What kind of high school student knows they want to go into a healthcare profession? Someone special. Nine-hundred young adults at the PENN HOSA (Healthcare Occupations Students of America ) Future Health Professionals State Leadership Conference dressed in blue suits and white button-up shirts filled the Lancaster Host conference room, representing 85 schools across Pennsylvania. Whether paramedic, nursing, dental hygiene, or radiology technology students, they were committed to a profession in healthcare. In my opening keynote entitled ‘Tongue-Tied: A Story NOT Silenced by Oral Cancer,’ I shared my personal story surviving stage IV tongue cancer including intimate details about hardships unanticipated and overcome; courage unknown and discovered; a mother’s love tested and triumphant. My goal was to inspire these students to turn adversity into opportunity, validate feelings during challenging times and articulate wisdom for moving forward.

Afterwards, many students approached me with a warm hand, an affirming hug, saying I touched them in a profound way. Others simply had no words, but weren’t afraid to let me see the hesitant tear they wiped away. These extra special students allowed themselves to feel deeply which is the seed for motivating change and growth.

In the lobby, other students stopped me to say, ‘Wow, you were really great.’ I thanked them for making the effort to say something personally to me. Then I probed, asking what the take-away message was for them. Most said in one way or another, ‘never give up.’

The following morning, I presented a workshop on the power of story for the ‘delegates’ who represent each of the schools. These ninety students were the cream of the crop; well-spoken, hard-working and personable leaders. Standing right in front of their half-circle, I began with, “Last night, you saw me walk on stage and you made a judgement. We all make judgements about others from appearances. But, when you heard my very personal story, did you feel differently about me?” I paused and saw heads nodding. “Today, I want to help you find the story you are meant to tell so judgements fall away and listeners get a glimpse of the special person you are.”

I showed a slide listing values: Family, Education, Communication, Safety, Honesty, Health….  I asked everyone to choose one strongly-held value. “Who would like to share the value they chose? I asked.” The student whose hand I noticed first, said ‘Family.’ When I asked for more information, she said the most important thing in the world is family. I pushed for details about why family was the most important thing for her. With more fire in her voice, she told us her 2-year old daughter gives her a reason to wake up everyday and smile. When I asked if it was different from how she was raised, she admitted it was just the opposite for her.

Ahhh, so her story emerged: ‘I am giving everything to my child that I wish I had growing up. She gives me reason to smile, everyday. The joy I feel from providing a healthy environment for my daughter motivates me to do the same for others.’

Sharing her story would make her stand out when it comes time for her to interview for a job. Her story makes her memorable.

Another student said his top value was ‘Respect.’ His hand was shaky holding the mic as he told the group he was bullied on the playground. I asked him if he could remember one specific moment when he was bullied. The voice of this six-foot, handsome guy quivered as he painted a picture of himself at 8 years old when he approached two boys during recess to play. The bigger kid said, “You are fat and ugly. Leave.” He went over to a swing, alone, and began to feel a great darkness take over. I asked how he came through this dark tunnel to become the strong, friendly and warm man he appeared to be. He told us one small thing changed his whole life: a poem. It was about an imprisoned person, but the door wasn’t locked and outside was a mountain. At the peak is where he found his purpose.

This is his story reframed: ‘I don’t want anyone to feel the pain of being shunned and excluded as I was as a kid. The healthcare profession allows me to help every patient feel cared about.’

Isn’t this the kind of person you want to include on your team of professionals?

One last story was memorable. This student chose the value ‘Communication’ and told us when her grandparents died, no one loved her, not even her parents. One day at school, she shared her suicidal feelings with a teacher who become her rock of support. I’ll never forget the way she looked down and softened her voice saying, “I think this teacher really cared about me.”

Her story reframed would be: “At one time in my life, I felt there was nothing to live for. The act of communicating my feelings to a school teacher saved me. I want to be like my teacher and help others communicate their health concerns so they can get the care they need.’

Think of all the websites you’ve visited in search of a doctor, lawyer, real estate agent, contractor or charity. Often, one visits the ‘About’ page. People want to know more about the kind of person behind the business. They want to have a sense of what the patient or client experience will look like. However, most bios only contain information about education, accolades, memberships and conclude with a line or two about hobbies. Does this information really engage a reader?

Think of all the sales people you’ve encountered. Would you be more likely to buy their service or product if you knew what kind of person they are; their values or work-ethic?  Telling your story has a subconscious effect on a listener. It says, ‘I trust you with my story.’ It can trigger an emotional response that often begins the process of sharing and trust.

Don’t be afraid to tell your story to provide listeners with insight into what people love about you. When the story is short, 3-4 sentences, it will more likely be read.  Everyone has a story they alone are meant to tell; a personal story to build rapport, inspire trust and leave a lasting impression.

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