Three Reasons We Don’t Tell Our Story

Some folks are eager to tell us their story. They know their message is one that others could benefit from hearing, and they’re always looking for an opportunity to share their ideas, their wisdom, or the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Whenever I meet one of these people and mention that I used to produce TEDx events, they quickly shift into pitch mode, expressing a desire to be on stage. They’re not the least bit shy and their storytelling passion is front and center.

But I also meet a lot of folks with powerful stories worth sharing, yet they’ll come up with reasons to avoid telling that story to an audience. They’re resigned to remaining silent as I hear them say something like the following…

  • I’m not a great public speaker, and I’m not a professional
  • I just don’t know how to make my story sound interesting
  • I might make a mistake, or even forget what I want to say

Sound familiar? Well, you’re in good company, but I’m here to tell you that none of these reasons should stop you, or even slow you down. So let’s address them, and get you motivated to begin sharing your important stories with the world.

You were born a storyteller

That’s the first thing I want every potential speaker to know, and to embrace. As babies we learn about the world around us by watching and listening. And it doesn’t take long before we learn to speak and begin telling our stories. Simple stories at first, but stories that gain in confidence and complexity day by day.

Think about the thousands of stories you’ve told since – to your family, kids in the neighborhood, and your classmates at school. You’re always telling stories. That said, we’re rarely taught how to tell a story designed to impact others – a story that’s very intentional in its wording, structure and delivery – a story with meaning beyond recounting past events.

Like any other skill that we wish to master – playing an instrument or a sport, for example – we must spend a lot of time and effort to make that happen. The more times you speak in public, and the more effort you put into writing and rehearsing your stories, the better you will get at it – so you don’t need to be a great speaker (yet), or a professional, you just need to be you to tell your story.

Create an interesting story

While we’ve spent our lives telling random stories to each other, stories told to an audience are more intentional, and structured to express an important idea or convey a specific viewpoint. So there are a number of skills to be mastered.

I approach the story process using three steps: ideation, narration, presentation. Before you write a single word of your story you need to define the main message that will drive the narrative and represent the gift that you’re giving the audience. The proverbial pearl of wisdom.

Using a classic marketing mantra, ask three questions regarding your audience:

  • What do you want them to think?
  • How do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to do?

Will the essence of your story shift their perspective, teach them something new, touch them emotionally, challenge preconceived notions, or inspire them to act? Ideally, your message is original, imaginative, one they haven’t heard before.

With clarity on your subject, look for story elements that will support your view. Check out these Story Blocks for examples of how you can create a compelling narrative. Utilize elements that will be of interest to your audience, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a captivating story.

Mastering your narrative

Telling a story that includes specific elements – events, observations, feelings, thoughts – presented in a specific order to maximize impact, requires practice. Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse some more. Rehearse by yourself, then do it in front of friends to get feedback. Do they understand the intent of your story?

Take advantage of your phone, tablet or laptop by recording your talk. When played back you will hear yourself saying words you wouldn’t normally use in conversation. Editing at this stage will result in a more naturally sounding talk. Next, capture your presentation on video. Note your body language and facial expressions. Word are always most important, but delivery can add emphasis.

You don’t need to memorize your entire talk (more on this at a later date) but you should know your opening and closing by heart. Starting strong gets the audience engaged, while closing strong will make it memorable. You also need to remember each element of your story, and the sequence of presentation. Delivering your narrative out of order will often confuse the listener.

As to making mistakes, the audience doesn’t have a copy of your talk, so in most cases they won’t even notice if something is missing. But if you do catch yourself saying the wrong thing, such as stating a wrong date or quoting an incorrect number, pause for a moment, take a breath, and correct yourself. The audience will appreciate your honesty.

Conclusion

I could spend hours going into each of these subjects at length, but the bottom line is that there’s a strategy for dealing with each one and you should never allow them to get in the way of sharing your story with a larger audience – your story can change the world!

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Creating a Vivid and Continuous Dream

John Gardner was an accomplished author, literary critic and university professor – a rather rare combination. He was one of the best teachers of fiction writing, and his two books on the topic, The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist, have helped thousands learn the craft.

