Select the right words. Say them well.

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For nearly every person I meet, I want to know their personal story. If you spend any significant time with someone don’t you want to know where they’re from, how long have they done their job, family stuff, etc.? Here’s the question: How well do you tell your personal story?

It’s no small matter. People who have an interesting personal story, or who tell their story well have a distinct advantage in our world. Who would you rather spend time with? The person who lived for a time in China and rides a scooter to work every day, or the person who has done the same job for 20 years, has never lived anywhere but right here and frankly isn’t interested in anything else? This has major implications for job interviews and reaching new clients. Let’s break it down and give some thought to telling our personal story.

“I was born a poor black child…” For those who are fans of Steve Martin’s movie “The Jerk,” you will remember that line as one of the first delivered by Martin’s character in the film. It’s played for laughs of course, given that Martin is one of the whitest guys in show business. Here’s the point: What’s your first line? Do you shrug it off when asked or can you launch into a thirty or forty second engaging story? Here are two versions of my personal story to make the point.

Version One: “Oh, I’m from the Midwest, I always knew I wanted to be in Communications so I’ve done that all of my life and I’m married with three kids.”

Version Two: “I’ve had a chance to pursue my dream. For 30 years I was in broadcasting, I was a reporter, flew with the President on Air Force One and even ended up being profiled in the New York Times. Now I love having my own business, helping people become more effective communicators. My wife and I have three kids — one is the cartoonist for his college newspaper — the two girls are singers and dancers in their free time.”

The biggest thing you can do is provide people with “jumping off points.” Be sure to put some items in there that will pique their interest. Are you interested in history? Current events? Kids? Cartooning? All of those are “jumping off points” in the more engaging second example. Sure you might be tired of telling your story but this person is hearing it for the first time! And even if you don’t have 52 years worth of stuff to pass along like I do, what one fact might surprise people? Make sure it gets in there. (When I was four my brother accidentally shot me … but that’s for another day.)

Two last points: Obviously we all have to edit our story for our audience. You don’t need to blow the doors off of everyone you meet, but don’t slack off on the story telling either. And just as importantly, listen to THEIR story. Where are the points of connection? And what can you learn from how and what they just told you. Your assignment? Work on telling your story with more energy and imagination. At the very least it will make that next long plane ride more interesting.