Even the phrase “tell us a story” can be enough to put some communicators into a state of panic. How do you get to a point where you can tell stories naturally? And avoid sounding like you’re pulling a stunt? Tune in with Speechless hosts, Maryam Pasha and Simon Bucknall, to learn how to identify the moments you can turn into stories, why it’s not about “being inspiring”, and how to pull together your “tight five”.
[00:00:00] Simon Bucknall: You're listening to Speechless, the new podcast from storytelling experts, Maryam Pasha and Simon Bucknall. Hit follow now to learn how to tell stories that change the world.
[00:00:18] Maryam Pasha: A few weeks ago, Simon, you and I were discussing this podcast, weren't we? We were prepping for this episode, believe it or not, episode. Yeah. Believe it or not, we, we prepare for these episodes and, um, [00:00:30] You said, yo, let's, let's do an episode where we each tell a story that we've worked on. Mm. And then help deconstruct it and look at it and think about the arc and all these kinds of things.
[00:00:41] Maryam Pasha: And my face said to you, I think that's a great idea. And your heart said, and my heart said, that was a great idea, but my brain, your brain said, What are you talking about? You don't have any stories. And I genuinely mean like this, this like [00:01:00] panicky voice in the back of my head was like, I can't think of any stories.
[00:01:03] Maryam Pasha: Can't think of any stories. What's the story? What are you gonna tell? Your story's not gonna be as good. You don't have any stories. Um, And I think that I'm not alone in that
[00:01:14] Simon Bucknall: feeling. No. I'm very confident that you're not alone. Let's, in my defense, however, not the most unreasonable of suggestions. No. That in a podcast about absolute suggestion stories that change the world, we might actually share some stories.
[00:01:26] Simon Bucknall: Imagine that. True. I know. And I completely
[00:01:28] Maryam Pasha: agree. That's true. So true what you say. But it [00:01:30] is incredible because one of the memories I have of working with you many, many years ago was you talking about how everyone has stories. Mm-hmm. Um, We just don't really see them. And I do that in my training too.
[00:01:44] Maryam Pasha: You know, I get people to think about themselves as storytellers, but it's incredible how your mind can just go blank when someone says, tell me a story, or Can you think of a story? Or when you have to try and think of something to tell for work, or whatever it might be. Yes, yes. [00:02:00] How. How do you identify moments that you turn into stories?
[00:02:06] Simon Bucknall: Well, well, it, it strikes me that the language we use can actually be quite unhelpful. Yeah. The, the very phrase like, tell a story, it's a bit like it, it's like, tell us a joke, you know? Mm-hmm. It, it's something quite f formal about it. It's quite, Hmm. There's a sudden pressure and of course it's not that I need to find a story.
[00:02:23] Simon Bucknall: Actually, another way of thinking about it is, Is you're looking for relatable experience, which is a bit different cause we all [00:02:30] have experience, countless experiences every day of, well, every hour of every day, at least when we're awake. So, so I think that's the, that's the first thing is to take a little bit of the sting or the mystique out of it so people think, oh, I've got to have a story.
[00:02:41] Simon Bucknall: Uh, what is it? It's gotta be something really dramatic and impressive. No, we're thinking about relatable experience, which of course we do all the time in conversations with people. All, how is your day? People don't say, well, let me just check my notes. What have I got on my, well, bullet 0.1, one B one C.
[00:02:55] Simon Bucknall: It's not how we speak. It's, do you know, I had this conversation the other day with a guy who, that's how [00:03:00] we talk about what's been going on in our lives. I
[00:03:03] Maryam Pasha: absolutely love it. I think I, I've had a real light bulb moment because I do think when you say, tell me a story, I do think. That it's exactly the same panic that goes through me.
[00:03:14] Maryam Pasha: If someone said, tell me a joke. Yes. You think, okay, okay. It has to be funny. It has to be well formed. It has to be, it has to, essentially, it has to exist already in almost like a nugget sized piece, right? Yes, yes, yes. And that's where the panic
[00:03:29] Simon Bucknall: sets it. [00:03:30] Yes. And a conscious brain goes into, yeah. Into panic mode.