If you read my previous blog posted titled The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but?, you’ll know that my approach to personal storytelling is to stick to what’s true and not delve into the world of fiction. That said, we can still learn much from the methods used to write fiction, which is why I’m sharing a few quotes from Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist that apply equally to nonfiction.

…the best stories set off a vivid and continuous dream…

We’ve all been there. Reading a book that you can’t set down or watching a movie that has you leaning forward, barely breathing. When you get lost in a compelling story, the ‘real’ world has a way of disappearing, replaced by the narrative at hand. It’s a common experience with great fiction, but is also happens when we see a speaker live on stage that has everyone in the theater spellbound. While there are many factors at work in such situations, word choice and an eye for detail are key elements.

…one sign of a writer’s potential is his especially sharp ear – and eye – for language. The better the writer’s feel for language and its limits, the better his odds become.

As with most talents, this comes naturally to some, but most of us have to work at developing this illusive skill. The good news is we can learn it with practice. Noticing cliche words and phrases, or those lacking imagination or specificity. Our story’s first pass often contains a lot of safe language. Words that easily come to mind, and work okay, but we can do better.

We need only to figure out exactly what it is that we’re trying to say – partly by saying it and then by looking it over to see if it says what we really mean – and to keep fiddling with the language until whatever objections we may consider raising seem to fall away.

Writing and revising is tedious, but it’s the only way to move from just okay to excellent, from a general to a more specific meaning. If the goal is to give a speech, as opposed to writing an essay, then the process will involve rehearsing and editing so that the worlds don’t just read beautifully, but sound superb. How do we do that?

Read more

De Oratore by Cicero – Book 2 – The Emotions of Oratory

In addition to being a lawyer, politician and philosopher, Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero) was also a preeminent Roman orator. Drawing on the teaching of Greek rhetoric and the craft of oration in Roman times, he composed De Oratore to highlight the principles he believed were at play whenever someone planned to speak on an important topic.

While political speeches and legal proceedings were at the forefront of public speaking during this time, the concepts presented here are valuable in the drafting of any nonfiction narrative. Written in 55 BC, and comprised of three books, De Oratore is a dialogue that is set in 91 BC.

Cicero shares a dialogue, reported to him by Cotta, among a group of excellent political men and orators, who came together to discuss the crisis and general decline of politics. They met in the garden of Lucius Licinius Crassus’ villa in Tusculum.

Lucius Licinius CrassusQuintus Mucius ScaevolaQuintus Catulus
Marcus Antonius OratorGaius Aurelius CottaPublius Sulpicius Rufus

Marcus Antonius speaking to Catulus:

For mankind make far more determinations through hatred or love or desire or anger or grief or joy or hope or fear or error or some other affection of mind than from regard to truth or any settled maxim or principle of right or judicial form or adherence to the laws.

It’s common to believe we make decisions based on logic first and emotions second – does it make sense, and then, do we like it – but sadly the reverse is our reality. Our choices need to feel good first, and if they do, then we look toward the facts as a way to seal the deal.

It’s the same process in storytelling, as well in storylistening. Too often a speaker will want to offer information as their narrative’s foundation, layering on the human elements afterward. I encourage clients to change course and give listeners a reason to empathize before engaging their brains. As I see it, information invites judgement, while emotions invite connection.

Antonius then offers:

The feelings of the hearers are conciliated by a person’s dignity, by his actions, by the character of his life; particulars which can more easily be adorned by eloquence if they really exist than be invented if they have no existence.

While the previous passage dealt with two elements of Aristotle’s rhetoric; Pathos (emotions) and Logos (logic), in this case, however, Antonius is addressing the mysterious nature of the third element – Ethos (ethics).

What is the audience’s gut feel about the speaker? Do they feel he or she is honest, authentic and trustworthy? Some speakers will stretch the truth a bit, embellishing their abilities and track record as a way to impress the audience. But in such cases the audience will usually see through a smoke screen of eloquent delivery.

Keep these observations in mind as you think about the sequence of your story blocks. If the audience believes what you’re saying, then finds their heart touched by your words, and the logic holds up, you will maximize the impact of your story.

[De Oratore excerpts from Delphi Complete Works of Cicero, Translated by J. S. Watson]

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

The Emotional Side of Storytelling

Personal storytelling is all about sharing and understanding. The sharing of your experiences, views, insights, opinions, perspectives and wisdom, in the hopes that your audience – in front of people and/or by way of video or audio production – will gain a newfound understanding of the important topic at the center of your story, as well as better knowing you, the speaker.

