Two Reasons Speaker Stories Do NOT Connect
by Craig Valentine
Why is it that some speaker stories do not connect? Why is it that other speakers connect deeply with each story they tell? What is the difference that makes the difference? There are actually two!
All of us know to tell speaker stories and make points. The problem is that, in our speaker stories, we do not give our characters a chance.
Give Your Characters a Chance. Give them a chance to do what? We need to give our characters a chance to be seen and a chance to be known.
Give Your Characters a Chance to Be Seen in Your Speaker Stories
How can audience members connect with characters that they cannot see? My speech coach, Patricia Fripp, explained to me that the audience members remember what they see in their minds while you speak. Therefore, I believe it is important for us to make our characters visible in our speaker stories. How? Give your characters a description.
If you can give a brief 1-2 line description of your characters in your speaker stories I guarantee that an image will pop into the mind of your audience members. For example, the wonderful Motivational Speaker Keith Harrell describes an experience he had in Kindergarten when he sat next to a girl who wore glasses and pigtails. What image pops into your mind? What do you already assume about the girl? Well, when he delivers her lines she turns out to be exceptionally smart for a 5-year old. I already saw her as intelligent in my mind.
Famed Ohio Sportscaster Jimmy Crum tells a story of two young siblings and before he delivers the young girl’s line he describes her as having blonde hair, blue eyes and innocence written all over her face. I was in the audience, and I could tell that we all had our own vision of her. It was so powerful that the next day in my seminar, I asked the audience members (same audience) to tell me what she looked like. In unison, they yelled out, “Blonde Hair and blue eyes!” Twenty-four hours later they were still seeing her. In fact, they probably still see her now.
Since in speaking we use the rule of three, let me give you one more example. In one of my speaker stories, I introduces a supervisor who tried to keep me employed by offering a significant increase in my salary, this is the description I use: “He was a young guy with black slicked-back hair which made him look like a young Pat Riley.” If you don’t know who Pat Riley is, you can still see the supervisor from the description given. If you do know who Pat Riley is, you can see the supervisor even clearer.
Whatever you do, give your characters in your speaker stories a chance to be seen so that we can connect to them. With your upcoming speeches, make sure each character you introduce has at least a brief description. The more important the character, the more specific the description should be.
Give Your Characters a Chance to Be Known in Your Speaker Stories
In your speaker stories, it is not enough to see your characters. We also need to know them. If, as an audience member, we do not know the characters, we will not care about them. If we do not care about them, we will not connect with them. So how do you get your audience to know the characters? You give what Patricia Fripp calls a back story. Give us an idea from whence they came. How? You give another line (or a few) about their past.
For example, in a speech I give about a formerly homeless man who is at the end of an 18-month program that I used to lead, I use the following scene and dialog to describe him:
“Jermaine, look at you. Eighteen months ago you came into the program as a 6 foot 3 inch 120 pound disheveled man. Your beard was raggedy, your clothes were torn and you had no life in your eyes. Now look at you! You’re clean shaven with your sharp black suit, you’re working with Johns Hopkins Hospital, and your eyes are shining.”
I had already set up more of the back story earlier when I mentioned that the average participant in our program was a 42-year old African-American male with over 18 years of drug use and a criminal background. Later in the story I mentioned that Jermaine represented the average participant. The audience always makes the connection.
The key is to find interesting ways to give the background of each of the major characters in your speaker stories. I happen to give Jermaine’s back story though the actual character dialog, which is more interesting than simply narrating it. By the end of that story, many of the audience members really genuinely care when they find out that Jermaine’s son (who was also my client) was shot and killed. They can see Jermaine, know Jermaine, and hopefully they can now feel for Jermaine. With their hearts open I can now drive home my point.
Your Takeaway Tools for Your Tool Belt
Remember that your audience members will remember what they see in their minds while you are speaking. Give your characters a description so they will be seen in your speaker stories and give them a back story so they will be known. These are the differences that make the difference. As a result, you will connect more deeply than you ever have and be more memorable than you have even been!
Do You Want More?
For more information including giving back stories, descriptions, moving with a purpose, integrating dialog, and other necessary storytelling strategies, check out Craig’s CD entitled How to Go from Lackluster to Blockbuster Storytelling: Craig Valentine Live from Ohio. Visit Craig at http://www.craigvalentine.com.
Craig Valentine is Toastmasters International’s 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking. He is an author and a national and international speaker, seminar leader and coach.
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