Make it personal.

"When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else."

"When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else."

This may (not) come as a big surprise, but I am a huge proponent of the personal story.

It has been a theme throughout my life, both online and off. And it has been incredibly healing and transformative.

The very first story I shared online was about my crafting business. The more personal I got on the site, the more support I received in my business (read: sales). I then moved on to sharing the story of becoming a vegetarian (albeit reluctantly), and my subsequent diagnosis with food sensitivities.

I tried to take a break from the personal when I started my health coaching business. I even went so far as to use an impersonal name (Sustain Health and Wellness), talked in the royal we (it sounded more important?), and provided generic health information. I’m sure you can guess how well that worked out.

I’ll give you a hint: it didn’t.

So, I went back to being myself and sharing about my journey.

The most recent story I shared, and perhaps the most intensely personal, was the one about my miscarriage. The reaction—emails, Facebook messages, and comments—was humbling and intense. It also made me realize how truly powerful it is to share your story.

When it came time to choose a topic to present on for last weekend’s Podcamp 8 in Pittsburgh, I knew it had to be based on the power of the personal story.

What follows are the main points from that presentation.

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What do you mean by “personal”?

Sharing a personal story is anything that involves a person and a story. It could be about something that you have personally experienced, it could be an interview with another person about their story, or it could be a visual story that involves actual people.

The most important thing here, is that it’s personal.

What’s the big deal anyway?

What’s so awesome, wonderful, important, and/or special about sharing your story, anyway?

For starters, personal stories lead to engagement. When is the last time you read about someone’s journey and didn’t feel more connected to them as a result? I would say that in the last week alone, the vast majority of links that have come up in my news feed on Facebook and on Twitter have to do with a personal story.

Sharing a personal story (whether it’s your own or not) adds a “human” element to whatever it is your doing. Remember the first iteration of my health coaching business where I talked in the royal we and provided nutrition information in a holier-than-though tone? It. was. a. disaster. When I went back to being myself and talked about health and nutrition and how it had impacted my own life, people resonated and wanted to know what they could do to feel better and get healthier.

When you get personal, it automatically makes whatever your doing more believable. Ever wonder why 99% of coaching sites (or service-oriented sites in general) use client testimonials? It makes them instantly more believable and relatable.

And finally, personal stories are just plain memorable. I may not remember every single stat from the Pirates 2013 season (or any season, for that matter), but I won’t be able to forget their story of triumph and success this year. Same goes with the two sisters from Pittsburgh who were in Haiti when the earthquake hit back in 2010. Many may not be familiar with their current work through Haitian Families First, but I bet most remember what they did in the days following the earthquake.

How to infuse more “personal” into your stuff:

Now that you know why the personal is important, let’s take it to the next level and talk about how.

  1. Tell a story! Telling a story is a personal favorite. It can be fun and light, or deep and meaningful. The key here is that it relates to your audience (or friends). Some questions to consider: What’s something that happened to you recently? What’s something that happened to someone else recently? How can you relate that to your audience (or friends)? What lessons did you learn?
  2. Interview another human! I’m also a huge fan of the interview. It’s a great way to tell a story without having to do the telling yourself. Some things to consider about the interview: It could be around a specific topic like sports, books, or business. It could be with a specific population like women, business owners, people from Pittsburgh, GLBTQ peeps, etc. And it could be done face-to-face, written, via video, or photo-based. Get creative!
  3. Make it visual! Sometimes personal is more about sharing the things that speak to you, like images, quotes, or photos of your favorite objects or room in your house. It could also be in sharing your art, or other creative works. The key here is to use something other than words to get your story across.

Putting pen to paper!

Now for the hard easy part. I want you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and share a story!

Here are three easy steps to get you started:

  1. Write down 1 story, event, or experience that happened to you (or someone you know) recently.
  2. What lessons did you learn?
  3. How do you want to share it (blog, interview, image, etc.)?

 And a few sites to inspire you as you go:

  •  Yinzpiration.com: I love how Kate infuses personality and personal stories throughout the entire site. For a site that focuses on inspiring Pittsburgh 20 and 30 somethings, Kate’s personality comes through loud and clear.
  • Hyperbole and a half: A few years back, Allie posted a story about her battle with Depression and it went viral. And by viral, I mean I couldn’t look or go anywhere without people talking about this post. Two years later, she wrote a second one that went equally as viral.
  • Alexandra Franzen: Again, I love how every inch of her site is a true reflection—visually and verbally—of her personality. She also has a magical way of sharing her personal journey and using it to teach, connect with, and inspire others.
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates. The 2013 season was a pretty epic one for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After 20 years of losing, they finally had a win and a playoff birth. The entire city (and perhaps nation) was entranced. I was even entranced. And I hate sports.
  • In Pursuit of Happiness: This blog by Britt Reints is as personal as it gets. Britt shares about her life and how she is finding happiness, and uses her journey to inspire others to do the same. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should.
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More about Emily Levenson

Emily Levenson is a meditation encourager, mama, and Pittsburgh enthusiast. She recently launched a podcast called Nourish + Flourish and is a co-pilot at Propelle.

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