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  • Writer's pictureLiza Engel

Making It Personal - Storytelling Builds Bridges

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting to a group of 8th graders. I was there to help build their skills to prepare for their first apprentice job interviews. It wasn't my usual crowd, but the uniqueness of the experience allowed me to go out of my comfort zone and give back to the community and even left me with a renewed sense of purpose.

I started in a room of youthful faces still waking up (it was 7:35 am). I introduced myself and shared stories of my life from the beginning of my work experience. If you want to learn why I told this story, read the science behind it. I told them about my cowgirl Canadian roots and my humble beginnings working hard in a restaurant serving pancakes and waffles and later as a cashier in a giant Superstore ringing in cat food to grandmas on the weekend at 8 am while practising both my customer service skills and learning the inner workings of KPIs. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so, this narrative resonated deeply with them. All day long, they asked me questions to learn more about myself. In that classroom were children of farmers and kids who faced the struggles of trying to keep their grades up in the confines of the school system when all they wanted to be was outdoors. With my stories, I created a connection that allowed them to trust me enough to be willing to learn from me and my own experiences.

Photos by Hanson Lu, Jp Valery and Arvid Skywalker Unsplash

This experience underscored the undeniable power of personal stories in communication. It's one that's proven time and again, regardless of the audience. Here's why:

  1. Building a Personal Connection: Sharing my story wasn't just about giving a presentation and opening the door to my world. This vulnerability transformed the space between us, making our interaction more human and relatable. It reminded me that the opportunity to connect personally is at the heart of every presentation.

  2. Enhancing Memory Retention: The details of my first job might fade, but the essence of the story—the challenges, the growth, the resilience—sticks. It's a testament to how narratives, especially those laced with personal trials and triumphs, are far more memorable than facts and figures.

  3. Establishing Trust: Sharing genuine stories is profoundly compelling. It signals authenticity and creates a foundation of trust. Knowing that I had navigated my path with hard work and determination made my message more credible and impactful for those kids.

  4. Simplifying Complex Information: My journey from simple beginnings to my professional career might seem daunting or even cliché, but embedded within my story were simple, universal themes of ambition, dedication, and the pursuit of passion. These narratives serve as a bridge, making complex ideas more accessible and relatable. This narrative is also one of the most classic story archetypes in books and movies.

  5. Increasing Engagement: From the moment I mentioned my cowgirl heritage, I had their undivided attention. Personal stories have this unique power to captivate and draw listeners in, setting the stage for a dynamic and engaging exchange of ideas.

Throughout the day, the students shared their dreams and aspirations with me. My goal was to ensure they knew that they were good enough and that they already had many experiences that they could demonstrate beyond their grades, showing that they were skilled and ready to take on responsibilities. We celebrated the greatness of feedback, supportive teachers and the potential within each of us. This experience reinforced the transformative power of storytelling.

It's not merely about the story but the connections it fosters, the memories it cements, and the opportunities it creates.

Consider your favourite comedian; their magic begins with sharing a personal story and establishing a bond. Whether for entertainment, professional audiences, or 8th-grade students, storytelling relies on personal narratives as its core.

While opening up may seem daunting, embracing vulnerability is crucial for establishing connections. You don't have to be a world-class speaker; you may be your true authentic self. Taking that first personal step and sharing a glimpse into your life experience is the magical key to building bridges and storytelling.

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