Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. His response?

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In November 2006, Larry Smith, founder of SMITH Magazine, launched Six-Word Memoirs® which he describes as “a simple concept that’s become an effective tool to spark conversation, crystalise goals, and boil anything down to its core.“

Since then, he has taken his 6 Word model into settings such as in boardrooms, classrooms, staff retreats, and conferences, including of course, our 20th anniversary conference held recently in New York City. Read on for a recap of Larry’s talk and several 6 Word Stories from attendees, and if you are a member, please login to view the video recordings as well as a copy of the slides.

Say It In Six

In the world of Twitter and texting, Larry looks to engage audiences to think creatively and to recognise the power of storytelling in building a stronger connection with colleagues and customers through just six words.

Larry proposes that breaking the ice, through one simple six-word story, will allow humour, honesty and care to flow: “Half Jewish, Half Italian, totally stuffed”, he self-deprecates to the room, initiating by telling his own story.

Larry proceeds to examples of others whose stories he invited:

  • “I can’t keep my own secrets…” his wife volunteered with full transparency.
  • “In 1948, I was a refugee,” from Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State.
  • “Seeking the fullest expression of life,” from the ever-inspiring Oprah Winfrey.
  • “Bears are my number one fear,” went the six-word story of Nava Krieger, aged 9. “Humans are my number one fear”, it continued, with six words from the aforementioned bear.

Larry marveled how the micro-story of this child inspired the thought that maybe what we fear most, fears us more. He proposed that maybe, if we get to know the bear’s story, we’ll see the bear in its own truth – with a new light.

Hence we see the magic in the six-word memoir – it provokes a response of three simple words: “Tell me more…”

Loosened to the flow, ALTO-ites shared a story or two, resonating with the theme of adventure implicit in the industry:

  • “Plans changed again, regroup, reframe, reimagine.”
  • “Time is up, do it now.”
  • “Feel the fear and dive in!”
  • “Dust yourself off and try again.”
  • “Packed it up, never looked back.”
  • “How many weeks? God only knows!”
  • “Fortunate timing, world is my oyster.”
  • “Till I tried, I didn’t know.”

Good storytelling is all we want, Larry proposes, as there is nothing more interesting than other people. “Data is all well and good,” Larry encourages, “But tell the story! Stories. Crush. Data.”

Larry continued to share examples from his website of how the six-word memoir allows a humble, honest, powerful, humorous and effusive engagement:

  • “Crushed with cancer, blessed with friends.”
  • “Life’s GPS keeps saying: recalculating, recalculating.”

Many Stories, Many Uses

There’s more than 1 million life stories on SixWordMemoirs.com covering topics such as:

  • Life
  • Love
  • Work
  • Advice
  • Questions
  • Happiness
  • Family
  • Food
  • Travel

Larry has turned these micro-stories into various themed books, and you can also find tools for teachers to help them use 6 Words in assignments and projects.

Additionally, they can also be used in a work context, as illustrated on one of his slides shown here:

He encouraged attendees to try using 6 Word Memoirs themselves at their school or business. Set a theme, make a memoir tree and invite participants to tie their memories on branches. Make a washing line and fill it, like Tibetan prayer flags. Cover walls: “Walls are meant to be filled,” Larry enthuses.

He also shared his top three observations from over the years:

  1. Keep it simple – simplicity leads to increased engagement.
  2. Engagement leads to conversion.
  3. Open spaces allow room for conversation (e.g. festivals, parks, etc.).

6 Words From ALTO Attendees

As you might expect, the site has memoirs on language and education-related themes too, which helped inspire attendees, such as:

  • “Children’s smiles speak the same language.”
  • “Tackling new language? Learn ‘thanks’ first.”

Larry then invited the ALTO crew to craft their own stories. The challenge set, Larry dared the room to answer the following questions in six words:

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • What makes language learning special?
  • What is the story of your students or teachers?
  • How am I part of something bigger?

And so the stories flowed from attendees…

Why we do what we do:

  • “Good education means freedom and chances.”
  • “Life is better when we’re learning.”
  • “Education without boundaries connects our world.”
  • “Makes the world a smaller place.”
  • “Learn languages for fun, peace, understanding.”
  • “Watching students blossom makes me happy.”
  • “To travel, to teach, and learn.”
  • “Changing the world person by person.”
  • “Making a difference makes me grow.”
  • “Passionate about students changing the world.”
  • “Educate and inspire the next generation.”
  • “Long history, good friends, change lives.”
  • “Life fulfillment of dreams of youth.”
  • “My father started, I love it.”
  • “Family man passing down the legacy.”
  • “Loved the school. I bought it!”
  • “ALTO helps us to stand tall.”

Describing what we do:

  • “Building communities, breaking down linguistic barriers.”
  • “Study, travel, see, make friends. Repeat.”
  • “Be a local away from home.”
  • “Let the language be the bond.”
  • “A memorable experience, yours for life.”
  • “Welcome a student, transform a life.”
  • “Yesterday, tomorrow, today – define your future.”
  • “Another language, think of the possibilities!”
  • “Unbundling education, delighting customers, continuously reinventing.”
  • “Teaching the world to communicate better.”
  • “Motivating learning, maximising confidence, making memories.”
  • “Education through recreation makes great kids.”
  • “Don’t want risk, take the insurance!”
  • “Tried. Failed. Now help others succeed.”
  • “Using technology to make life easier.”
  • “Open doors, connect people, build bridges.”

As every ALTO attendee knows, life isn’t all work, so it was no surprise that a few stories had a humorous spin, such as these:

  • “If only I had 7 words!”
  • “This is not my first rodeo.”
  • “No more rockets. Come to Korea!”
  • “Language causes confusion, we get paid!”

And many memoirs related to our personal and professional lives colliding:

  • “Business mother, juggling act, epic proportions.”
  • “Travel the globe, FaceTime saves me!”
  • “Travelling constantly, missing my girls incredibly.”
  • “Inspiring my girls to be bold.”
  • “Here yesterday, there today, here tomorrow.”
  • “Too many balls in the air.”

Inevitably, some memoirs took a more personal turn:

  • “Out of the box, my life.”
  • “Living life is learning to live.”
  • “Future is bright by all means.”
  • “Introvert but trying to be braver.”
  • “I want to know about you.”
  • “Seek adventure, inspire others with smile.”
  • “Linguist at heart, salesperson by default.”
  • “Short attention span, please hurry up.”
  • “Keep talking, I can take it.”
  • “Days you don’t remember don’t exist.”

6 Words, Your Turn, Do It!

And how about you? What’s your six-word memoir? Like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and share your six words with our community!

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