Universal Stories

We’re more alike than you think – you and me…

I watched cartoons as a kid on Saturday mornings – how about you?

I remember climbing trees and my mom begging me to come down and bring a switch with me! How about you?

I remember opening the cereal box from the bottom to get the prize – how about you?

I remember my grandfather taking me fishing – how about you?

While those may not be exactly what you have experienced I bet you had a trigger or a link to a memory.

That’s the power of a universal story.

Shared “like” memories that help people feel connected.

We engage our audience at a deep level when they feel we are similar. And since we’re all human we are.

The posts, podcasts and presentations we dislike the most are often those where the person comes across as superior. Mom always said, “Nobody likes a know it all.”

In my experience, there are five ways to create a common bond through universal stories:

#1 Childhood

Hey! We were all kids once. And most kids were the same…

Playing with toys.
Riding bikes.
Watching cartoons.
Fantasy worlds.

Children are innocent. Fun. Precocious. Honest. Alive.

Stories from childhood deliver warmth and security.

#2 Holidays

Fireworks on the 4th.
Thanksgiving turkey gone bad.
And everyone seems to have a Cousin Eddie at Christmas.
Or how about the family trip to Disney.

You might think Disney doesn’t count since everyone has not been. But people are familiar with the images. They feel the fun even if they have not been there personally.

We’re not just tapping into common experiences; we’re tapping into the memory bank even if it was created from movies, photos or even Facebook.

#3 Food

In the first article in this series, Know Your Audience, I hit burgers, pizza, bacon. I could easily talk about peanut butter and jelly as a kid and most people would immediately click with that.

Also, what about strange “delicacies” only your grandmother made? Almost every family has some odd or special meal they eat together. Again, the story doesn’t not have to be identical, just universal.

And since all of us EAT… guess what? Food stories bring smiles and a watering mouth!

#4 Loss

This one is tough and you have to be careful.

When I talk about the passing away of my first wife, Sherri, people feel it. They connect with the emotion of loss. Almost all of us have been touched by death. It hurts. It’s painful.

When we tell stories of success everyone cannot relate. When we tell stories of loss everyone can. Suffering is a universal thread in humanity.

Take care when you share. Everyone wants to see the wreck – no one wants to see the blood. Remember that your audience is not your therapist. Your goal is to tell a connective story, not to solicit sympathy.

#5 Self-deprecating humor

I use a lot of short jokes since I am 5.5.5., or 65.5 inches. In three generations… my grandfather, mom and myself – none of us have ever seen over the top of a steering wheel!

As long as the humor doesn’t come across as insecurity, you can build massive good will and connection. No one laughs with an enemy and when people are laughing WITH you, you end up with a room full of friends. You get an audience who feels like they know you and you know them.

What universal stories do you currently tell? What new stories do you have? Take the five experiences above and list at least 3 stories beneath each one.

public speaking

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Facebook comments:

  • http://establishedways.com/ Shelley Molitor

    LOVE it! I can’t believe how much I came up with, AND I instantly KNEW where my 5 groups of stories meld with my message. In fact, some are downright powerful. It seems I might use a story to get the temperature of the audience, how they are engaging, and how connection is going. If I do that AND intentionally include stories to drive certain points home, where do I balance content and stories? What’s the rule of thumb for not talking about yourself too much, and leaving room for “current” stories?

    • http://www.paulbevans.com/ Paul B Evans

      Hey Shelley, There is no rule of thumb. As long as the stories are engaging it really doesn’t matter where they come from. There’s a big difference in telling stories that include you and telling stories about you. Stories illustrate a point and drive the point home like you said. As long as they are audience serving and not self serving I don’t see an issue with balance. Other’s will tell you different I’m sure. :)