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I LOVE listening to stories. As a child, I would sit on my Dad’s knee and listen to the yarns he and his mates used to spin. 

Growing up, I loved writing stories. I would find any scrap piece of paper or leftover schoolbook to create magical moments in writing. Storytelling is an art. In ancient times, orators would speak in front of large crowds, engaging them with their spellbinding ability to bring fantasy to life or prove a point with utter conviction.

Today, movies have storylines. Personally, I think the children’s movies are some of the most artful, as they can convey a line that speaks to both children and parents, including messages that are both simple, yet utterly complex. 

Stories hold meaning. They are a powerful way of conveying a point that captures your attention and leaves you pondering it for days. For leaders, authentic stories are a powerful way of conveying a message, inspiring, rallying or acknowledging others. Stories help put the human back into leading.

So how do we craft a purposeful, and authentic story?

Start by identifying some experiences you have had.
They might be experiences that relate to your line of work eg: 

  • Leadership lessons
  • Values-based decisions 
  • Client relationships
  • When you faced uncertainty and what you learned from it, or how you were able to create a sense of purpose or certainty
  • A time you felt challenged by choices you were making
  • An ah-ha moment when something was clarified or a value confirmed
  • A time you persisted and made a positive impact
  • A regret – when you didn’t live to your values and what the consequences were
  • A turning point, or crisis
  • A time when you pursued a dream.
  • A situation of conflict between your values, family, personal needs, and your purpose
  • A time you believed in yourself and achieved something against the odds

Then choose to develop one of your ideas into a story.
In one sentence write the point of your story. What’s your main message?

  • Who is the audience for your story and what angle might you take?
  • What do you want them to feel? E.g. motivated, inspired, reflective, collegial, etc.
  • Now pilot your story against a timeline. What happened first, next, and how did it end?
  • Keep to it a very specific moment in time. Keep it brief 60-90 seconds.

Now the structure:

  • Introduction: Time, place, and people. Keep it brief and lively
  • Middle: Add the body of the story and main event. Include graphic imagery when you can.
  • Conclusion: Close the storyline and nail the final point. Use a closing bridge such as “I’m sharing this with you because…”, or “Imagine the impact if we”… or “What I learned was…”

Here’s a story of mine as an example. The audience is Educators.


At the age of 6 weeks, I was adopted. It was a closed adoption, so I was not able to meet my birth mother. Instead, I was adopted by two people, who she chose to raise as their own. I can only imagine the emotions running through both parties, with me sitting blissfully unaware in my cot.

Growing up, I always knew I was adopted, but it was something I didn’t really think about. However, one vivid memory I have is walking down a narrow street in Tawa, Wellington with a cousin (who was also adopted). We were both around 8-10 years old at the time. As she strode purposefully down the steep road, she announced, “You know we are special, don’t you?”. I didn’t feel particularly special at that moment, so explored this further. “No. What do you mean, special?” Stopping, then turning to face me, she stated with utter conviction “We’re special because we are the chosen ones”. 

It took me a couple of moments to register, then as it settled into my consciousness, I felt a warm glow spread inside of me. Smiling, we skipped off down the road towards the shop.

Many years and life experiences later, I had my first child. As I took him in my arms, a new knowing came over me. Staring into his shrivelled face, I just knew. I knew that from this moment on there would be certainty. From this day forward, this child could be certain of where he came from and who his parents were. He wouldn’t need to wonder, or search, he would be grounded in knowing; for better or for worse. He would know that genetically we were connected, that we were one. Having a family of my own, closed the gap of a deep disconnect within my soul.

Why do I share this personal story you might ask? Identity is complex. It is multi-layered. It can’t be taken for granted, nor can it be assumed. When some say that people need to know who they are and where they come from in order to function fully in this world, then I ask you to consider from which experience you are speaking. It can take a lifetime of exploration and searching, and even then, some don’t know their roots, yet they are highly contributing members of society. So, I invite you, as you work with the tamariki in your kura, become aware of your words and your worldview when it comes to conversations about identity and belonging.

Remember, as you craft your own stories, keep them real and relevant to your audience. Keep them succinct and purposeful.

Then, practice, practice, practice!

Feel free to share one of your stories with me! I would LOVE to read them.

Ngā mihi nui


Need a speaker?

There are plenty of speakers to choose from. I am not the norm. You won’t be bored to tears by the same ole’ approach and dribble. How about bringing Mary-Anne for the conference or all-staff day.

Give me a stage and I’ll own it. Give me a room and I’ll energise it. Give me your people and I’ll inform and inspire them. 

Need virtual delivery – no sweat! I have facilitated virtual full and half-day workshops, virtual keynote speaking at online conferences, and might I say, you still get the Mary-Anne goodness you deserve!

More details here


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