[00:03:33] Simon Bucknall: Absolutely. And so I think clearly with, with. Thinking time and preparation. Of course, people can source stories and, and then one of the simplest ways of doing that is to think through what are the moments that you remember from your life, whether they are big moments or small moments. They could be recent, they could be a long time ago, for sure.
[00:03:50] Simon Bucknall: Anyone listening to this podcast, think back to your childhood. There will be moments and experiences you remember from your childhood. It might take a bit of digging around, but I, we've all got them. Uh, [00:04:00] so, so with some preparation time by thinking moments that you remember is, is of course a way of consciously doing it.
[00:04:06] Simon Bucknall: But, but I think in terms of bringing storytelling in on purpose in a, you know, be a formal setting or not, the, the key to that is, is to build it as a habit rather than feel like you've gotta pull a stunt. And I think many people fall into the trapping. Oh, right. I've suddenly got to go into performance mode, which of course then actually gets all this baggage in the way.
[00:04:29] Simon Bucknall: So [00:04:30] rather it's about cultivating it as a, as a conscious habit, uh, as I say, rather than a stunt. And, and that might mean simply paying attention to the stories that, that we all tell all the time already, uh, without even thinking about it in conversation. And, uh, and there are stories. All over the place in what, in what we talk about in those everyday situations.
[00:04:49] Simon Bucknall: And it's, and and just recognizing there might be some value in that. I'd say the one other very common obstacle, of course is the, uh, is the, the filter that says, [00:05:00] oh, well, yes, I remember that moment or that experience, but that's, that's not, that's not impressive enough. That's not spectacular. What was the point of me telling that?
[00:05:07] Simon Bucknall: Yeah, no one will be
[00:05:07] Maryam Pasha: interested in that. And I think that is absolutely it because, so, I mean, this is even helpful. I think sometimes you can get lost in sometimes. Thinking about what stories do I have? Mm. Um, and I always found that unusual because I would say that probably the way I communicate is storytelling.
[00:05:25] Maryam Pasha: I would probably say that people around me are like, oh, if you ask Maryam something, she's gonna go off on some like [00:05:30] massive story and like talk forever. Um, and then when I'm put on the spot, I think what happens is that, I feel like I need to be able to put a meaning. You know, there needs to be, um, a lesson in every story, and that's sometimes where I trip myself up where I think.
[00:05:52] Maryam Pasha: What is the, what is the, the point of me telling this? Yes. Um, and how do you, how have you [00:06:00] found, because obviously you did the World Championship of public speaking many times, that is crafting an incredible story. How did you choose the stories and how did you pull the meanings from them?
[00:06:13] Simon Bucknall: Well, in the case of of, of the championship, I, I literally went through a process in, well, I went to the, to the semifinals three times in oh 6, 0 7, and then most recently in 20 20 17, and then went on into the final.
[00:06:25] Simon Bucknall: And, and in each of those cases, I, I, in preparing, went through a process [00:06:30] of listing out moments that I could remember, stories, experiences that were meaningful to me, and then looked at, right, well, what kind of message might that. Convey, and I also did it the way around, I think, right? What kind of messages or values do I really believe in are important to me?
[00:06:43] Simon Bucknall: So as an example, when, when going to, in the year, in 2017, the speech that I put together, which took me from the first round right the way through to the world semis and got me into the final, I, the, the, the premise for that speech was, One of the things I'd been thinking about for a long time, uh, was about honesty.[00:07:00]
[00:07:00] Simon Bucknall: I was thinking about, you know, what kind of values do I have? What do I, what do I believe in? And honesty is something my parents had always instilled in me, possibly even too much. Always telling the literal truth because sometimes telling the literal truth gets you into, gets you into trouble. And not just at, uh, passport immigration.
[00:07:14] Simon Bucknall: And so, and I then went to town thinking about experiences that really helped to bring that to life for me. Now, the journey of figuring out what's. The best story to fit with a message and honing exactly what the message really is, can then take some time. It doesn't emerge fully formed. And so being kind to yourself and allowing that [00:07:30] to be a process.
