Articles by Max

Mastering the Magic of Stories, Part I

“How Do I Find Them?!”

The speaker who is not skilled in the use of stories is like a swimmer competing in combat boots. You may not drown in a small pool but you won’t win any races.

Most speakers know this already and seldom do we hear a professional speaker who does not intentionally tell a story. But most speakers usually admit difficulty in at least one of three areas.

They ask~
1.) How can I most effectively and efficiently find more stories?
2.) How can I make them even more interesting?
3.) How can I best craft my stories to help members of the audience make a change in their own lives?

First, in Part I – How can we find more stories?

The tool we are using here is my Story Work Sheet (which you can download and print) . When we have worked with it here, we will have the initial material for between fifty and a hundred and twenty of our personal stories. We won’t have the full stories yet, but we will have the beginning of an impressive number of experiences and the clarity of some first steps on the way to the finished stories.

1. On a blank sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper write down the words Conflict, Decision and Discovery – one line each – in the upper left hand corner. (Or, again, you can download and print my PDF version of the worksheet here)

Next we begin creating the awareness of each word.
What words come to mind when we say each of these words?
Conflict – Argument? War? Fight? Stress? Think of three or four more. Got a sense of it?
Decision – Choice? Resolution? Difficult? Evidence? More…..
Discovery – Invention? Transform? “At last!”? Result? Find? ………

Think of several of your own and spend about a half minute on each word just to get the energy of those words floating around in your mind.

They are all aspects of a story and they are different. We’ll come back to these three words – conflict, decision and discovery – in a moment and take advantage of this first step.

2. On the Story Work Sheet, leaving the other three corners and a small space in the center clear, fill the rest of the page, writing without pause, with as many of your roles, activities, self-definitions, silly actions, functional activities………ANYTHING that you can think of in seven minutes that you have done or been. Seven minutes. Time it and don’t pause to think. Nothing. I repeat, nothing is too insignificant. If you recall it, it’s worth writing down. (ex. Boy Scout, father, potato chip buyer, poet, jumper in water puddle, wife, car buyer) Anything and everything. Quantity is the goal.

3. Select Conflict, Decision or Discovery. Choose one for this first step.

4. Close your eyes, circle the Story Work Sheet with your finger and let it land on one of the functions/roles/etc. If you landed on ‘sweater knitter’ and had chosen ‘decision’ you will probably notice some kind of picture or feeling or memory….something will start your mind rolling. Write that pair down.
decision/sweater knitter.

5. Do that two more times, each time select a different one of the trio, Conflict, Decision, Discovery. Write down those three different pairings.

6. If you’re working with one other person, each of you will tell the other one what those three pairs are (ex. “conflict/project manager”; “decision/dieter”; “discovery/16th birthday”) and each will respond by asking to “hear just a little bit more of a story about…” and pick which one you would like to hear. (ex. “Tell me a bit more about some decision you made as a dieter.”) And each of you, in turn, will take no longer than a half to a full minute describing the experience.

7. If you’re working by yourself, stay with the one that holds the most interest for you at the time.

8. Now let’s look at the upper right corner of the Story Work Sheet.
Here we have a map of how many if not almost all stories are constructed: The Hero’s Journey. This is a very basic outline but for our purpose at the outset, it will be quite adequate.

The Hero’s Journey~
The Call
New Wisdom

Let’s look at The Hero’s Journey briefly so we can do something productive in the meantime.

Begin to assemble pairings of function (conflict, decision, discovery) and role etc. Ten, twenty, thirty… many as you can. Then do some bare bones work with The Hero’s Journey by giving one sentence per journey function for each story:

Example: “conflict/cornet in marching band” is a sample pairing of mine.

The Call – one sentence of something you want, a goal, a desire. (I wanted to be really good at playing my cornet while I was marching with the band on the field during half-time at football games)

Obstacles – a sentence of some conflict that gets in the way of you reaching your goal (I was simply awful at holding the mouthpiece on my lips, not banging my teeth with it, counting the steps, keeping the rows and files straight, playing music.)

Resolution – a sentence that states how the obstacles were met (I found one very small, simple way I could change in how I walked, then how I breathed and so on till I could do it all.) Or, if they were not overcome, how those obstacles were dealt with.

New Wisdom – a sentence that states what you learned from your experience. (I found that reducing your first step to a tiny target helped it appear, feel and be manageable.)

Max Dixon