At the end of the day, nothing may be more revealing about you, than a personal story about you. If you are an executive reading this, you know certain things about personal stories are true. They are scary. They make you vulnerable. They may not work.
The purpose of this discussion is to talk about when a personal story is likely to work. And when it is likely to fail and crash in a fiery ball of regret.
A personal story can work under many circumstances.
Your story shows empathy with the audience. Recently our team helped an executive tell about his road to the podium. “Nine years ago, I was sitting exactly where you are now. Listening to other executives and wondering how I could make my team successful.” He had everyone’s attention from there.
Your story shows how you overcame adversity. We worked for an executive that escaped with her family from Cuba. When she was a little girl, her family built a raft with inner tubes and some lumber. She explained that she felt the need to drive herself to achieve and to help others achieve because she felt so blessed to be alive and to be here. When she told that story, you could feel the truth of her commitment. And people wanted to follow.
Your story reveals a personal motivation. This is riskier. One of the executives with whom we work is funny. Really funny. As part of a sales kick-off he suggested one reason he wanted to really drive the business was… …cut to a photo of a family with several college-age children. It completely worked. It was funny and had just enough truth to make the executive more credible in the eyes of the audience.
There are several ways you can fail with a personal story.
It is irrelevant. This leaves your audience wondering why you’re talking about yourself. Makes you look unfocused and off-topic.
It is boastful. There is a difference between empathy and boasting. For example, don’t give the audience your resume with the achievements highlighted. It separates you from the audience and makes you less sympathetic.
It is boring. Long. Not very interesting. Not much of a conclusion. These can all drive an audience to drift away and start doing SMS.
You as a person have powerful stories to tell that can elevate your talk to a moving and memorable moment for the audience.
Boring or not, tell me your personal experience with personal stories in executive forums. I’d love to hear about them.