[00:07:31] Simon Bucknall: The speech that I, that I developed went from February, 2017, right way through to August, to went through five rounds of competition, changed, uh, in all sorts of ways on that journey. And it ended up being not about literally telling the truth, the truth, the message of the speech I what emerged was, um, it was a speech about, yeah, being honest with yourself and, and.
[00:07:50] Simon Bucknall: Not trying to be perfect, not the, the message being, to be perfectly honest, you don't have to be perfect. Mm-hmm. You just have to be honest. But it took quite a while to get clear on that and, and actually the stories I used to illustrate [00:08:00] that message did evolve a bit over time. So I, interestingly, going back to the, where this started the other day when we were talking about it, what do you think went on in your mind when, when, when that idea.
[00:08:12] Simon Bucknall: Popped up. The, the thought of you are bringing a story to something like this conversation. Your first reaction you were saying was in your mind was, uh, w was it, was it literally I haven't got anything, or was it something else? What do you think was going on in your mind?
[00:08:28] Maryam Pasha: It was literally, I [00:08:30] don't have anything good enough. Because it's the qualifier. It's not that I don't have anything, it's that I don't have anything good enough.
[00:08:39] Simon Bucknall: But because
[00:08:41] Maryam Pasha: Yeah, it exactly, because because I might feel like, oh, it's just gonna be a nothing story. It's not gonna be told well enough. It's not gonna be meaningful enough.
[00:08:51] Maryam Pasha: It's, it's not gonna be enough, whatever that might be. Um, and I think that's something that people struggle with, is feeling like what they've got isn't [00:09:00] good enough. Mm mm I do think that. There is this moment though, where you have to kind of, I think the key is to push past that initial feeling. Like I've spent enough time thinking about have, having been forced to think about in this role and the work I do with TEDx or whatever, because I speak because I have to tell stories.
[00:09:22] Maryam Pasha: You have to kind of push past a little bit. That feeling of like, what I have isn't good enough and just give it. Test it. Like that's what, [00:09:30] what, listening to you just now talking about that iterative process that you went through with the world championship, I think that is what sometimes scares people, but that is what is absolutely necessary is to tell a story.
[00:09:43] Maryam Pasha: And then to modify it and then to edit it, and then to keep testing it and keep trying it out. I always, actually, I do tell this story in some of my workshops, um, about this testing process where I was on the phone with, um, a good friend of mine who's a standup comedian, and, um, she was, [00:10:00] we were just chatting and.
[00:10:02] Maryam Pasha: I was saying I'd just come back from the gym or something, or whatever it was. And she was telling me about how she had seen a personal trainer and it was just a very hilarious whole thing. Um, and you, we had a good laugh. And then like a year and a half later, I'm watching her on stage and she's telling this story as a bit.
[00:10:22] Maryam Pasha: And I remember afterwards and I was like, were you testing material out on me? I thought we were just having a chat. And she was like, yeah, of course. [00:10:30]
[00:10:30] Simon Bucknall: There's the, there's the habit. There's the habit on
[00:10:32] Maryam Pasha: display right there. Right. And I thought to myself, well, of course, like where better to test these kinds of things than in conversations with people.
[00:10:39] Maryam Pasha: People. That's absolutely right. That's absolutely right. It completely changed. The way I think about it is that, you know, I now think about how, if I'm ever gonna put something in front of. An audience, an important audience of one person or a thousand people, I will never have the first time I say that, be to that audience.
[00:10:55] Maryam Pasha: Mm. If it's important enough. Other people have had to, I have had to hear it out loud. [00:11:00] I've had to say it out loud cuz there's value to that. But other people have had to hear it as well. And I've got to have gone through those iterative processes a bit because. You don't want the first time you say something to be to the most important audience.
[00:11:12] Maryam Pasha: No,
[00:11:12] Simon Bucknall: absolutely. Absolutely. Again, sound like comedians are a great example. Yeah. They'll always test the material in the clubs. In the clubs before they take a, a show out to the out. And we,
[00:11:21] Maryam Pasha: and we wouldn't do it. Right? Like I, when I think about the, the times when we do tell stories more organically without.
