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Be an Author of Your Life Story

by Kare Anderson
Author & Speaker


On the very morning I am writing this column a radio commentator intoned, "Presidential candidate George Bush will be active in making pronouncements in the coming weeks. . . He wants to define himself before his opponents do it for him." (Don't we all.)

Last month, when I turned on the radio in my rental car, a low, almost neutral-sounding male voice came on: "One in three women in Louisiana who are murdered . . (long pause) . . . are murdered by their husbands. If you or someone you know's life is in danger, or you even suspect it might be, here's the number to call right now for help. . . I wish I had. It might have saved my sister's life." Then he gave the number.

I passed a billboard on Lombard Street in San Francisco yesterday with this message, "Someone is going to win the lottery this week. And it is not going to be you. When will you finally turn to E-Trade?"


Become the best-selling author of your life. Be at least one of the more frequently cited among sources of the words most likely to be repeated about you, your work, your loved ones, and your most passionate interests, starting now.

In these time-starved, relationship-diminished time, use the impending turn of the century as your positive, mega-deadline to turn the rest of your life into your kind of blockbuster story.

How? Get more specific about your stories. Like peeling away the layers of an onion, consider pulling back the inevitable generalizations you make about your most familiar topics -- because you know too much -- until you get to the core of your most important life themes and recognize their essence for yourself.

Consider, as Steve Covey has said, First things first to understand your essential life story. Then, and only then, can you begin to consider how to translate your story into the incidents and examples most meaningful for each person with whom you talk. Only then can you begin considering the comment or question most pertinent to the person with whom you are communicating, and then the detail most worth telling.

Who defines your life for others? The most interesting storytellers around you. Whoever most vividly characterizes what a person or situation is about usually determines what others see in their mind's eye, how they feel about it, and how they discuss it. You don't need to be running for office, or even for a new job or romantic relationship, to choose how you want to describe what matters most to you. How do you describe your most important work, closest friends, critics, and causes?

These words are the verbal "clothes" you wear throughout your life. Who chooses your clothes most often - you or others? If someone else's description is more vividly colorful than yours, people will remember and repeat their words, not yours, about you and your life. From a hated childhood nickname to an often-repeated embarrassing incident from your past, you've learned the hard way that our brains are hard-wired to notice and remember the embarrassing or tragic accident more than the blandly characterized accomplishment, the funny blooper more than the vaguely worded compliment.

After all, what do you most remember from yesterday, last week, last year, ten years ago, your childhood? Those vivid incidents you experienced first-hand and the stories you saw or heard second-hand are creating the enduring thread of the story of your life, from how you see your world to how you react to it. If that is true for you, it is true for everyone around you. Change yourself and you change your world. If you become a more vivid storyteller, you not only affect the picture others have of you, you also help them literally see, in their mind's eye, what is possible for them. What could be a more priceless, living legacy for you?

Why leave it to Stephen Speilberg and Bill Gates to write the most familiar blockbuster stories of our collective lives? You, or the person near you, can also tap people's collective unconscious yearnings and desires by telling the story that resonates with others everywhere and even helps us see another picture of what is possible. With nary a penny spent in marketing, your "call for action" story might be re-told around the world and come back to you through a stranger's action or comment on the street or an e-mail message from a colleague.

You are, after all, your living legacy, because you are living your legacy (to paraphrase a popular old song) "in every move you make and every breath you take." It is only human to look for what is most interesting around us.

We are all inevitable voyeurs, overhearing and seeing each other from many directions. Even and especially in a world that can be abrupt, anonymous, and over-advertised, we look for the words and scenes that are "ahhhh" endearingly sweet-as-an-infant-smiling-up-from-us-across-the-back-of-a-parent, or nearby tail-wagging puppy scenes, or startling, humorous, romantic, poignant, inspiring, shocking comments. And we all seek the innately human stories that bring us closer.

That's why we so often pass along the e-mail messages with such sentiments in their stories, jokes, or sayings. That's why we so often tell each other such incidents when we get together. Like a successful billboard campaign in a community, the most vivid stories are the ones most frequently "seen" because they are the most often repeated.

