings are hardwired for hearing and telling stories. We tell stories all the time, to others and to ourselves.
 
When you decide to collect your own stories, they’ll start popping up all the time -- when you’re in meetings, driving to work or just waking up.
 
Set a method for collecting your stories
When all of these stories start coming at you, it’s important to have a disciplined approach to capturing them. If you say, “I’ll write that down when I get to home” you’ll never remember that story.
 
I have a notebook I use to write my favorite inspirational quotes and my stories. I keep that notebook on my desk in the office.
 
To make sure I capture stories when I’m traveling or elsewhere, I have a notes file on my phone labeled “stories” and whenever I hear something that would make a good story (or a Sunday Coffee post ;-) I enter it on my phone. If I’m driving, I dictate a quick note.
 
Ask for stories from others
If you’re a leader, or in sales, you should also be asking other people for stories. Collecting stories about your organization, successes, and failures, helps to reinforce the culture you are seeking to strengthen.
 
Rather than asking the old, “how’s business?” what if you asked someone to tell you the most interesting story they’ve heard in their business in the past year?
 
When you ask that question, rather than get the pat answer, “business is good” you’ll get a real insight into the person and the organization. That’s because to find a story, we have to search a different part of our brains, as it takes some effort and creativity. Watch a person’s face, especially their eyes, when they search for a story.
 
And when they share the story with you, the two of you are making the most real, intimate connection available to human beings. You’re sharing yourselves.
 
I call storytelling “the leader’s superpower” because telling a story is more engaging, inspiring and motivating than anything else you can say.
 
So keep your eyes open; stories are all around you. And search your life, for the moments you can share with others.
 
You’ll be on your way to telling the world your story.
 

If you want to let me know how you collect stories or if you have a story to share, hit reply and let me know.

John

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