Archive for the ‘Storytelling Strategies’ Category

Tell Them Your Story


Tell them your storyThe Case for Storytelling

Nothing will pull an audience into your speech more than telling them a captivating story and unfortunately, I have to say, that many speakers miss the mark entirely when it comes to this. I have watched speakers go through an entire speech – some even as long as 25 -30 minutes without telling a single story. They make point after point and talk about ideas and concepts, but they don’t tell any stories to anchor those points and ideas.  And I have to say, that these speakers are missing out on a big opportunity to really connect with their audience and drive their message home.

Today, more than ever, in a time when we are living in a world where there is so much chatter coming at us from all angles, we need to be able to distinguish ourselves by  telling our unique stories to help cut through the static noise that we get bombarded with everyday so that we can get our message across.  A great speech is one that leaves an audience with a  take-away message that lasts longer than the time it takes for the audience to sit through your speech. In fact, most speakers don’t even accomplish that!  When you effectively tell stories with anchored messages, it  helps your audience hold onto the message of your speech for months, years or even a life time. That is the potential power you can have as a speaker as you will soon see.


The History of Storytelling

The  medium of storytelling has been around for thousands of years and used to engage and connect with people and the masses.  it’s also the medium that is used in schools today to teach and educate our children.  However, somehow as we grew older, we lost touch with this great art. The bible is full of stories.  The first book of the old testament, genesis, begins with, “In the beginning  God created the heavens and the earth.”  And since the dawn of time, all great storytellers,  from the ancient Greeks through Shakespeare and up to the present day, have dealt with this fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality.

Conflict is what people deal with in life on a  daily basis. Your boss fires you, a big customer threatens to leave,  your relationship with your spouse of 15 years goes up in flames. – Your life is thrown out of balance, and you seek to put it back.  This is the essence of what we look for in story.  Thousands of years ago, the problems and issues people had were not the same that we have today,  but the conflict was still there.  It was a different kind of conflict but the elements were still the same.  And this hasn’t changed through thousands of years.  From the walls of the caves in ancient Egypt, to the stage and theater in Shakespearean  times, to  today where the primary source of story  is through film and television – the essence of story hasn’t changed, only the medium of which we tell it has.

The  Powerful Effect of Story

Through the age’s,  the power of storytelling was able move the masses to action for both good and evil.  We saw it happen in our time to move people to evil , when Adolf Hitler used story to brainwash an entire nation to his way of thinking and he almost succeeded in taking over the world. In fact, this is precisely why Plato the famous Greek philosopher who was known as one of the best poets and storytellers in his time, put a ban on storytelling saying that, “Storytellers would conceal their ideas in the seductive emotions of art.”  And this is exactly what Hitler did.

In contrast, we’ve also seen the power of story used for doing  good. On September 12th 1962, John F. Kennedy delivered a captivating speech at Rice University where he envisioned and predicted that the United States would send a man to the moon before the end of the decade. And we succeeded and his vision was realized. Kennedy triumphed in rounding up an entire nation to this good cause, and he did it using the power of story.  Because Kennedy was a visionary and was able to see the promise of the future, he was able to bestow that passion and vision on a nation.  And he did it through the power of story.  Although  Kennedy didn’t realize it at the time, he was actually using  “foreshadowing” which is a storytelling technique that has now become quite popular in the making of movies.  

One of Plato’s prized students was Aristotle, whom we all know to be another famous Greek philosopher. Aristotle  decided to write a piece called “Poetics” where he explained his beliefs on the art of story. In his essay, Aristotle outlined the framework of famous Greek tragedies and from this evolved the basic structure of a good story. And it’s this structure that has been used ever since in millions of books, movies and other storytelling mediums around the world. 

Story is  a Metaphor for Life

Robert McKee, the famous screenwriting guru who has trained thousands  of successful screenwriters and novelists, and who also is the author of the popular book  “story” said this; “story is a metaphor for life.”  And what he meant by this is that we all look to story to try and make sense of our own lives. Have you ever watched a riveting drama and strongly identified with the character’s struggle?  I’m sure you probably have. I know I have.