[00:11:28] Maryam Pasha: This panic, but for [00:11:30] me it's in your personal life. Yes, yes. You just tell them. Yes, totally. Um, but you also are a bit like a mini standup because you will modify them and fix them and get them to be better every time. And who knows,
[00:11:41] Simon Bucknall: maybe embellish
[00:11:42] Maryam Pasha: into the bit here and there, cut bits out and pause, do all those bits.
[00:11:46] Maryam Pasha: It's this, essentially you're creating your bit, but we do it for like embarrassing moments, bad dates, funny things that happened in work. I think I. What people I work with. And what I also struggle with is sometimes that translation of that [00:12:00] skill from our personal life into our professional
[00:12:05] Simon Bucknall: life. Mm-hmm.
[00:12:06] Simon Bucknall: Yes. Because when you, you, well, clearly you've got a, a, a whole library of, of stories and, and, and, and. Content that's, that you know, works and that, and that is engaging for people and is relevant and so on, as you say, from sessions that you've run, as well as experiences coaching speakers, whether it's for TED conferences or elsewhere.
[00:12:24] Simon Bucknall: And so do you think that that fact, the fact that you know that you've got. Whole host of tried and tested [00:12:30] content story wise, do you think that that was just not even in your mind when we, when we talked about it, or do you think you, you, that you're aware of it, but that your right brain just just disregarded that and said, well, yeah, I've got that, but that, that still won't be good enough?
[00:12:40] Maryam Pasha: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You do. I think that, I think that it, it just, it just kind of was this gut reaction of feeling like, is what I'm gonna say. Going to mean anything to the person hearing it. And I think that's a very relatable feeling, [00:13:00]
[00:13:00] Simon Bucknall: right? Yes. Yes. Now that's, that's, that's very interesting, isn't it?
[00:13:02] Simon Bucknall: The, the, the doubt as to outcome the doubt, or even fear, doubt is a, that it won't have the meaning for somebody else, that it might have for you. Yeah. And of course, sometimes people doubt or at least unclear on the meaning of the experience for them until they really think about it. But if you've got something which you know, is meaningful to you, there is always that until it's, until it's been.
[00:13:19] Simon Bucknall: It's out there in the, in the light of day and actually heard by somebody. Yeah. Then you can't know for certain how it'll be received and that that is absolutely a leap of faith and why it's so valuable to try this stuff [00:13:30] out in safe environments. Yeah. Not on the big stage when it suddenly appears for the first time.
[00:13:34] Simon Bucknall: I can remember having that, the, the first time I can remember telling a story in my eyes are, are really. H high stakes environment was the, was in the months before I first entered the, the, the world Championships. Yeah. This was back in late 2005. And I came up with the idea of telling a story of a boy from school who I knew who we hated each other, but we became very good friends and, and, and I tried it out and, and, uh, and put it into a speech.
[00:13:59] Simon Bucknall: [00:14:00] And my mentor said, oh, that's, uh, that's a really good speech. You should put that into the competition, which I did. And then it was the speech that then gave me my first real. Un unexpected success in the competition. The reaction from the audience was, was, was stunning. I mean, people were clearly very, very moved by the experience, uh, by, by the story I told.
[00:14:18] Simon Bucknall: And, and, and it was the first time I realized, oh my goodness, this is a story that I thought was, would show me is weak. It was, it was, it was from years ago. I was literally eight, nine years old at the time. It [00:14:30] involved, it involves some quite traumatic experiences for me as a child. Um, and. And I was shocked by how people responded to it.
[00:14:38] Simon Bucknall: And bear in mind the story was about a boy who, I mean in my eyes bluntly, I swim as a bully. Uh, right, but who became a friend? Somebody came up to me afterwards, I still remember this, came up to me and said, oh Simon, I thank you for your speech. Do you know? He said there was someone a bit like this, uh, the boy you described in, in my school days too.
[00:14:55] Simon Bucknall: And I, I think of him dif I think because of your speech. I'm thinking of him differently now. I see him [00:15:00] maybe in a different way. Cuz the speech is, the story is all about reconciliation and empathy. And, and hero of the story actually was the boy that I disliked. Right? He was the hero, right? It certainly wasn't me.
