When I am asked to be the guest speaker at a meeting, How should I tell my story?

Our Twelfth Step states:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

If our primary purpose is to carry our message, that is, our 12 step solution to recovery as outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, then, when we are asked to share our story, what should we say and how should we say it?

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states on page 58:

Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it — then you are ready to take certain steps.

This quote implies that the speaker will identify themself as an addict by sharing their story of hopelessness, that is “what we used to be like” which also implies that we are no longer like that. Next, the speaker shares about “what happened” i.e. how they have recovered – how they worked their program of recovery. The speaker then finishes their story with what promises have been fulfilled as a result of this program, that is “what it is like now”.

This quote also implies that the audience having received the speaker’s message, have made a decision that they want what the speaker has. This response sets the stage for suffering addicts to commence their journey on the 12 step road to recovery.

How much time should we spend on each section of our story?

For some of us, speaker meetings conjures up memories of sitting for 40 minutes to an hour listening to tedious drunk-a-logs, belabored war stories, tales of woe and misery and sometimes just plain babbling streams of unconsciousness from the “guest” speaker. Sound familiar? Some speakers will even state how they have never even worked the 12 steps – staying sober on meetings alone! Audiences are held captive, never getting a “real” solution, a way out to what ails them. Unable to identify with the speaker’s story, newcomers are usually left bewildered or worse yet, depressed, feeling more isolated and apart from the “so-called” fellowship.

Our suggestion, depending upon the amount of time you, is to breakdown your story as follows:

  1. What was I like? – 10% – Share your experience. Qualify yourself. What makes you a ‘real’ addict? Give your audience a chance to identify with you.
  2. What happened? – 70% – Share your strength – how you found this solution and what you did to recover!
  3. What am I like now? – 20% – Share your hope. Talk about the promises you have received as a result of working this program.

How do we know if our talk has been effective?

In the Preface of the Big Book (A.A. 4th Edition), it talks about the impact of our stories when delivered in an intelligent manner:

If you have a drinking (drugs, sex, gambling, food, co-dependency, etc.) problem, we hope that you may pause when (hearing our stories)…and think: “Yes, that happened to me”; or, more important, “Yes, I’ve felt like that”; or, most important, “Yes, I believe this program can work for me too.”

Tell about your speaker meeting experiences

  • Have you ever been invited to speak? How did you tell your story?
  • What in your experience is least effective about a speaker?
  • What in your experience makes for a good story?
  • Heard a good speaker lately? Let us know who they are and why you thought their message was an effective one?

26 thoughts on “When I am asked to be the guest speaker at a meeting, How should I tell my story?

  1. I have been a guest speaker on a number of occasions through which I have learned many things.

    1) I don’t cuss during my talk. I remember an older lady who approached me after I spoke and said, "Cameron you have and good message, but oh you have a filthy mouth". Enough said.

    2) When I share what it was like, I do not spend a lot of time on it. Just enough to qualify as an addict. I share how the warning of doctor did not keep me sober. I share how my wife told me she wanted a divorce if I did not stop drinking and that did not stop me. I share about how sick I became and how that didn’t work. And I share how I moved away from all my people, places and things that caused me to drink and use, only to find new ones in the new location – it didn’t work. Finally I share, when I drink or use I can’t control it. And when I really don’t want to drink or use, I can’t seem to stay away from it. That is what makes me an addict/alcoholic.

    3) I always share for the bulk of my talk about how I worked my 12 steps, giving the audience an overview of what the 12 step program is all about. Remember, I’m sharing my story to carry our message to the addict who still suffers. I also share the benefits of this program. The promises I received. How great my life is today thanks to my relationship with a higher power.

  2. I find the article interesting and thought provoking and reminiscent of my own beliefs at one time. These beliefs I have, I believe have morphed over the course of my sober time through reading, experience and observation. In the following, I question the minimization of the importance of the using story and the narrow negative judgement and absolutism of some of the other attached comments, opinions that I once shared.

