photo credit: Chris Payne

STORY Conference 2018 – Debrief

Major major inspiration & affirmation from the #STORY2018 conference – I’ll be sharing some thoughts & insights & ideas throughout the week. It was an odd experience, since my dad’s been in the hospital & I felt the tension of wanting to be with him. One of those torn-feeling experiences. But was able to spend quality time with some friends who share similar work & dreams. Dream, create, fail, share, improvise. We forgot to take a group photo, so we improvised from our separate planes…


As promised. #story2018 debrief this week. I set out to spend quality time with friends & get inspiration for storytelling in my business. I encountered so much more.

I like to go into conferences with no expectations. It’s more fun to be surprised.

I had just found out my dad suffered a minor heart attack but would need open heart surgery. Torn about what to do, I entered the conference with plans to travel a few days later.

Nashville Tennessee. Live music in the airport terminal. Driving past tall buildings. Meet up with Chris & toast to what’s ahead. Beautiful theater. Creative entrepreneurs. Session 1 about to start. Lights dim… Still in the pains of business startup, the previous weeks had been full of rollercoasters. Never enough time. So much to accomplish but such limited resource. Brain waves always on.

The excitement had been building as we were on the cusp of launching into the heartbeat of my mission. Helping lots of people reimagine what’s possible, rediscover their purpose & passions, & live fully into their potential.
Constantly in the weeds of tasks, I kept remembering why we’re doing this. We spend the majority of our waking & best hours at work. Do those hours have to be dull and void of meaning? Shouldn’t they be purposeful, impactful, and full of life!? Shouldn’t you be able to contribute your abilities – maybe even pursue your dreams?

I kept thinking of Jon’s lyrics, “Some folks die in offices, one day at a time. They could live a hundred years but their soul’s already died.”

..lights dimmed. Opening video of the conference. Alice of Wonderland is in a bleak cubicle of a dark & empty office. She looks directionless. Missing the wonder and aliveness of life before ‘adulthood’. She walks over to the copy machine to make a copy.

Suddenly, the machine starts spitting out pictures from Wonderland with an accelerating crescendo… Now words on paper.

“We miss you Alice” …”What are you waiting for?”…

Right then, I realized why I was at this conference. I think I want to be all about asking that question. And creating the space for people to answer it.

Well…just maybe not with a creepy fax machine.

“We miss you Alice” – the line kept repeating in my head. Like the world was reminding her of who she used to be. Who she really is. Who she could be.

It was like this question in all of our lives, begging for us to come alive. I wondered how many people are saying this inside to their loved ones & friends. “We miss you – the REAL YOU”. How many people need to hear this.

The real them has been locked away and waiting to break free. Waiting to live into their true calling, passions, purpose.
The first speaker talked about this. Wearing a jumpsuit & pretend scuba helmet, he Called our attention to the planet of adult skepticism we’re living on, and the planet of childlike wonder that we used to laugh and play and dream on.

He gave us hope by reminding us that we can be rewriting what’s next. That he wants our priorities to be aligned with our purpose, and every day to be packed with purpose!

But come on.. is that realistic? Life is hard and busy and sometimes you just trying to get by.

Then I remembered how my young daughter experiences the world. Everything is possible to her. Like the other day, she said “daddy lets drum” and I said “well we can’t because we don’t have drumsticks”, and she said “we just pretend”. She didn’t see the limitations. She said, this is the idea and we will find away.

It’s possible to re-write what’s next and live right in the middle of what you’re meant to do and what you’re capable of doing. And if you think too much time is lost, remember that your past experience has prepared you precisely for what you’re meant to do ahead!

So I wonder if anyone’s missing the real you? I wonder what is your story? And looking ahead, what could it be?

Hahaha… I think I just wanted to go home at this point. The opening film and talk were amazing, and I was good to go! But ohhh no – there was much more work to be done.

Kevin Carroll was speaker #2 – think brand-consultant-Kevin-Hart. Dude is funny. Energetic. And helps brands like Nike (no worries, I’m not posting on every speaker – these starters were just must-have).

