You Don’t Have to Memorize your Story

Even before they’ve started working on their story, many people are worried about the delivery. I get it. No one wants to be caught out unable to deliver a well-prepared story.

My answer is: you don’t have to memorize your story.

It sounds impossible, but it’s true. The advantage of telling personal stories is that you don’t have to learn your story because you already lived it. You have it all locked up in your memory. You might use story bones to help you remember the order of events. The only thing you really need to do is deliver your story.

Yes, you should adjust it for your audience and your purpose, but the essence of the story is already there.

What you do need to remember is which story you want to tell and which specific details you’ll need for the purpose. In other words, how do you dress up your story for this particular ball?

For example, I once applied for an outdoor education job in North Carolina. To prepare for the interview, I had to prepare a lesson. They wanted to see me teach.

Now, there are a lot of approaches to teaching, but mine is always materials-minimal. So, in the car, as I drove out to the center, I made up a plan. In the end, I gave the three folks who interviewed me a lesson in downhill skiing. It was the fall, we were all wearing shorts. When the time came for my sample lesson, we went outside, used a little slope next to their office, and I taught them some basic downhill skiing techniques.

I’ll never forget the moment or the setting (a big converted garage, yellow siding, next to a field).

The only thing I need to do is adjust the story for my context. Am I talking to someone about teaching techniques? Then I’ll expand on my philosophy and maybe mention some of the things other applicants taught (one of them did a guitar with a tissue box). Are they skiers? I might talk about exactly how I taught the techniques and why I thought they could be taught without snow or even skis. Talking to friends? The focus might be on me standing there in my shorts and hiking boots channeling snow while sweating and trying to look full-on outdoor education type.

And so on. The point is that you know the story in more detail than you can possibly include (or should try to). So don’t worry about the memorization task. Worry instead about a strong story delivery. You’ve got the rest.

Posted in Storytelling.

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