Sell your story and save the world

Updated to Speaking on May 3, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I got my start in the speaking industry with a story. And you know what? When I think about the last 18 years of speaking,  teaching, writing, and coaching, nothing has changed.

It’s still about the story.

Stories are the universal platform for lessons. If you turn to an audience and say “Let me tell you a story…” they will lean in. We can’t resist – we love stories. Our ancestors passed on stories, all books are based on stories, so are movies, and even advertisements.

And if you want to make an impact and save the world, you need a story we can buy into.

What about you? What is your story?

I’m not talking about a you-won’t-believe-what-happened-to-me-in-the-mall story. I’m talking about a foundation story you can build your platform on.


The late Stephen Covey was a professor who turned his research as a coach and corporate consultant into simple models for effectiveness anyone could apply.

Robin Sharma left and uninspiring career in law to write The monk who sold his Ferrari. His Mom helped him flog books and now he arrives for keynote engagements in a limo.

My friend Melonie Dodaro was building a traditional brick-and-mortar business when she noticed people struggling with social media. She now helps other businesses master their on-line presence.

When Guy Kawasaki joined the tiny upstart called Apple Computers his creative lights switched on. His inside look at business in Silicon Valley turned into 12 books and four millions followers.

And John Lee Dumas was frustrated that his favorite podcasts about business start-ups only got updated weekly. So he created the first daily podcast for entrepreneurs.

My point is that there is so much more we COULD know about each one of these people – but we don’t need to. We just need to know one simple story we can remember and repeat. It’s like reading a book or going to a movie. There are only a few threads of the story you will remember – that’s the part that gets repeated.


One and a half years ago I minted a new story for my work in the expert community. Here it is.

For 18 years I built a successful business as a speaker, consultant, author, seminar leader, and coach. It was a long and hard journey. Now, I teach and mentor other experts how to do it faster and better.

You have a story that can help people. It might be your work experience, a business start-up, an accident, a success story, or even lessons from parenting. That story has power and value and people will pay to hear it – if you know how to package it and sell it.


I know of at least three ways you can dilute your story or miss the opportunity to plant your story in the minds of your market. Avoid these:


You are an expert in leadership, succession planning, team building, communications, and, oh yeah, multi-generation workplaces. NO YOU AREN’T. I have made this mistake for too long (maybe I still do). Too many topics means you are not an expert in anything. You can write books every two years on a different topic, but please stay true to one story.


Don’t bore us with details or stories that put us to sleep.

Weak story

“Paul spent 12 years as a senior manager in Fortune 500 corporations. Now he uses his impressive experience to help other companies to be more successful.”

Strong story

“Sally measured over 160,000 people to identify a scientific approach to personal branding. Over the past decade, her team has uncovered surprising trends about why certain people and companies succeed. Today, Sally teaches how to communicate and captivate in a world with a 9-second attention span.” (

“Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard. Shawn has become one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success.” (

You get one chance to make a first impression – make it with a story and make it stick.


Pick a lane. Telling your market that you have multiple graduate degrees, a black belt in Karate, ran a not for profit, and are a leadership expert is confusing, weak, and forgettable. Do some prioritizing, drop the least important points and strengthen what’s left. 


You’re not going to like this, because it’s a process of elimination:

  1. List everything you want prospects to know about you. Include everything: work experience, family, life-lessons, kitchen sink – everything.
  2. Pick the five items that make you a better pick than your competition (and please don’t tell me you have no competition).
  3. Now pick the strongest three differentiators.
  4. Now develop the strongest, most indelible, unforgettable item into a story.

You don’t have to climb Everest, or be a best-selling author to inspire others, or save the world.

But, you do need a story.

Craft that story, improve on it, and use it. Let your story be the bumper sticker in your customer’s mind that gets them talking about you and your story will always feed you more business.

Now I have to run off to check my story (again).


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Share a thought

What are you doing to sell your story (share so we all can learn)? Add your comment below.