Want to write some of these stories? Start with what you know best: you. What do you want people to tell each other about you? How do you want to be best remembered when you leave the meeting, dinner party, family gathering, your life?

Be the author of the next chapters of your life. It is never too late to at least co-create an engrossing living legacy, beginning with an interesting next chapter and starting now. How?

Consider conversations. Forget the qualifiers, historical background, jargon words, and "how-to" before the "why listen" has been answered. Recall the "one in three women" radio spot I described at the beginning of this article? Radio listeners have no choice. More than the multimillion-dollar auto advertisement that preceded it on the air, this modestly produced public service announcement leaves an indelible impression on the minds of most listeners. Just as with the billboard message about the lottery, this radio spot pulls you in with a sentence that makes you want to learn more. What's the question or statement you know that will pull people into learning more of your story?

Isn't it wonderfully democratizing to know that now, more than ever, it takes more than money to get a message noticed? What it takes is a memorable message. Say it better next time and your message may be the one most "broadcast" around the world. Get to the juicy center of the topic upfront so others are pulled into wanting to hear more. When someone says "Tell me more about that," you know you have started your story by respecting their strongest interests rather than our usual habits of packing in extraneous "preface" details at the front of our conversation and numbing would-be listeners into a "mental vacation."

Peel away the boring, up-front qualifiers and wandering background words. Drop the secondary detail until you have hooked the listener into wanting to know more. You are not acting like a robot but rather choosing to have a few seconds of forethought in respect to the listener's innate interests, world view, or current situation. Not only do you tell the truth, you tell the best detail of that truth upfront to engage the person you most want to have hear you. Look for the heartwarming happening, contrasting facts or statistics, best/worst case scenario, extraordinary incident, flattering and genuine compliment, glittering opportunity or looming threat, cherished colleague's choice, or respected opinion leader's actions to introduce your topic into conversation.

You can tattoo your word pictures into others - even beyond their conscious willing - when you begin with the lead-in sentence to the story that most interests them. Why? Because your words are unforgettable. Remember that famous example where you can't help picturing what you are admonished not to? Whatever you do now, don't think of big pink elephants." Peeling away the less immediately understandable or interesting parts of your topic to begin with the most interesting (to the listener) detail means others are more likely to want to learn or share more later. As Roger Ailes says, "See it and say it. If you can see a picture in your mind and describe it, others will stay tuned."

All of your stories don't have to be life-changing, but they can be engaging. Use memory hooks that relate to your name, work, remarkable quality or skill, or appearance, or perhaps a rhyme or word play. Ivan Misner, author of Seven Second Marketing, offers many examples, including three that I've paraphrased here:

  • "Let me take the world off your shoulders," offers Sharon Howard, massage therapist.

  • Lance Mead of Lunar Travel Agency stands out from other agents when he says "Ninety percent of all accidents happen in the home. So travel."

  • Photographer, Robert Stewart writes, "My pictures say a thousand words so you don't have to."

One of the many bright sides of our world now is that the most vivid messages move with lightning speed to the most places, phones, and screens around the world. Here are some of the ways we are seeing this phenomenon:
  • People become more well known and quoted by coining a phrase that sticks in our minds, characterizing a situation, sentiment, or trend:
    • Clint Eastwood ("make my day")
    • Don Peppers and Martha Rogers ("mass customization")
    • Faith Popcorn ("cocooning")
    • Harvey Mackay ("dig your well before you get thirsty")
    • John Gray ("men are from Mars . . .")
    • Sam Horn ("Tongue Fu")
    • John Naisbett ("high tech/high touch").

  • "Intel Inside." More and more business leaders (from Steve Jobs to Jack Welch) speak so vividly that they become the "face" of their companies, extending their personal "brand" value as well as their company value. Be your brand. In a fast-changing world, you are your most important brand.

    How do you burnish it by how you characterize your work and that of others you admire?

    • Putting their lives on the line, Amnesty International volunteers personally witness atrocities so the rest of the world might stop them.

      Want to help a cause? Perhaps the most valuable contribution you can make to your favorite program is creating the most specifically compelling reason for others to support it.