Kevin brought it hard, and built off Brad’s theme of child-like play. He had a rough upbringing, but helps big companies and leaders do incredible things by getting back to the creative imagination and fully-alive-ness they had as kids. He said things like, “We need you to show up!… Stop reverting back!… Doubt is just success testing you… You’re the most amazing app ever created, and you gotta stay in beta.”

His passionate plea for us to come alive and fulfill our potential was inspiring. He made my wrist tired from all the notes I had to take, but my favorite quote from him was that “There’s a bigscreen called Life, and everything is in HD and 3D”. And he reminded us that it’s not just our lives on the line, but the fact that “if you shine, I shine”.

After Kevin, the all-star lineup continued – the producer of Lion King & Beauty & The Beast, killer drum solo, jazz pianist who works with Quincy Jones, a woman who is transforming hospital sounds from dissonant stressful -> calming beautiful, the storyteller for IJM (perhaps the organization doing the most good in the world right now), an incredible leadership/life coach, and the producer of my favorite show ‘Chef’s Table’.


That wasn’t even close to everybody. So yeah, we were exhausted too. We went out for dinner and drinks. I was forced to walk down Broadway Street and hear the same outdated cover song screaming out of 62 bars in a row. No apologies if you like Broadway. We had some good laughs.

Lots of deep stuff, but I like those kind of days. I was looking forward to day2 of the conference, and I said goodnight to my family at home (photo is my 2yr-old giving me a kiss via phone) & family waiting for surgery. And although my expectations were high for the conference, I had no idea what was about to hit me on day2…

I had no idea what was about to hit me.

It was the last day of the conference, and I had ducked out of the morning session to book my plane tickets for my dad’s surgery. I contemplated skipping the remainder of the morning session to do some work, but decided to go back in and catch the end. I snuck into the back of the balcony – the back-corner – sat in the very last seat.

Just before the lunch break the host casually mentioned, “I have a surprise guest before the break – some of you may know him.. please welcome Jon Foreman.”

I froze.

People cheering. I’m looking around for my friends. My phone starts buzzing – @ChrisPayne – “Steve, are you losing your mind right now?”

Before I can even wrap my head around what was happening, @JonForeman & @KeithTutt started playing the lyrics that had lead me into the conference…

“Doctor says I’m dying, die a little every day. He’s got no prescription that can take my death away. Doctor says it don’t look so good – it’s terminal.”
“Some folks die in offices, one day at a time. They could live a hundred years, but their soul’s already died. Don’t let you spirit die before your body does – we’re terminal.”

I joke with my wife that ever since we had a kid, my eyes seem to have this leaking problem all the time! This time was legitimate though. In the very back-upper-corner of the theater, I sat, listening, tears running down my face. The lyric that has so deeply moved me – that has put words to my life mission – that I’ve poured myself into building a business around… and the man I so deeply respect and look up to for what he does and who he is, singing it.

photo credit: STORY2018

If that wasn’t enough, they followed ‘Terminal’ with ‘Inheritance’ – the song I sing to my daughter before bed. Then ‘Dare You To Move’ – an anthem from my youth that always gave me inspiration.

After the performance, we all went to lunch. Well… everyone but me. In typical Steve fashion, I went on the hunt to find Jon. True creeper fashion – walking down random back hallways to find him and talk to him. Usually, I magically pull off stunts like this, but this time to no avail.

The friend group wondered where I was, and Chris hypothesized out loud – “I bet he’s looking for Jon.”

I thought it was fitting to package up some useful tools for you, from what I’ve learned about storytelling the past few years.

I’m no expert here, but I’ve assembled my cliff notes from some incredible experts. And since my application is typically storytelling in business or giving a talk, I’m focused on how to engage an audience in a genuine way with clear takeaways or application.

This tool can help you when you’re preparing to speak to an audience, write, market, or interview. And it can take something boring and informational, and level it up to make it meaningful and memorable for you and for your audience. Stories are part of our DNA as humans. They’re timeless. They apply anytime, anywhere, to anyone. They have no regard for trends. So I believe it’s crucial to tell them – even in business!

Click here to get the tool.

I’ve really benefitted from @ChristinaWotdke (her amazing storytelling post here) and @AustinKleon (framework below)

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