    Certainly lengthy using stories based in ego are experiences many of us find of little value. Those of us who have attended meetings, also question the story that has no recovery portion or indication of current recovery. These problems I believe are quite distinct from the true role of identification which is the purpose of the properly focused using story.

    The using story is a vital part of the beginning of recovery for many. It was for me. An awakening I still vividly recall ocurred upon hearing a story that contained many of my own experiences and was the decisive factor in motivating me to ask the story teller to sponsor me. So began my journey via the steps to a higher power.I have been sober since.

    In the preface our Big Book it states " we hope that you may pause in reading one of the forty-two personal stories and think "Yes that happened to me"; or, more important, "Yes I have felt like that"; These are two important directions, so important I believe that they are the first directions in our Big Book. They are placed in a prominent position at the end of the preface for I believe good reason. These forty-two stories are the equivalent of the using stories told in our meetings today. They speak to identification and its importance.

    I believe the importance of this identification is why distinct fellowships have sprung to life with a common bond of substance or behavior. This fact is enshrined in the fifth tradition. This is not due to a desire to hear similar war stories but the necessity of the new person to identify prior to developing some small amount of belief, the first step in the journey to faith and our recovery.

    A further support of the importance of the properly told using story is exemplified in no less a place than Bill’s story, as written in the Big Book. In his story that covers 16 pages, 8 are what he was like, a full 50%! Mistake? I don’t think so. Seven pages are what happened – 40%. 1 page, and 10% is what he was like now. Not the percentages suggested in this article.

    Dr. Bob’s story in the Big Book again illustrates this point. His using story covers 9 of the total of 11 pages of his entire story. Further more he asks in his story, " What did the man do or say that was different from what others had done or said? "He continues,"…this was a man who had experienced many years of frightful drinking, who had most all the drunkard’s experiences known to man," He further states, in italics "…he was the first living human with whom I had ever talked, who knew what he was talking about in regard to alcoholism from actual experience. In other words he spoke my language." This was a talk that lasted six hours and fifteen minutes. It is no stretch to imagine some great measure of using stories were told at the birth of A.A.

    The language of the new prospect is the using story, and to a very great extent we must use and respect that fact. It is the way for the recovered alcoholic/addict to the heart and mind of the afflicted. Only, I believe, that established on the belief inspired by the using story can a message of recovery germinate and flourish. Alcoholic Anonymous Number Three has a very telling quote also from the first meeting with Bill and Bob. He states,"…before long we began to relate some incidents of our drinking, and pretty soon I realized that both of them knew what they were talking about, …If I had thought they didn’t know what they were talking about, I wouldn’t have been willing to talk to them at all". Where and when prospects begin to believe is in the hands of the higher power, but we most assuredly have a role and part of that role is the using story.

    Not to make too fine a point but historical tapes of Bill and Dr. Bob speaking have substantive portions of using story. Contemporary Big Book fundamentalists members Joe and Charlie have long using stories in each of there talks.

    The forementioned facts were enough even for me to question my conclusions about the using story and its role in recovery. There began one of the longest journies, the journey to open my mind.

    My journey to a revised point of view on the using story took me through a period of frustration in meetings. However, I began to see that although in some cases there was a problem from the front of the room the majority of the problem was in my seat and still is! I had forgot the ear of the newcomer is what we speak to fill and stir belief, not my own self centered rightousness.

    • I believe that Bill and Bob’s stories contained long “using” portions because they too were in early sobriety. They were closer to the wreckage of their past than living a principles based sober life. I find that my story has morphed over my 30 years and while I know it is important to qualify myself, I prefer to carry the message the message of hope that was so freely given to me. This means I spend more time talking about what happened and what it is like now.

  3. I just tell the truth.

    Life was a useless bag of shit (What it was like), before I found the Solution.

