We sat down with Larry Smith, our coach for tomorrow’s What’s Your Story? course, to talk about work, life, and presenting it all in just six words.
What is a Six-Word Memoir®?
Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. As the legend goes, he wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” In November 2006, at the online storytelling community I founded called SMITH Magazine, we gave the six-word story a personal twist, calling it a “Six-Word Memoir.” (And partnering with a little-know company called Twitter for what was supposed to be just a one-month contest to win an iPod). The idea is as simple as it sounds: tell the story of your life in exactly six words. Those six words can be an attempt to sum up your whole life — think of it as the title of your autobiography or epitaph on your tombstone, as Mario Batali did when he wrote, “Brought it to a boil often” — or one aspect of your personal life (“According to Facebook we broke up”) or professional life (“I tell amazing stories in PowerPoint”).
How does it help professionals refine their personal brand?
The parameters of just six words help you get to the essence of who you are and what you do best. Ever notice that the higher up you get on the ladder, the shorter your emails and meetings can be? Being brief, precise and very much in tight control of your own personal story is a boon for anyone in any part of their life — from your online dating profile to your resume.
It works, in part because it’s so simple. Fear subsides when you chip away at the blank page one word at a time (and it’s filled in just six). Don’t like what you’ve come up with? Who cares? Start over. Or just keep writing more. It also works because anyone can do it. Across the world, in schools (a writing prompt), churches (six-word prayers), businesses and nonprofits (six-word mission statements), therapy groups and, of course, speed dating sessions, the Six-Word Memoir has become a creative catalyst —- a kickstarter to break the mind’s ice.
Can I really squeeze my life story into 6 words?
Yes. More than 500,000 have been written on SMITH and SMITH Teens, and I’d guess another 500,000 on blogs, in classrooms, boardrooms, Twitter streams and so many other places around the world. Here are a few I love:
- Found on Craigslist: table, apartment, fiancé.
- Met wife at her bachelorette party.
- Hotel sex still rocks over fifty.
- Normal person becomes psychotic on Twitter.
- Yale at 16, downhill from there.
- Overworked and underpaid, Oversexed and underlaid.
- After cancer, I became a semicolon.
And a few from famous writers:
- The miserable childhood leads to royalties. — Frank McCourt
- Life is one big editorial meeting. — Gloria Steinem
And here’s a short, fun “Six tips for writing Six-Word Memoirs” video we made:
What are some success stories from people who’ve taken your class?
At first I wondered, “Do the type of people who come to The Hired Guns even need this class?” But Allison Hemming reminded me that just because I was so comfortable with short forms of personal storytelling didn’t mean it was obvious or at all easy. And she was right. The high level of professionals who keep taking this class blow me away. They’re super smart but often just don’t know how to tell their own story in the way that their story deserves to be told. In just a few hours after walking into my class, people walk out with a much better handle on the story of their working life. They often report back to me that it’s made a big difference their current gigs and in interviews for new ones.
But perhaps the best compliment I’ve received is that one woman who took my class -— an executive-level magazine editor -— hired me to help prepare her daughter for her college interviews.
Who should take your class?
Anyone and everyone who wants to get a better handle on their own story. It’s harder than it looks and more important than you may realize.
Who is Larry Smith?
In six words: “Big hair, big heart, big hurry.”
In a few more: I’m founder and editor of SMITH Magazine, and its younger cousin, SMITH Teens. SMITH Magazine is best known for launching the Six-Word Memoir® project, which is a bestselling series of seven books and a global phenomenon. Anticipating the microblogging explosion, SMITH originally launched the Six-Word Memoir project in November 2006 in partnership with Twitter with a simple online challenge asking: “Can you tell your life story in six words?”
I’ve spoken on the power of personal storytelling, how to engage an audience, and how a simple idea can make a big difference at companies such as ESPN, Twitter, Google, Dell, and Shutterfly, as well as foundations, nonprofits, and school across the country.
Tickets are still available for Larry’s class on Wednesday, September 19. To book yours, visit our course page!