[00:15:08] Simon Bucknall: He wasn't, he was not the villain, but he started out as the villain. But, and I thought, God, I, I didn't, of course he brought his own lens to it, to the story, which I was, I couldn't possibly have anticipated. And it was a really significant moment because, well, as a mentor, another mentor of mine had said, you know, if you're the manager of a football team or any sports team, you don't see a same, the same game as the crowd.
[00:15:28] Simon Bucknall: You know, we, we forget other people [00:15:30] bring their lens to, to a, to an experience. I've
[00:15:32] Maryam Pasha: heard you tell this story and I absolutely love it. Um, uh, it is incredibly meaningful and I, and it's so memorable too, that I was like literally thinking about it the other day. The interesting thing though, that for me, that you've said here, and this happens a lot with the telex speakers we work with or just in that world, because people will come up to me and they'll say, I really wanna inspire people.
[00:15:54] Maryam Pasha: I really wanna be an inspiring speaker. I wanna do, want my talk to, to do inspirational stuff. And you [00:16:00] know, we, I have to sit down with those people and just say, that's not how it works. Like you don't tell an inspiring story. People are inspired by a story. Absolutely.
[00:16:10] Simon Bucknall: It comes from them. Yes. It comes from them.
[00:16:11] Simon Bucknall: Yes. Yes. It's an audience centered thing rather than speaker thing. You
[00:16:14] Maryam Pasha: Yeah. To have another purpose. Your purpose is not inspiration. It might be whatever it might be, is your purpose, right? Your core message, the thing you wanna communicate, the reason you're speaking, and different people will find it, different things inspire them or give them energy.
[00:16:28] Maryam Pasha: Yes. Yes. And I do think [00:16:30] that is a huge mistake. It's like, you know, people find Ted Talks very inspiring, but it's not because those speakers are trying to inspire their audience. Mm-hmm. It's because those speakers are trying to communicate something that they care about. Yes. Yes. And that happens to inspire them.
[00:16:44] Maryam Pasha: Yes. And I think that, It can be. If you are in an audience and you see someone speak and you feel really inspired by them, it can be easy to feel like, oh, I wanna be like that. I wanna inspire people like that. Especially if you're trying to change the world, right? Yes. Um, [00:17:00] and the real thing that has to click is that you don't set out with that in mind.
[00:17:04] Maryam Pasha: Absolutely.
[00:17:04] Simon Bucknall: Yes. Well, absolutely. It'd be a bit like in the theater, but I, I, I want to go on stage and and make people clap.
[00:17:12] Maryam Pasha: Yeah, yeah. Right. I wanna get to stand the
[00:17:14] Simon Bucknall: ovation. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Or, or for a, or for a sports, a sports professional to say, I, I, I, I want the crowd to go wild. Well, if you're focused on that rather than on the actual game in hand your toast.
[00:17:26] Simon Bucknall: Exactly. It's Absolutely,
[00:17:27] Maryam Pasha: absolutely. Focus on that and come off. It could actually [00:17:30] have the, the opposite effect actually. Yes. I think that's, that's the thing about this, this as well, is that if you do go in hoping I'm gonna inspire people, you give off the totally the wrong vibe. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Yes.
[00:17:41] Maryam Pasha: And we've all sat there and listened and heard and had that experience. Yes. I wanna circle back to something because I think it's really important. In the terms of the how. Mm-hmm. So like being able to find these stories. I think what you said earlier around, you know, doing this inventory in your, of your, of your life and, and the [00:18:00] moments that have, are memorable to you and have meant something and thinking about those deeply, I feel like that's really important.
[00:18:06] Maryam Pasha: I'm wondering, do you find the same thing is true for your work life? Like telling stories about your work and your business and your career, do you do the same kind of stock taking of your work? And to, to kind of find those moments in those stories. Oh, yes, yes. So it applies to both, right? Yes. It's not just your
[00:18:28] Simon Bucknall: personal Oh, no, it's [00:18:30] not just personal.