    I learned how to practice and to teach the 12 Steps. (What happened)

    I have been rocketed into the 4th Dimension that most people never dream of. (What it is like today)

    Lately, I challenge everyone present to do ALL 12 Steps and Work with Others, then, if doesn’t work I
    will send them their Money Back. A Full Refund of their misery.

  4. I agree with Rob on his statements in regards to the length of time one spends on identifying one’s self. If the meeting is 40min long, that means one would only spend 4min on discussing this. This incredibly crucial piece of information that either wins the entire confidence of a newcomer or doesn’t. This can’t simply be done with saying something simple and general.

    Bill’s Story is a great example. His story was the first one I had ever read and first alcoholic I ever heard. I am quite certain that if I did not know where he came from and feel like I was right there in his story with him, I would never have even considered listening to what he did.

    I think were the mistake lies is that people focus a lot of the material aspect of their addiction, lots of numbers, and quantities and times and monies.

    What I find beneficial is focusing on, while these were happening, what I was going through inside myself. What was going through my head and my heart and how as time progressed those feelings and thoughts not only overwhelmed me but consumed my existence.

    If a newcomer is not able to see themselves personally in my story, then they’ll never see themselves in the solution that worked for me – the same solution that worked for us all.

  5. It was about three years ago when I heard her speak. There was nothing funny in her speech, as a matter of fact there was nothing funny at all; I can’t remember the percentages either – 10% of this or 70% of that – as a matter of fact I can’t remember anything about what was spoken. But I do remember this, I sat next to her and as she spoke something was spilling onto my shoes — her humility.

  6. I believe that a speaker should share Truth,Hope,and Experience. When I first heard Chris R speak I cried. I could definitely relate, I also liked the fact that he did not sugar coat the truth.I did not stay clean and sober for very long that time, But thanks to Crack and With gods help I came back with the full understanding of who I was and what was wrong with me and what i needed to do to recover. That was Jan 29 2006 and I have never obsessed about drugs or alcohol since.

  7. Using stories is a much better way to say it then the term war stories.
    Everyones’ recovery is unique as should be their talks.

  8. Live and Let Live. Telling what it was like can be a War Story, Battle with Addition is pain Staking, Beaten down by the beast. Flunking out at the School of Hard Knocks, Drunk A log, Dance with the Devil, Nothing wrong about any of those expressions. The main point is STEP ONE is clear. POWERLESSNESS. When I speak I often include how my addition was like my best friend that betrayed me, I never knew if I was going to have a blast or a black out.

  9. The Treatment Industry has co-opted twelve step traditions, fellowship and meeting formats.

    Hearing “using stories” trigger the rehab clients that are bused to the meetings in droves of “druggie buggies”.

    The stories with profound ” bottoms” threaten these new clients’ “willingness to believe” that they really need to quit.

    AA needs their seventh tradition so they’ve catered to the whims of the Treatment programs. SAD

    The 80/20 Pareto Principle should be the guide post on AA speeches: 20 % solution.

    And finally: PLEASE let people take to the lecturn with a written outline. This will keep them steadfast in the face of emotional stirrings that the audience might evoke from the speaker.

  10. Today is only the 2nd time I am going to be a speaker.
    I have dedicated this entire year to share my Experience, Strength, and Hope (ESH) in as many groups as I can get to.
    I’m definitely nervous…I know I have a story of the promises coming true, I have a story of hope.
    My prayer for today, is that my message will touch the heart of someone in need.

  11. Maybe someone can help me with an explanation. The narrator first gives us the NA written 12 step then gives us the AA “what it was like etc” then starts talking about the addict..this is not bigbooksponsorship,sorry FELLAS

  12. I have been sober since 11/26/01. When someone asks you if you would like to speak at an AA meetings you always say yes unless your schedule just not permit you to speak at a future AA meeting. Usually, when you speak you will talk about what your addiction was like for you, what happened during your addiction and what sobriety has been like for you. Be honest. Talk about the good, the bad and the ugly times. Also, most meetings permit you to speak for 25-30 min. Once you have been sober for a while you can branch out and focus on a certain topic or tell a story that happened to you recently that pertains to recover. There are no laws on how to share, only guidelines. If anyone tries to bully you, send them to me. My name is Marques Marchand and I live in San Francisco. Facebook me.

