Presentations about “your story”. What’s the problem?

Ever heard someone say, “Find your story“? It’s a popular thing for presentation trainers at the moment as they can then sell you training to do just that. And if what you want is a wee bit of personal development, fine. It’s handy for a bit of feel-good and catharsis, too! You might even get your first presentation out of it!

But “Finding your story” is based on the assumption that there’s one defining narrative that sums up who we are — a neat little package with a single label. You know, like being called a refugee, a mother, or a scientist. (Pretty obvious, right?)

So what’s the problem with “your story”?

Life isn’t that simple.

We’re not just one story; we’re a whole bunch, right? (Check out Walt Whitman’s poem 😉 )

Imagine this: you’re a refugee, a mother, and a scientist all at once. Yeah, I know—it sounds like a wild combo. But that’s the reality for many of us… Well not that particular combination but the idea is common. Our identities aren’t limited to a single category; they overlap and intertwine, shaping who we are and how we navigate the world.

The different bits of “your story”

Here’s the thing, identities aren’t like concrete blocks. They’re more fluid, and which bit of our identity we use depends on what you’re doing at the time. When you’re tucking your (beloved?) child into bed, you’re all about being a loving, nurturing mother, not a research scientist (unless your kid’s got some hardcore questions!). Our identities adapt and take centre stage based on the roles we play in different moments of our lives.

Think about it: as a refugee, you’ve likely developed resilience and empathy. As a mother, you’ve got a whole toolbox of patience and nurturing skills. (You have, right? Right?) And as a scientist, you bring inquisitiveness, critical thinking, and problem-solving. And yes, I know that even within those identities there are sub-identities, such as social scientist, empirisist, qualitative etc – which kind of proves my point!)

When you bring those thing together, magic happens.

That magic combination is you. You’re at the centre of the venn diagram.

The real you is messy, intricate, and (probably!) beautiful. I think of it as honouring the diverse experiences that make us what we are and gives us a much greater range of options for using stories in our presentations.

And at risk of getting sentimental, we, the world and our presentations are all the better for that!

What does that mean for ‘find your story’ stuff?

The world loves to put people in boxes, sadly, and I want to make two points here.

There's science to making good presentations

FIRSTLY… We’re not one-dimensional beings We’re complex, evolving creatures with a bunch of identity-stories within us. If you buy into the “find your story” stuff I’d argue that it’s actually not a journey of discovery – it’s (potentially) a limiting box/trap…

Call me a research scientist and I start to behave like a research scientist!

Call me a mother and I start to behave as… well I don’t ‘cos I’m a father, but you get the idea 😉

SECONDLY… More importantly, from my perspective as a business presenter, the audience rarely cares about “your story”. They care about the content and “what’s in it for me”. You know that bit at the beginning of presentations when someone tells you a little bit about them as context? Well yeah, everyone else is just waiting for the interesting stuff to start, too.

Harsh, I know, and a generalisation, but for business presentations in particular it’s something to stand by.

What’s the (better) alternative

Instead of “finding your story” shift to finding the stories in your day. You’re complicated, so the stories you find are going to be disparate. And audiences love variety.

What’s more, because having a set of “every day” stories is, well, every day, the people in your audience can relate to you. You telling them about when you’ve climbed Kilimanjaro backwards by hopping just alienates you because it’s too far removed from people’s every day experience.

If people can’t relate to your stories – if you’re too much the hero doing the impossible – far from inspiring people can (and often does) just lead them to feeling inadequate in the medium and long term… no matter how pumped up they might appear to be in the room.

Want to learn more about using stories in your presentations? Check out my 69 stories challenge, which takes you through finding 69 stories (funnily enough). Or want to absolutely nail the whole storytelling thing? Apply to my StoryMaking Accelerator. It’s a full-service training program to turn you into a story maker!

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