Tips for Sharing Your Story
Be approachable. When someone asks a potentially offensive question, or statement, perhaps about smoking, it is tempting to “let them have it” with both barrels. But, before you do, stop and consider: Is that the best way to reach them? If you go on the offense, will that simply put them on the defense? Some people will never “get it,” no matter what you say. But most people are sincerely open to learning and understanding. Your role is simply to enlighten them about lung cancer through your personal experience. Once they get it, they will not forget it.
Integrate facts to educate. But be careful not to overdo it! There’s a fine line between hearing an eye-opening statistic for the first time, and listening to someone who sounds like an accountant rattling off incomprehensible numbers and jargon. As your story takes shape, see if there is one main statistic or fact that is central to your experience; that might be the one you usually highlight. It might even be your “lead-in” to telling your story. For example, “If a jumbo jet full of Americans crashed, killing everyone on board, every day for a year, can you imagine how much we would all be talking about it? And yet, that is how many Americans die each day from lung cancer, and nobody seems to care. Me, I’m a (x-year) survivor, so I kinda feel like I walked away from a plane crash!”
K.I.S.S. (or Keep It Short, Sexy!) It is tempting to share some of the graphic trauma of your story—how many radiation treatments you had, side effects of your chemo, neuropathy, etc., or some of the details (time of day you first were diagnosed, names of chemo drugs). And, to be clear, you SHOULD have a place where you are able to share those experiences (think support group), but when you are talking to people ‘uninitiated’ to the lung cancer experience, these stories may not seem relatable for many people. They may have the unintended effect of shutting the person out of your story, and ultimately, losing your audience.
Write your story down. It helps you understand your own story better when you can write it down, edit it, and update it, as necessary. It helps you organize your thoughts. When you write it, then practice saying it out loud, even if only to yourself when practicing, you will become more comfortable sharing one on one and in a group setting. Don’t think you have to have it all organized in your mind before you start writing…just write! You can organize it after you jot down your thoughts. If an outline helps you fill in the blanks, do that. Do whatever works best for you!
Make it personal. Don’t simply rattle off facts and dates. Share some of your thoughts and how you felt, as appropriate. Share some of the things that others did and how that impacted you.
Share YOUR story, not an organization’s story. We understand that you want to give credit to medical staff who may have helped you during your lung cancer journey. Or maybe a nonprofit organization provided the support you really needed. That’s all well and good. But if your story starts sounding like an infomercial for one cancer center or nonprofit organization, you will not only lose your audience, you will lose credibility. If an organization truly was instrumental to your story, it is OK to mention them. But this is your story, not theirs. And by making it more about your story, you may even find your story gets shared among a broad range of other organizations.
Your story is YOUR story. An organization does not “own” your story. If you write and share your story and allow an organization to post it on their website, your story may also be shared on other websites. You may use the same version in multiple locations or post different versions of your story on different websites. It’s also a good idea to discuss this upfront with any organization interested in posting your story. (If someone else writes your story, well, that’s a different story.)
Practice, practice, practice! Storytelling is a skill that anyone can learn! Try to watch for feedback cues from your listeners, and learn to continually improve your story as you learn what seems to draw people into your story best.