  13. I appreciate everyone’s input. A couple weeks ago my sponsor asked me to be a speaker at my home group speaker night. I said no I’m not ready yet, we talked some more and I said just not right now “I’ve got a lot going on” We ended the conversation with him telling me that I was ready. This past Monday I was asked if I would be the speaker on sat night, again I said no I’m not ready, we talked a bit and I left. It weighed on my heavily,The saying are you will to go to any length to stay sober kept replaying in my mind, I called Shawn and told him I didn’t want to be the speaker but if he couldn’t find anyone else I would. Tomorrow night will be my first time as a speaker, I nervous but I also know I need to do this, for my sobriety and hopefully I will help another soul. FYI my sobriety date is 5/5/2017

  14. Share your experience strength and hope. Be honest and don’t try to pre empt what you are going to say. If you have a higher power then ask for the right words and the right timings. I will guarantee that you will bring strength to those who are at the meeting. It’s hard to explain how it works but in the silence to remember the still suffering alcoholic there is a great mystery. “Rarely have we seen a person fail” Praise to Bill and Bob!

  15. Sue…I’m going on my 1st commitment this Sunday, August 26, 2018. I am very nervous. This time… I have a little over four months sober… But have been in the program for eight years. I was reading through these postings, but when I go to yours, something you said gave me a sense of calmness. You suggested to ask my higher power for the right words. I have recently come to believe that I do have a higher power and I just want to thank you for that suggestion. I am still very nervous, but somehow think I will be ok. Thanks!

  16. Thanks everyone for your input. I’m speaking in about 20 hours before a large rather famous group. I have given a few leads but have never felt good about the balance of time. I’ve been praying and asking for the right balance of the 3. Tonight reading o can very clearly see I need to get sober much sooner in my lead. AA saved me 4 1/2 years ago from the darkest time of my 57 years and want to honor it and my God with this time.

  17. I’ve been sober, 2 yrs. Been asked to speak Feb 10. I’m a nervous wreck. I know it’s my story. But I do have a sponsor 2nd one. I’m afraid that I won’t remember what to say,and it’s hard for me still with this God word. Each day I’m thankful, not choosing to drink today
    Just really getting anxiety.

  18. I will have 122 days tomorrow when I have been asked to qualify. When asked I pondered for a couple of minutes and then accepted as this is what I’ve been told to do. I’m pretty nervous as it’s my first time after 35 years of using. My story is also more about drugs than alcohol but this is the smallest of 4 groups I regularly attend. I’m doing 16 meetings a week and all bar one allows drug talk. All the prep I’ve done is really think about the things that I think led to my life of escape, a couple of none specific war stories and what happened when I reached my bottom. The rest of it will be on my recovery. The last 4 months have been rough and only now am I starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  19. In the area I attend meetings at – the required time to do some sort of area service is six months of clean/sobriety time. Therefore I would suggest six months of sobriety would make for an interesting story.

  20. With 24 years of continuous sobriety I have told my story numerous times I’m going tonight as a matter of fact to treatment center to tell it. I do not spend all my time on what it used to be like but I do get the identification between myself and the group off the bat. I let them that no matter what I did in life, even if equal or beyond others I could never shake that feeling I was still somehow different. I have seen more people relate to that statement than anything else I can say. they will shake their heads about a lot of things I say, but are in agreement that something about us the alcoholic that was different from other people’ Usually the speaker meeting is 45 minutes the ones I’ve done most of the time and I’ll spend about 15 minutes on what it used to be like rest of it I give it to God. This is the focus of my recovery this is where everything in my life points to where he takes me what he does to me and how he speaks to me through other people and the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous. As s my sponsor told me as a new,comer, either God is our God isn’t. I’ll go with he is.

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