[00:18:30] Simon Bucknall: No, no, no, no. Well, work experience is is also personal in my book. Right. Exactly. It, it's in a way, whether it's it. The question is, is it firsthand experience? Is it primary? Yes. Right. And of course there's value in telling secondary stories. That doesn't mean they're second class, it just means that they're not experiences that you have directly had.
[00:18:48] Simon Bucknall: But absolutely personal stories relates to work life. It relates to stuff outside of work. And many people assume they couldn't possibly tell a story that's to do with life outside of work. In work. Of course, of course you can. Many of the most [00:19:00] powerful stories are that, but yes, absolutely. So my, uh, most front of mind story file is actually written out on a page of a three at home, and it's a series of boxes.
[00:19:08] Simon Bucknall: And, uh, a number of those boxes are labeled as, as, as work related. You know, I've got coaching stories, uh, I've got world championship, public speaking stories and so on, you know, so, so, Yes. AB absolutely, and, and it's, and it's ever so helpful if one's having to prepare for a job interview. Yes. Not that I've done that for something, but it's very helpful when meeting with a, with a client for an initial conversation.
[00:19:29] Simon Bucknall: [00:19:30] Absolutely. To have that front of mind. It's a, it's a wonderfully transferable resource,
[00:19:34] Maryam Pasha: so I think that probably, The conclusion here is that I'm gonna have to tell a story
[00:19:45] Maryam Pasha: Absolutely. Right. Which
[00:19:46] Simon Bucknall: I'm excited to do, but I, and I think there was a really, really important insight that you hit on a, a moment or two ago about this. You, you, you. The, the, the, the inspirational outcome should not be the lead focus of the speaker. That's something the [00:20:00] audience takes, because what that does, I think is, is it takes the pressure off you as a storyteller, as a speaker, to be too, to, to feel like, oh, I've, I've got to achieve this out.
[00:20:09] Simon Bucknall: What could I say to achieve that outcome? No, no, no, no, no, no. Let the outcome take care of itself. Focus on what, what is of meaning to you? What moved you, what, what? What angered you? What upset you? What gave you a feeling of absolute? I remember Vka Jn, who was, uh, he's originally from Co, co Cutta, I think, and, and he, he won the 2007 World Championship for public speaking [00:20:30] and he developed his speech by working back.
[00:20:33] Simon Bucknall: He said, I remember listening to a piece of music where I felt, and it's clearly a very intense experience, he said, and I wanted to figure out how could I bring an audience to that same feeling of. And it was a real, it was a realization for him. And I thought that was a really interesting way to think about, uh, not, I want people to, to be inspired.
[00:20:50] Simon Bucknall: I just want 'em to feel something which I myself have felt. How can I best tell the story and take them on a journey so that there is a chance they will [00:21:00] share in that feeling and as a result, potentially feel inspired. And he certainly achieved that for me. I can remember sitting on row 52 in tears on his final line, which is does not happen often.
[00:21:11] Simon Bucknall: You know, it's
[00:21:11] Maryam Pasha: interesting because you reflecting back on that is probably what my brain does automatically. It's probably like thinking, oh, I need to be awesome and inspiring and blah, blah, blah. But actually that's not what you asked. And I do think. This is something that's really important is, and it's is where I ask everyone I work with Start TEDx client, whatever [00:21:30] is, why are you speaking?
[00:21:31] Maryam Pasha: You know, and you just can't have the answer to that be, to be, to be inspiring. Mm. That's not the answer. Right? Yeah. You have other reasons why you're speaking and I think if, you know, this podcast is for people who want to change the world, whatever that means to them, you have to really drill down as to what that means to you.
[00:21:48] Maryam Pasha: Absolutely. And, and I think that what hopefully we'll share in our, in our next bit is, Each of us a story that maybe we feel can change the world in a way that we think [00:22:00] works well. Let's see.
[00:22:04] Maryam Pasha: You've been listening to Speechless, the podcast from storytelling experts, Maryam Pasha and Simon Bucknall. Hit follow now to keep learning how to tell stories that changed the world. If you enjoyed it, please leave us a rating and review. Until next time, speak less, say more.