Practice #4: They breathe life into their stories.
Stories are the key to human connection. They are a speaker’s most powerful tool for connecting with an audience and delivering a memorable message. Many speakers know this, yet still fail to use stories as effectively as they could. Highly effective speakers set themselves apart by relying on these three principles of effective storytelling.
1. A good story will make the audience feel something.
Remember what I said before about your specific purpose when speaking? It’s the answer to the question, “What do I want my listeners to think, do, or feel differently when I’m done?” Better yet, for a truly effective and memorable speech, you should ask, “What do I want my listeners to think, do AND feel differently?” Feeling is the key, because all decision-making is ultimately emotional – and you want each listener to make the decision to accept, remember, and act upon what you have to say. That means you have to make an emotional connection to make a difference. Stories are the best tool for making that connection.
So, how do you make an emotional connection with a story? Start with a character your listeners will care about, and then put him or her in a situation where we want to know what happens next. Use just enough description to draw us into the scene, while leaving details for us to fill in using our own imaginations. Instead of describing what the character is thinking, reveal it using internal dialogue. Replace lengthy narration with succinct dialogue between characters, which can serve to drive the action while drawing us in at the same time.
2. At the heart of a good story are conflict, resolution, and change.
Since using a story is about making a difference, we have to see a difference being made. To do this, a highly effective speaker pays careful attention to what is called the character’s “story arc.” That means we, the audience, must see the character’s initial situation, the conflict or struggle that threatens that situation, the resolution to that conflict or struggle, and – most important (and frequently overlooked) of all – how the character is changed by what happened. When we experience that change, we will want something similar for ourselves. Until we see it, we won’t desire it.
3. Character dialogue and reactions provide a natural source of humor.
Some speakers seem to be naturally funny. Most of us have to work at it. The good news is, humor techniques can be learned. And one of the first techniques you can employ to uncover humor naturally within your stories is to use quoted dialogue. Character reactions, when they are fresh and immediate, often invoke humor.
For example, I sometimes tell the story of how I was thrust into a training position with no formal training in how to train or to design a curriculum.
“So I called the adult-education expert I had known the longest, and I said, ‘Mom? Help!’”
This always gets a laugh. Now imagine if I had said, “So, since my mom had had a long career in adult education, I called her up and asked for help.” No laughs there. What’s the difference? Succinct, quoted dialogue. The surprise – that the expert I called was my mother – is delivered at the end of a short setup, and the punch line is in the form of dialogue. Try applying this technique to your favorite story and see what results you get.
There is, of course, a great deal more that can be said on the subject of storytelling. If you haven’t already, I hope you will follow the embedded links above and read some of my other posts on the subject, as it is one I come back to frequently.
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