One  movie  that I remember watching where  I had this kind of powerful identification with the  protagonist ( main character)  was when I  saw  “The Pursuit of Happyness” with  Will Smith , and which was based on a true story about the life of Chris Gardner who struggled at a point in his life (like most of us) trying to make ends meet. His wife leaves him, and he is left with his 5 year old son living day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck,  and eventually ends up being evicted and put on the streets. The story  has a very powerful climactic ending  where  we become so happy for the character  (Chris Gardner)  because he was able to triumph against all odds.  Doe this sounds  familiar? The movie exemplifies the struggle of triumph over diversity -which is something that we can all easily reflect on within our own lives. And watching these kinds of stories allows us to reflect and make sense about what’s going on in our own lives.  You see, we strongly connect with these characters because we could reflect their struggle to the struggle that we are going through in our own lives.  Watching a character struggle  against powerful adversity and then triumph gives us hope for our own future and makes us believe that we too can triumph and get through our own challenges. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to speaking, to  be able to get our audience to reflect on their own lives, is  the number one reason why we must tell stories to our audiences. When our audience  hears us talk about our own experience, they can take our experience and parallel it to what they are going through in their own  lives.  In fact, I remember a number of months ago a woman in one of my audiences who walked up to me after delivering a speech and she said, “ Lewis, I really needed to hear that message today. Your story about triumphing over your fear really hit home.  Thank you!”

That experience  reinforced in me as to why we as speakers are up there in the first place talking to our audiences. We are there to make a connection and leave them with an important message. And telling stories, not only is the best way to engage and captivate an audience, but it’s the way that will allow our audiences to take our stories and our experiences and reflect and make sense of what’s going on in their own lives. So in conclusion, don’t just make points like most speakers out there do when they deliver their speeches. Instead, do as the founder of the national speakers association Bill Gove had once said, “Tell a story and make a point.” 

How to Lose Your Audience – Even if You Are Funny

You prepared a great speech, you infused your speech with some great stories. You incorporated a lot  of  good dialogue and you also uncovered some really good  laugh lines. You honed and practiced your speech for hours on end. And then the final day comes. You get up on stage, start your speech with a really solid opening. You get to your first laugh line and receive the laugh you were expecting. Fantastic! You then get to your second laugh line and you get another good laugh from the audience, but then something strange starts to happen. Every next laugh line in your speech now seems to receive less and less audience reaction. You know that this has nothing to do with your lines because they are extremely funny, and some were much funnier than your laugh lines at the start of your speech where you had received great audience reaction.

Why did you lose your audience?
So what happened? Why did you receive diminishing audience reaction as your speech went along? It wasn’t your stories – because they were great. It wasn’t your laugh lines because they were funny. What probably happened to you and which most newbie speakers tend to do is  step on their audience’s laughter. So what does stepping on the audience laughter exactly mean?

Speaking is a two way street

Remember, Speaking is not a monologue. It is a dialogue. Speaking is to way street between you and your audience.  When you speak, you are giving the audience a gift. You give them the gift of uplifting inspiration, humor, and the ability to embrace change. The audience also gives you back a gift. Their gift to you is their involvement and participation, and when you are funny, they will even give you a good hearty laugh!

People want to give back

In his book, “The psychology of persuasion”, Kevin Hogan lays out 12 specific laws of persuasion. The first law he calls “The Law of Reciprocity,” which he defines as, “When someone gives you something of perceived value, you immediately respond with the desire to give something back (p. 24).”

When you give someone a gift, they want to reciprocate that gesture to you. That is why during the holiday season, there is so much back and forth gift giving. How would you feel, if all you did was receive gifts, but you never reciprocated and gave back – probably not  to good. I know I wouldn’t.

