When many of us think about storytelling, we think about authors, podcasters, public speakers… but storytelling happens all day, every day when we engage with others at work, throughout our community, even in our own families. Valerie Gordon is a 10 time Emmy award winning television producer, founder of Commander-in-SHE, and author of Fire Your Narrator: A storyteller’s guide to getting out of your head and into your life.
While Valerie spent decades in an impressive television career, she discovered the most important stories are those we tell ourselves and others in our everyday lives. Now, she’s helping us all as she shares her unique perspective on the powerful stories we tell ourselves and how our inner narrator affects our actions and our success.
Think you’re not a storyteller? Think again. Valerie says we’re constantly sharing stories; in interviews, networking, even negotiating. And often we’re not owning our personal story. “I believe that the story of who we are and the value we bring to our organization, that many women were either underselling themselves or weren’t being heard. So that to me is what the power of a story is, is how can we use it as a strategic tool to show up as we are, who we are, and to use it to get the kind of success that we not only want, but truly deserve.”
When it comes to telling our story, where do we even start?
I help women, first of all, identify the power in their story. Because so many of us have never really taken the time to think about that; and then how do we communicate it effectively to that audience in a way that they see the value of your story? I don’t care if you’re 40, 50, 60, 90, every day is an opportunity to add to that story. So some of the storytelling is not only about expressing where we’ve been and what we’ve done, but what we want to happen next. How do we create that? And how do we demonstrate the value in that opportunity that hasn’t even happened yet?
How do we tell our story in a meaningful way that actually matters to others?
There are three main elements to your story:
- Relatability Why should the audience care about this? Valerie says “sometimes it’s just not the right audience for that particular story, but it has to be relatable. What’s the reason that the audience would care about this?”
- Authenticity It has to be authentic. “People can tell the difference when you’re telling a story and it’s been perfected and it’s really polished and it sounds great, but there’s something there where the audience, you can get that feeling like, I feel like I’m being sold a bag of goods here, so it has to be authentic, and I think some of that is what we shy away from. We’re almost afraid to show the yucky parts of the story, or the sad parts, or the ugly parts, because we feel like it has to be super polished.
- Generosity What are you giving as part of your story? What’s the intention, is it to inform, inspire entertain? What is the purpose behind it? Before we jump into, “tell me your story” and you just launch into something, think about how do I want the audience to respond? What do I want them to to know, think, feel, and do as a result of this story and why am I choosing to share this one?
It’s not about the story, it’s about the details.
What’s so special and unique are the nuances, right? The details. Because many people might have a similar story; and when I think about the stories I put on TV for years, so many of them had that common theme of overcoming adversity. Those are the stories that we love, someone who struggled and then succeeded in the end, but none of those stories are alike and what makes them different are the details in their story. And I think so often we feel like the details aren’t that interesting, but really it’s the details that people remember.
So when I first work with women, and we talk a lot, there’s certain things about their story that just light me up. I’ll get goosebumps just hearing that. So when someone is telling me their story, there’ll be something in it that I’m like, That, that is great. Why are you not capitalizing on that detail of the story? And it’s different for everyone, but details are the things that we remember about those stories.
We’ve talked about the stories we tell others, but Valerie’s new book, Fire Your Narrator, focuses on the stories we tell ourselves; and unlike the stories we share out loud, we don’t even stop to think about whether these stories are true or accurate. We just play them on repeat, over and over. Valerie helps us tackle these inner stories. along with her friend, Squash.
So Squash is what I have named my inner narrator. What is an inner narrator? It’s this voice that sort of narrates our day that provides this daily voiceover or monologues us throughout our day. Now I will say every so often I meet someone who’s like, I don’t know what this is. I don’t have this. I can’t imagine how much space I would have in my head if I didn’t have that voice. But I think most people know what this is. We think of it as our inner critic and, in my book, I talk about 10 common narrative types and the critic is just one of them.
Valerie came up with the 10 types from speaking with dozens of clients and hundreds of audience members, when they would talk about their inner beliefs or things they would say to themselves. And while many of us may recognize the critical narrator, the others, like the ruminator, the striver, the defeatist, or even the arrogant narrator.
I think if you ask most people Are you arrogant? They would say, No, I’m not arrogant, but I ask it this way. Is there one right way to load the dishwasher? People now get what I mean. Or when you’re at work, are you saying things like, Why am I the only one who’s prepared at this meeting? No one else does anything around here. Why am I the only person who takes these meetings seriously? Arrogant is a strong word. It just means that arrogant narrator has the sense of I’m right and you’re wrong and you should do it my way.
And so knowing you might have a little bit of that tendency in you at certain times, you can then follow the tips to sort of fact check and quiet that narrator, if it’s getting in the way of your success and satisfaction, at work or throughout your day. So you might find that some narrators are unfamiliar to you and others are more likely.
Is it possible to make peace with our inner narrators? Valerie says YES.
One of the things to do to fact check your narrator is figure out when did I first start believing this? Where did this story come from? I help readers as well, identify in their own lives when they first started believing that thought and let their narrator run with the story in that way. You really have to own the stories that are in your own head, unpack them, take a look at them, because at what point are we going to be fully accepting of ourselves of who we are if we can’t get that inner story on board?
Valerie adds, “You can’t create a great external success story if you’re struggling with a faulty, unhelpful or outdated inner one and it might just be time at this stage of our lives to rewrite those stories and hold that inner narrator up for review. Who says it’s true and what is the value of holding onto this thought?”
The more we understand our inner story the better we can share our story with others.
Understanding not just the detail and the pivot points of stories and being willing to share it, but understanding and accepting the emotion that’s behind it, because the emotion part along with the details, that’s what sticks. That’s what people relate to.
And if you’re thinking maybe you’re too old to write — or rewrite your story?
Your story’s not done. I don’t care how old you are, what age you are, you’re just getting started. What is in your next chapter? I mean, that to me is where I get really excited. So for anyone who feels too old, too late, or any of those stories we tell ourselves, fact check that. You are the active author of this story of yours. What do you want to happen next? And I feel like that’s the powerful message you’re giving all of your listeners, and that’s what I want them to take away. You’ve got a blank page. What do you want to write on it? So make it happen.
Valerie Gordon is a 10-time Emmy award-winning television producer with more than two decades in media creating and overseeing feature stories for ESPN, HBO Sports, CBS and NBC News, and the Olympic Games. She knows what makes a story meaningful and memorable and how to use the power of story for impact and influence.
As founder of Commander-in-She, LLC, a communications and career strategy firm, Valerie helps high-achievers take command of the storytelling skills necessary to grow their careers and ascend the leadership ladder.
She offers keynote presentations, group workshops, team building, and coaching on such topics as career advocacy, negotiation, personal branding, communicating with confidence, and pivoting to the next chapter. Partnering with corporations such as Aetna, Mass Mutual, Pfizer, the NFL and NESN, Valerie helps bridge the talent gap, encouraging executives to lead with authenticity and empowering clients to not only take a seat at the table but to impact the agenda.