Story in Three Steps
You have a message that you want to share with the world, or maybe inside an auditorium, conference room, or living room, but you’re unsure how to go about it, so you stare at your computer screen and that damn blinking cursor. What to say, and then, how you’ll say it.
Or you begin writing while envisioning yourself in front of an audience masterfully telling a story and simply typing whatever comes into your mind. Maybe you start by creating some sort of outline, with topics and subtopics that capture every subtle nuance of your subject.
But there’s a better way to go about crafting your story. A way to ensure you’ll have a clear objective in mind from the beginning, identify potential elements that will comprise your story, and deliver it impactfully, so that listeners will understand the essence of your message.
If you think of your story as a journey that you’re taking an audience on (and you should think that way) then the Ideation phase is about defining that story’s destination. It’s a perspective, idea, a discovery, or maybe a prediction you want your audience to understand, and hopefully think about, long after your presentation is finished.
The audience should see the world differently after hearing our talk.
They may not agree with you, but that’s not really the point. A story with impact is less about persuasion and more about offering them new ways to look at a situation. And those shifts in perspective may be different for each person who hears your talk.
And for that shift to happen, your story’s destination must be clear.
It’s one of the hardest parts of crafting a story with impact. It requires a lot of discussion, but it’s often a piece that speakers gloss over. When done right it puts a stake in the ground that every story element must aim at, and if your storyline begins to take a detour, you’ll catch it early on and get your narrative back on track. Begin by asking yourself, “What is the gift I’m giving the audience with my story?“
The narration phase uses your focused message to identify those story elements which lend themselves to creating a complete talk.
As journeys will constitute a specific path along a line of points, or intermediate destinations, a good story consists of mini stories to take the listener from one key point to the next in logical fashion.
The technique I use is to think in “story blocks”, each of which is a mini story that you’ll stitch together like scenes in a movie, or like chapters in a book, to form your narrative.
Approaching a story in this way has an advantage of breaking the narrative into small pieces so you can focus on one part at a time. Rather than always worrying about how the entire story sounds, concentrate on making sure each section sounds right.
These story blocks usually come from one of six story types: a personal story, a second hand story about someone else, a story based on science, a story that relies on statistics, a story that comes from history, or a story about how the future may play out.
Each pair of story blocks will also need a transition that serves as narrative glue. The audience should never feel a disconnect, or a jump, within the storyline. Issues in this area will typically come to light while rehearsing your talk.
At this point you will have a rough draft in hand, with an emphasis on the word “rough”. Ernest Hemingway once said that “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”
Hopefully you were encountering a good bit of that in the Narration phase as you revised each story block and created the transitions to tie them together. As with any writing, word choice is fundamental.
You’ll do more of that as you begin the process of rehearsing your story, and you will begin to think about more than just the words. Vocal variation, facial expressions, and body movements all play a vital part in conveying the meaning of your story to the audience.
You can rehearse alone, in front of friends and family, or record it.
Think about how it sounds to say each sentence. Is the meaning clear? And that means every sentence, not just most of them. Pay close attention to the sentence length too. Writing and reading are very different than speaking and listening, and the audience only has one chance to understand what you are saying. For most speakers it means slowing down the pace a bit, and articulating more than usual.
Keep revising for clarity and impact. And as you become more comfortable with your story, begin to vary your voice to emphasize the meaning of the words. Start using your hands, arms, and body to fully represent the energy and feeling that is inherent in your story.
The reality is that each process (Ideation, Narration, Presentation) requires a far greater explanation to describe properly, many pages in fact, and even then, every speaker (and their story) is unique, and that means the methodology will vary from one person to the next.
The intent here is to provide an outline of the three phase process by which your story can be created in a way that will maximize impact. It’s what the coaching process also entails, but with the added benefit of someone working with you at every turn.