When you give the audience the gift of humor, they reciprocate to you with the gift of laughter. Now, what happens when you don’t let the audience have their laugh and you interrupt and move on with your speech without letting your audience take it all in and finish the laugh they started? You know what happens? They just stop laughing. Why should they laugh if they know that you are going to interrupt and not let them savor in the joy of laughter? This is a common mistake that most speakers make.

The Audience gives you a gift

When the audience gives you a laugh, it is a gift to you. Think about it. Weren’t you happy when the audience laughed? As speakers, we work very hard to develop and uncover humor within our stories. So when we receive laughter from the audience, it makes us feel really good deep down inside. We get the feeling of accomplishment – like “we did it”. I know for myself, I always strive very hard to uncover the humor within my stories, because not only do I feel good when my audience laughs at my lines but I also know that through humor, you can get really educate and drive and anchor your points to your audience.

How to Not Step on Your Laugh

So how do you not step on your laugh? The solution is quite simple. Just don’t do it! Not stepping on your laugh is just simply allowing your audience to participate in your humor. Get used to pausing and allowing the audience to enjoy the laugh. There can also be times when some of your humorous lines can illicit what is known as a rolling laughter. This is when sections of your audience react off of each others’ laughter. This can sometimes last for quite some time (depending on the size of your audience). You do not want to interrupt this. This is what the audience wants – let them have it, even at the cost of cutting down your speech. Remember, you connection with your audience is of utmost importance – even at the expense of cutting some of your content out. Let the audience have their laugh. They will love you for it!

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How to Breathe More Life Into Your Speech

Dialogue is the key to human interaction

One evening a number of months ago, I was hanging out with my friends at the local Starbucks near my hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Catching up with these friends was refreshing, because they were from out of town and I haven’t Seen them in a while.

Talking about the old times and each of us telling stories about the crazy stuff that we did back in the day, brought out so much laughter and humor that we all went home with our stomachs hurting. But I didn’t care – because I haven’t laughed so hard in a very long time.

So when I sat down to write this blog, it was that evening out with my friends, that kept flashing into my mind because the fabulous humorous interaction that we had, could not of happened without dialogue.

The Heart of Speaking is Storytelling

Think about your own life. Isn’t the natural interaction that you have with your family, your friends and people you meet in everyday life the source of that spontaneous humor? When it comes to public speaking, the sad truth however, is that most people never even think about using dialogue in their speeches.

These speakers have absolutely no clue that the humor that they are always wanting and searching for to include in their speeches, can be found in their everyday dialogue. Bill Gove, the first president of the national speakers association said, “that telling a story and making a point is the essence of public speaking”. So the heart of every speech is storytelling and the heart of every story is dialogue. Without dialogue you don’t have a real-feel story, instead, what you have is pure narration.

Dialogue brings your speech to life

Narration of a story is boring, dull and feels like it happened ages ago. You see, off – stage most people have absolutely no problem interacting with other people using dialogue. Why? – Because dialogue is our natural way of interacting. It’s all happening in real time – it’s spontaneous. And that’s where the humor is. It is found – in the spontaneous interaction between people.

Most speakers are Newscasters

When most speakers take the stage, they turn into narrators and newscasters, and any story that is told. is done through narration and not dialogue. With narration you can’t bring the characters in your speech to life – with dialogue you can. With narration the audience doesn’t get drawn into your story – with dialogue your audience does. With narration your audience can’t experience the emotions of your characters -with dialogue they can. Use narration and you will be like most speakers. Use dialogue and you will be like World Class Speakers.

Find the humor in your life

So how can you invoke more humor into your speeches? You find it by using more dialogue. If humor is found in the spontaneous dialogue that people have in everyday life, wouldn’t it make sense that if you just transported that same dialogue into your speeches that you would find the humor as well?

Just think about it. Not only can you import your real life stories into your speech, but you also have the opportunity to create dialogue between yourself and your audience, and then comment on the interaction between you and your characters within your stories to illicit more humor – elements that will be discussed in future blog posts!

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