Lessons from Elizabeth Smart's "My Story"


As you may recall, Elizabeth Smart, when she was only 14, was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah on June 5, 2002 and sexually abused for nine months before she was found. As this is Child Abuse Awareness Month as well as Sexual Abuse Awareness month, her message is quite appropriate for abused children as well as for those who have been sexually abused. Additionally, her presentation can be an excellent example of how to structure your own personal story to be most effective for others

Regretfully, some viewers didn't seem to listen to Elizabeth's message of moving forward. Rather, they focused on her persona and complained that she didn't seem traumatized, her reactions were very strange for being abducted and sexually abused, she's a controlled puppet, her story was a hoax, nothing about her story is credible, and more. Do they think that victims of abuse should fester their trauma for years after?

Even if her abduction and sexual abuse was a hoax, Elizabeth Smart's message is quite clear. Carefully listen to her story and realize she is living what she is saying. You must move forward from being victimized and take back your life. Do not allow a perpetrator or a rapist to continue to control your life weeks, months or years after the horrific experience.

Structure of "My Story"

Though most are not as horrific as Elizabeth's or others who have been abducted and/or abused, we all have stories to tell. The question is how we modify our story to help others in their crises. The title of Elizabeth Smart's presentation was "My Story," yet her TEDx talk was not really about her. Sure, she talked of her horrible experiences, yet she interweaved, in her personal story, her message of moving forward. And that's the key of becoming a presenter/speaker to motivate and inspire others. As a presenter, simply telling "my story" will often cause empathy and compassion, but it won't be beneficial to your audience.

Elizabeth Smart didn't begin with "her story," e.g. "I was abducted from my room at the age of 14 and sexually abused for nine months..." Instead, she sets the stage for her message. She grabs the attention of her audience by stating that she knows no one who has a perfect life and all of us have challenges where we wished we didn't have to get out of bed. She continues that we have a choice to cover up and stay in bed or move forward. Only then, does she move into her compelling story. After her story, she explains how she survived. Though it might take days, months, or even years, she was intent of not allowing her captors win. Even if she would have to outlive them, she would not give in to her captors. Elizabeth then returns to her original premise of having a choice to cover up under the sheets or survive. She then begins her conclusion with "I have to encourage every single one of you when you are faced with a trial..." we need to move forward.

Whatever your story, focus not in simply telling your story. Before giving a presentation or just giving a talk to your child or friend, ask yourself how can the recipient(s) of your story will benefit from your story. Determine your message you want to give. Then interweave your message within your story; always focusing on your audience/recipient—not yourself and your story.


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