In order to achieve this enhanced level of understanding, and to foster positive change as a result, there are two questions that I always pose to a speaker as they develop their story:

1) What will the audience think?

2) How will the audience feel?

The thinking part is a mixture of information and logic – the facts that you offer to support your message, and the way in which those facts are arranged. (more on this in a future post)

The feeling part is about the emotional reaction(s) that your audience will have, both during and after your presentation. In most cases a great talk will create feelings of being inspired, empowered and hopeful. Despite the negative aspects and implications that you may reveal during your speech, as problems are rarely upbeat in nature, you also include a proposed solution that invites the audience to participate, thus offering the vision of a brighter future.

For example, a story about traveling to Mars in a spaceship may evoke feelings of excitement, as well as fear, pride and hope, while a talk about overcoming the challenges you faced in order to become a successful entrepreneur may evoke feelings of connection and empathy, as well as inspiration and determination.

Without an emotional reaction to your message,
an audience will simply become apathetic.

Listed below are examples of how an audience might feel during or after hearing your story. It is by no means comprehensive – it’s up to you to determine the emotions that you want to convey in your story – so feel free to add to this collection as you see fit.

Feeling wiserFeeling smarterFeeling depressed
Feeling lovedFeeling hopefulFeeling challenged
Feeling proudFeeling inspiredFeeling recognized
Feeling happyFeeling reverentFeeling empathetic
Feeling fearfulFeeling powerfulFeeling entertained
Feeling scaredFeeling liberatedFeeling determined
Feeling excitedFeeling validatedFeeling understood
Feeling humbleFeeling awestruckFeeling empowered
Feeling curiousFeeling connectedFeeling enlightened

As you draft each Story Block while working on your manuscript, think about the emotion you want the audience to feel during each point in the story. While recognizing the importance of word choice, do the words/phrases/sentences as written properly represent those feelings?

And when you enter the presentation phase and begin rehearsing, make sure your voice also matches the intended emotion. This is where vocal variation can really shine in its ability to bring your words to life. Record yourself, then play it back and listen to the tone, volume and inflection of your voice. If you’re rehearsing in front of friends or family, ask them if the emotions in your voice match the intent of your words. They’ll usually hear any mismatches.

Storytelling Emotions CollageEmotional Reaction Photos by Robin Higgins at Pixabay

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Using Story for Persuading, Influencing, or Most Importantly, for Understanding

If you spend time, as I do, reading about the art and practice of storytelling you will often come across reference to the notion of persuading or influencing as the objective of crafting and presenting the story that you have in mind. I hear this from other speaker coaches, as well as renowned public speakers, and it’s not wrong, but it’s never been the way I see things.

Having watched a few thousand talks, and worked with a few hundred speakers, the stories which impacted me the most were the ones that informed me, expanded my knowledge, or brought forward a new way of looking at an important issue, not those trying to convince me that their way of thinking was better than mine.

Persuading
Causing someone to do something, or believe something, through reasoning or argument

Influencing
Having an effect on someone with the desire to change their behaviors, beliefs, or opinions

Understanding
The ability to comprehend based on knowledge of a subject, problem, process, or situation

When working with speakers I’ll ask them to think about what their audience will understand differently after hearing their talk. And there’s not a single answer to that question, as each person will have a different mindset before your talk begins.

And while it’s impossible to know what everyone listening understands in the moment, it’s a productive exercise to at least define a number of general categories (half a dozen or so) and then write out how you see their thinking/understanding transform.

For example, “Most people have no idea how big the refugee crisis really is, but after hearing my talk they will understand that nearly 1 in 100 people around the world has been displaced from their home.” [Watch Brian Sokol’s TEDx Talk]

Take that view a level deeper as you think about your audience by age, income, gender, ethnicity, education. How would a native understand your talk differently than an immigrant? Or a college student, as compared to a politician or business leader?

This exercise will prove beneficial while editing your manuscript. Consider your choice of words, and how deep you take your explanation of the issue. Remember, it’s not about having the audience think like you, it’s about them thinking differently than before they heard your talk.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved