Several months ago, I received a message from the father of one of my childhood friends who I haven’t seen in over 30 years. I spent a lot of time at the Banks’ house back in high school, and we had many fireside chats through the years. It was an unexpected delight to hear from him.
In his message to me one of the things he said was “You know what I remember most about you? You listened to people.”
I thought, “I did!?” I was taken aback by that, because most of my teenage memories are cringe-inducing in my mind’s eye, and to know that I was a good listener back then just affirms for me that “all roads have led to Rome.” Given that listening skills are a hallmark of great coaching, it feels reassuring that being a good listener has been a skill I have been cultivating most of my life. People have been pulling up a chair and bending my ear my whole life, and I have reveled in it. There are many ways that I have been a “coach in waiting” for much of my life and career, some are obvious and some are less so. When you look at my biography, my journey to becoming a coach and mentor is pretty obvious without digging too deep. I was an executive, and then I became an executive coach and leadership development facilitator/consultant, then as many of my clients wanted to leave and start their own “coachsulting” businesses, I found that even more compelling so I then shifted 15 years ago to coaching and mentoring professional coaches and coachsultants who do what I used to do. Voila.
But for a lot of people, crafting a personal story may not be as obvious. Putting together a compelling personal story that answers the oft-asked question, “How did you become a coach?” requires some thought and reflection.
For coaches, the personal story can be really important. When there’s something deeply riveting and amazing about you and your journey toward coaching others, it can be a major lean-in point for your prospective clients, helping them to know, trust, and like you.
“So, How Did You Get Into Coaching?”
My clients are purposeful, gifted coaches, and on some level, they have always been a “coach in waiting”, much like me. But the path to becoming a coach is often filled with twists and turns, and for most of my clients, it’s a path they trenched out. Often it’s a second career and is an extension of what they were doing before, but sometimes on the surface it may look like a 180 degree turn.
Whatever their background, but especially when the journey toward coaching has been a long and winding road, a personal story and credibility story is incredibly important for any coach. Having a clear and credible answer to the question, “How did you get into coaching?” is key to pulling clients to you and building a thriving, fulfilling business that you love.
Here are some steps to guide you along the way of crafting your personal story.
Step 1: Choose a Theme for Your Personal Story
Your story must demonstrate credibility, and build likability and trust, because people hire coaches they feel they know, trust, and like, and who can make a significant difference for them.
This is particularly important if coaching may look like a major career transformation for you. It’s easier to tell the story of a successful executive that now coaches executives than a successful executive that pivoted to wellness coaching — but sometimes the more complex story is the most interesting and compelling!
Hone in on your theme. It’s a good idea to start by answering the question, How have all roads led to Rome? Why is it perfect that you’re a coach? And more specifically, why is it perfect that you are the particular kind of coach that you are?
I advocate that the more specific you can get, the better it can be. Specifics usually make your story more credible and compelling, but if you want to keep your story more broad, like why you decided to be a coach (vs. the specific kind of coach you have become), that is an option, as well. As I always say, narrow to the degree that it serves.
Keep in mind that the version of your personal story may shift depending on who you’re talking to. As an example, my personal story that I share with professional coaches is different than the personal story I may share on an interview for a podcast for entrepreneurs. In crafting your coaching story, look for the things that support you specifically in coaching the type of people you currently work with, or want to work with. If you want to narrow your scope to a particular niche, some of your story details may be the same, but you may emphasize different aspects of your personal journey that amplify your credibility for that particular niche.
Step 2: Brainstorm a List of Potential Story Elements
Once you’ve settled on a theme, brainstorm a list of memories, stories, happenings, and roles along your journey of life that fits the theme you’ve selected. I suggest bulleting them out as a starting point.
Note: you will likely only use a subset of these bullets in your actual story, but it’s great to outline these experiences to show how this work is something that has always been part of you in some way. Do include things from childhood and young adulthood, and do look for examples beyond academics and work experience.
Try to think of things that are unique to you that your clients and prospects maybe don’t know about you. Imagine what they would be curious to know about you that could help them see you in a deeper and better light.
Step 3: Build Your Personal Story Structure
Review your bullet points and select the ones that tell your story in the most compelling way.
You don’t have to use every bullet point, but all the bullets should connect to the theme, in a way that creates a thoughtful and compelling story so that it doesn’t feel like you’ve strung together random life occurrences.
Step 4: Draft Your Story
Write out your story and weave each section together so that each part builds on the next until you reach the climax of the story which usually is some version of “Ta da! Then I became a coach, and here’s how I now serve my ideal clients…”
Step 5: Edit for Clarity, Coherence, and Length
Sometimes coaches make the mistake of writing too much. Remember that a concise story that shines a good light on you and your journey to becoming the coach that you are is more powerful than a long, overly detailed story.
Make sure that it feels like it’s flowing, and then share it with others to get honest feedback.
I do think it takes a little trial and error to find the most compelling version of your personal story. One way you can test it out is by doing what I call a “Resonance Meter.” Ask a trusted colleague or friend to listen to your story, and then ask them:
- At which points were you leaning in?
- At which points was it less compelling or did you find yourself less engaged?
This feedback will help you refine your story to be powerful the whole way through.
Step 6: Share Your Personal Story
Share it with people who know and love you. Notice where they seem to be most interested. Notice their reactions. Ask them if they feel your story highlights your journey, from their perspective. Is it credible, compelling, and interesting? Their feedback and unique perspective will be insightful. Continue to refine it until it feels like it’s “just right” and know that it is best when it’s really in your bones and comes out slightly differently each time.
How to Use Your Personal Story
Whenever someone asks you how you got into coaching, share your personal story with them. You can also include it on your website, either in replacement of your bio, or in addition to a traditional bio.
I’ve seen coaches successfully use it in two ways on their websites:
- Either their bio is their personal story, and they have a separate section with bullet points that highlight their education, certification, and other credentials.
- They use a traditional bio that includes their credentials, and then they include their personal story on the website separately.
A Final Note on Your Personal Story
One thing your personal story should always be is honest. Sometimes people, in the name of storytelling, will “amplify the truth” (aka exaggerate). Know that exaggerating your personal story could come back to bite you and actually chip away at your credibility.
In the name of honesty, just because it happened doesn’t mean you have to share it. Be mindful when you’re working on your personal story that nothing detracts from your credibility. If you are going to share a pivotal moment in your history that was a turning point for you, make sure it’s far enough in the past that it highlights your ascent vs. shines negatively upon you. If you’re going to share something that was a dip, make sure that it’s completely in service to you and your clients and prospects.
Now go forth and craft your personal story! Please share! I would love to see your personal story.