Have you ever watched an interview with a celebrity or thought leader and marveled at the stories they tell so easily and fluently, seemingly off the cuff? Or listened to a speaker illustrate their presentation with wonderful stories that are apt and appropriate?

But when you have sat down to be interviewed for a podcast, or at your desk to write a speech or presentation, and you have tried to conjure up examples and stories that you could use, nothing comes.

Not a word.


Not helpful when you are live in that interview or 24 hours away from your keynote.

With that in mind, I wanted to share a concept that one of my colleagues shared (Thank you Michelle Barry Franco) – a concept called the story garden.

The idea of the story garden is very simple – it’s a place where you can plant the seeds of a story, and then nurture it over time so that it grows and blossoms. When you need them, those stories will be there to harvest and use in your speech.

(Now, how is that for a nice analogy …)

I wanted to give you a couple of steps to growing your story garden, and I hope that these will help you for the future.


1. Identify what your audience needs to hear from you

When you think about your typical audience, and you think about the messages you have for them, there will be some themes that come out.

For example, when I talk about burnout, there are some common themes like:

  • What does burnout look like?
  • What made me change course
  • What can you do to avoid going into burnout?


2. Start to sow the seeds of relevant stories

Start to jot down ideas of stories or examples in a notebook or phone. Use separate pages or sections for each theme and put down some quick notes or words about each.

Come back to your notes and add things as ideas come up.

When you give yourself some space to think about things, rather than try to force them with a deadline, ideas will come to you in the strangest of places. These may be your own examples, or those of your clients and colleagues.

Examples that I might jot down in the context of the theme “what made me change course towards burnout” would likely include:

  • Peter’s memorial service
  • “Too exhausted to remember how to make spaghetti Bolognese for the kids”
  • Lost her best friend in a knife attack one cold clear night
  • Colleague dropped down dead at work

The notes you write should be enough for you to come back to and develop, but it’s of no importance if anyone else can understand them at this stage.


3. Start to write out the key pieces of the story that you would want to tell

When you have identified a couple of examples or stories, choose one or two and start to develop them into more detail. Your choice of story will depend largely on the speech you are making, or the point you want to make.

Having chosen the most relevant stories, think specifically about what you need it to do, and then draft a story that will bring you to that point.

Remember, you don’t necessarily need to tell an entire story in your interview, or in your speech – you will likely pick pieces that are more or less relevant.

Once you have drafted up the stories, and given them time to percolate, you can practice them and get really comfortable with them, before you start to bring them out in your interviews or speeches.