Story in Three Steps
You have a message to share with the world, or 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, equally important, how to say it.
Or you begin writing while envisioning yourself in front of an audience masterfully telling a story, typing whatever comes into your mind. Maybe you start by creating an outline with topics and subtopics that capture every subtle nuance of your subject.
But there’s a better way to go about crafting a 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 Ideation is about defining that story’s destination. It’s a perspective, idea, a discovery, or maybe it’s a prediction you want your audience to understand, and hopefully think about, long after your presentation is finished.
They may end up agreeing with you, but it’s not the goal. Stories with impact are less about persuasion and more about giving people a new way to look at some situation. Those shifts in perspective are different for each person who hears your talk, which you should keep in mind.
It’s one of the most important parts of crafting a story with impact, as it requires a lot of consideration, 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, so if your storyline begins to take a detour, you’ll catch it early on and get your narrative back on track.
Ask yourself, “What do I want an audience to understand after hearing my talk that they didn’t previously understand?“
The narration phase uses your focused message to identify those story elements which lend themselves to creating an engaging talk that captures their interest.
As journeys 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, always in a logical fashion so they don’t get lost.
The technique I use is to think about “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 this way has the advantage of breaking the narrative into small pieces so you can focus on one part at a time. Rather than worrying about how the entire story sounds, focus on making sure each section sounds right.
These story blocks will come from one of ten story types:
♦ a personal story based on your experiences
♦ a story that is really somebody else’s story
♦ a story that’s based on scientific research
♦ a story which includes statistical analysis
♦ a story based upon past historical events
♦ a story addressing an opposite viewpoint
♦ a story about how the future can play out
♦ a story which references a call-to-action
♦ a story which is based on a quotation
♦ a story based upon descriptive prose
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.” So true.
I’m sure you dealt with that during the Narration phase while revising each story block and creating transitions which tied them together. As with any type of writing, choosing the right word is fundamental.
The revising process will continue as you rehearse your story and begin thinking about more than just the words you’re speaking. Vocal variation, facial expressions, and body movements all play a vital part by conveying the meaning of your story to the audience.
A question speakers often ask is, “What’s the best way to rehearse my talk?” Well, you can rehearse it alone in your bedroom, living room or office, rehearse in front of family and friends, or use a digital device to record yourself. The important thing is to rehearse, and do so often. The more you practice, the better you’ll know your material.
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 sentence length. Writing and reading tend to be 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 at which they speak, using shorter sentences, 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. All of you should be part of your presentation.
Transforming an important idea or message into a story that will impact an audience can be a daunting task as it’s not something that most people do frequently, but using this guideline will help tremendously. Always define the purpose of your talk before you begin writing, identify the best story blocks, and never shortchange the rehearsal process.