    • My friend Jacob Toschi spent last weekend revamping computers for six blind people to jumpstart their Business for the Blind enterprise. Perhaps the best gift you can present to someone you respect or love is to tell many others about one of that person's most wonderful actions.

    Bonus: The "halo effect" of such third-party endorsements" can't help but rub off on you.

    I feel this with all my heart, even if I am only intermittently good at it myself. If you want a more interesting, options-loaded, meaningful life, make the chapters more enticing, beginning with what you say-your comments and your questions. When you raise the more interesting details to the top of the conversation, the most intriguing parts of others emerge. They will like the experience and be drawn to you. Whether you seek a more lively experience with loved ones during your play times, the immediate attention of colleagues or strangers, more support for your project, or the birth of new friendships, begin with the specific detail that pulls people to your most interesting "story".

    Actress Glenn Close just said (on the TV playing in the background here as I write this) "We all belong to the same tribe," and others have said that before her. What is the detail you can offer that will enable others to recognize you as part of their "tribe" and draw closer to you?

    Tell me a vivid story of your life in 100 words or less and possibly be included in a future column or book. Want to learn more suggestions about how to tell your story? Get my "Make Yourself Memorable" tape of 100 more tips, with a check to "Kare Anderson" for $11 (mailed to The CCG, 15 Sausalito Blvd., Sausalito, CA 94965-2464). Sign up for my free online Say It Better newsletter at www.sayitbetter.com. Consider reading what some great storytellers say about story-telling:

    • Dianna Daniels Booher's "Communicate With Confidence : How to Say It Right the First Time and Every Time"

    • Rosalie Maggio's "How to Say It : Choice Words, Phrases, Sentences, and Paragraphs for Every Situation"

    • Rachel Remen's "Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal"

    • Peggy Noonan's "Simply Speaking : How to Communicate Your Ideas with Style, Substance, and Clarity" and "On Speaking Well: How to Give a Speech with Style, Substance, and Clarity"

    • Molly Ivins' "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?"

    • Roger Ailes's "You Are the Message: Getting What You Want by Being Who You Are."

    To hear a remarkable storyteller, listen to Garrison Keilor on your national public radio station.

    And finally, here are some great resources available on the Internet where you can find the right words:

    ©1999 by Kare Anderson. All rights reserved.


    Kare Anderson is a behavioral futurist who speaks and writes about "Say It Better" methods of thoughtful communication, conflict resolution, cross-promotion and outreach, and multisensory techniques to create more memorable on-site experiences. An Emmy-winning former TV commentator, Wall Street Journal reporter she’s a national columnist in 98 monthly magazines (from Gourmet Retailer to Broadcast Engineering), nine-time author ( Getting What You Want, Pocket Cross-Promotions, Make Yourself Memorable, Beauty Inside Out, Cutting Deals With Unlikely Allies, Resolving Conflict Sooner . . .) and publisher of the "Say It Better" online newsletter now read by over 17,000 people in 32 countries, which is available free when you sign the guest book at her web site at www.sayitbetter.com. Anderson is the co-founder of The Compelling Communications Group

    Learn how to reduce or avoid arguments for just $10.95. Kare's new book, Resolving Conflict Sooner, offers a powerfully simple four-step method, plus 100 specific persuasion techniques. Reserve a copy now at your bookstore. Or order one by sending a $12 check to "Kare Anderson" at our address below and we'll include the "Clarity Cards" pack of 40 tips + inspirational sayings for free.

    See what others are already saying about Resolving Conflict Sooner. Go to http://www.sayitbetter.com and click on the cover of the book. And please sign the guestbook to let us know you were there.

    Get a complete persuasion and conflict resolution course: Learn over 600 communication techniques in Kare's most comprehensive educational product, the 6-tape and book program called "The Resolution Response" -- an engrossing, easy-to-follow, idea-packed program for you and your organization for just $89.00.

    The Compelling Communications Group
    15 Sausalito Blvd., Sausalito, Ca 94965-2464
    Telephone: (415) 331-6336
    Fax: (415) 331-6661
    Email: [email protected]
    Website: http://www.sayitbetter.com





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