Everyone should have 30 stories

Everyone needs 30 stories to succeed in business

I hate small talk but people would say that is one of the things that I do best. My secret? I have 30 stories. They are tried and true and work every time to bond with strangers and make them feel comfortable. Some are funny. Some are about lessons learned. Some are topical. In my business, the ability to disarm someone quickly is crucial so I've worked hard on these.

Here are my Top 3 Greatest Hits and if you've worked with me you can probably sing along...

  • My twins think they are allergic to face paint. They think that because that is what I told them. They are 10 now and still believe it. It all started in a desperate attempt to avoid a long face painting line at the zoo when they were three years old. It was really hot and I wanted to get them home for a nap without having face paint all over me, them, and the car. One day I will likely fess up and they can work through it in therapy when they are 30. My feeling is that if this is all I do to screw them up then I have succeeded as a parent.
  • Mercury Retrograde is my jam. Not going through it because that part is terrible but rather being the town crier about its arrival and departure to those I work with. (For those not initiated, there are three, three week periods during the year when astrologically things go haywire. Technology fails. Communication falls apart. It is a terrible time to make big decisions or sign contracts (think don’t ink!). But it is also a great time for finishing incomplete projects, reuniting with old friends, and for being introspective). At every job I’ve ever had I’ve been the one to give everyone a heads up, the one to console people when they accidentally cc: a client on an internal email, and the one to lead the celebration when it passes. Word to the wise the next period starts January 5. Also it is called Mercury Retrograde not Mercury in Retrograde.
  • My mother was an extra on an episode of Law & Order: SVU. She played an inmate in a women’s prison and has prominent presence behind Olivia Benson in the episode when Olivia went undercover to find a guard who was a predator. The back story is that my very cool parents became extras in their retirement and this was my mom's best gig. She spent two days at a women's prison in Brooklyn wearing  a full-on orange jumpsuit.
That's her. Looking pretty tough standing next to the woman in the bandanna. 

That's her. Looking pretty tough standing next to the woman in the bandanna. 

Besides being fun these stories serve a higher purpose. They help warm up a room and to make it easier to find something in common with colleagues, clients, or consumers during research. It usually kicks off a good dialogue where the other person shares their experiences and we are off to the races. By being a good listener and question asker you are able to learn a ton from other people's stories. I usually find out if someone has kids, or if they read their horoscope every day, or what their parents’ did during their retirement. There is nothing polarizing or mean in these stories which is important. You should never make one of your stories about politics, about sex, about religion, or about the time you had too much wine and did something stupid. Save those stories for ruining your Thanksgiving dinner instead!

I usually tell people who are starting out in their career to pick stories that don't reveal their age. Don't tell a story about spring break or your professor until you are about 10 years out of college! No one needs to know how old you are because it can discredit your smarts and diminish your gravitas. 

So how do you find your stories? Well, start by thinking about the “sure thing” tales that you can repeat on auto-pilot. Then put them through a filter of appropriateness and start soft sounding some of your material in low stakes situations. If one story flops, don’t fret just find a new one. I highly recommend making sure your stories are true or at least true-ish. They are meant to be revealing (in a good way) but not be pure fiction. Feel free to tell other people’s stories too. I often tell one about a friend who inadvertently sent in her resume to a blind job listing that ended up going to her boss. She was getting a promotion but didn’t know it yet and they were trying to fill her spot to be prepared.

I hope this doesn't take my top 3 stories out of rotation and I hope no one decides to tell my kids about the face paint thing.


Jen Drexler