Clothes make the (super)man

Last week I wrote about how to prepare for a story safari. Today, I thought I’d let you climb into the metaphorical Jeep and watch me hunt.

A couple of weeks ago, the British actor Jude Law was a guest on Stephen Colbert’s talk show. He told a story about how the producers of one of the recent Superman reboots had approached him to play the Man of Steel. Law said no, for many reasons. But here’s the moment his story stopped being typical celebrity talk show blather and turned into something I thought I might be able to use for a client sometime:

Making one final push to win him over, the producer said, “We’ve redesigned the costume. Let us bring it over and you can try it on and see what you think.” And I guess Jude Law was thinking, I’m not doing anything today; I might as well play dress-up. So they brought the costume over to his hotel room and he took it in the bathroom and put it on. And as he zipped it up he looked in the mirror and…he stopped being Jude Law and he was Superman. Just in putting on the suit transformed him.

Then he unzipped the costume and turned down the role again.

I don’t have any concrete plans for this story at the moment. But I often write about authenticity—this could set up a discussion of the roles we play or the costumes we wear that don’t necessarily reflect our inner selves. It could be about knowing your core competencies and sticking with them. Or, more straightforwardly, it could be about finding the best “fit” for the job you have to fill.

In any case, I’ve bagged a story with good prospects. And no actors (or speechwriters) were harmed in the course of this safari.


Story safari

I’ve always communicated through stories. I can’t tell you when I started, but as a natural story-teller I was probably destined to become a speechwriter—kind of like my optometrist when I was a kid was probably destined for his career. His name was Dr. Glassman.

And you see what I just did there? I told a story. A tiny one, sure. But it took us out of “I’m going to teach you something” mode and into analogy. Maybe even made you chuckle. Oh, come on, you at least smiled.

Have you ever been at a party where someone was telling a really great story? You leaned in to listen, maybe even scootched your chair closer. You didn’t want to miss a word.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the audience at your next speech felt that way? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could look up from the podium and see a roomful of faces looking at you instead of their smartphones? It could happen. A great story is so powerful it can even make people forget about checking Facebook.

So how do you find these stories? The same way you find anything: You look. Grab your equipment—stash some paper and pen in your pockets or use your smartphone’s notes app—and go live your life. When something catches your eye or makes you think, make a note of it: what happened, what thought or feeling it created in you. At the end of the day, look at your notes and see if you’ve found anything you might use as a story. It may seem mechanical and clunky at first, but your story-spotting instincts will improve with practice. And once you get better at noticing things, you won’t have to write everything down—you’ll be able to tell in the moment whether something is or isn’t story material.

When I’m driving and listening to podcasts, I use the voice activated note-taking app on my phone to “jot down” any interesting ideas I hear. But I’ve learned to sort through those ideas every day, because Siri isn’t always the most accurate stenographer. Yesterday she wrote, “Stories let us talk about our accomplishments without cracking.” Er, “bragging.”

I keep a searchable file of stories and quotations I think might come in handy. I’ve had stories sit in the file for ten years or more, but when the right opportunity to use them comes along, it’s golden.

If you’d like to read more about how I use stories, I’ve compiled some into a free e-book called What’s the Story? Just let me know where to send it.