Finding Your Signature Story

Professional speakers who are at the top of their game are often known for their “signature stories.”  These are original, compelling stories on which reputations are built.

Signature stories are usually funny.  Often they are VERY funny.  But in spite of the power of humor, a signature story of the highest level must have more than just funny lines.  And they need more than a significant message.

The art of improv comedy teaches us that good scene work is
centered around characters, relationships and objectives.  So it is
with great stories in speaking.  In a great story the message is
built around drama, challenges or obstacles, relationships, strong
characters. 

A story which is relatively simple and predictable is less likely
to strike it rich as a signature story.  And a story which belongs
to someone else will never make YOU famous.  You want to work for
the original and compelling stories which have substantial real
life drama.  A bad relationship turned into a good relationship.  A
life-and-death situation survived. A dramatic or embarrassing
situation coped with.  A story with a strong colorful character
which teaches a great life lesson.

Here is a story which I really like.  It’s a true life experience.
But it lacks nearly all the critical elements of a GREAT story.  So
I rarely use it:

I was waiting at a red traffic light and my mind was wandering.
The car to my left started to go, so I automatically figured the
light was green and I started to go.  Then I looked up and saw the
light was still red.  The car next to me was turning left on a
green arrow.  So I slammed on my brakes. Unfortunately, the car
behind me, seeing that I was going, started to go.  And the driver,
not expecting me to stop suddenly, crashed into the back of my car.

A pair of assumptions caused an accident.  I assumed that the
person on my left was going the same place I was…and he wasn’t.
My assumption was wrong.  The driver behind me assumed that I knew what I was doing…I didn’t.  He was wrong.  We often make assumptions in life that lead us down the wrong path. We assume that what is right for someone else is right for us, when it may not be.  And we assume that someone else knows what they’re doing or possesses the truth, and sometimes they don’t.  We need to be awake and clear thinking in our choices and judgments or life will teach us hard lessons.

A good story.  Good lessons.  The lessons could probably be
expressed in a hundred different ways.  But it’s not a great story.
There is little humor. There is no drama.  There are no colorful
characters.  There are no substantial relationship situations.
There are no challenges or obstacles.   It’s a simple story and
some may say it’s predictable. 

But finding a great signature story is easier said than done.  It
may take years of searching and then experimenting from the
platform until the right story clicks for you.  My recommendation
is that you focus on your life’s experiences and primarily look for
situations which have obstacles to overcome, relationship problems,
and lessons learned.  Your story doesn’t need to be as significant
as surviving a hostage situation or a plane crash.  Life’s everyday
problems with interpersonal relationships can be just as dramatic.
You just need to tune in to your experiences so that you can
capture the magical story and put it into your speech.