I’d like to share a story about my mentee Juan Vargas*. Juan has “A Sound Plan for a Crazy Idea” and is using public speaking opportunities to create excitement and engagement for his ambitious project to build a sustainable city.
This is Juan’s first version about his failure to get the project off the ground:
I set up an NGO, in Colombia, and I tried to contact the government, the leftist guerilla and funding institutions.
At that time, Colombia was at the peak of its internal war and I was lacking experience and a fat bank account, so inevitably, I crashed.
I packed my rucksack and decided to go travel the world and get enlightened.
This is the current version of the same story, after we explored the juicy details together:
At the time, Colombia was at the peak of its ongoing war with guerrilla movements. I went from one governmental office to another looking for partners and funding. First I went to the Office of the President, “we’re not responsible” they said. Then I went to the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Finance, the Department of National Planning, – every meeting was with low level employees and at the last one with the Ministry of the Interior, a disinterested, mustached fellow Colombian says to me, “Look man, we are in the middle of a f—— war! Who cares about a sustainable city!”
Then I set up a talk with a high-level person in the guerrilla movement. At first, he listened quite intently and then he said, “You know, we expect to be running the government in 5 years. And if anyone is going to create a revolution here is going to be us! Forget about your sustainable city or we’ll just have to kill you!”
Which one do you find more compelling? Why?
Compelling stories highlight conflict. We empathize with the challenges and disappointments the hero is faced with. Dialogue between the characters, as well as descriptive language helps listeners to become active and start their own film rolling.
When you are telling a story, follow these tips for storytelling success:
Define your story. Great stories have a conflict and a resolution. What is yours?
Develop your story structure. Here is the classic Hero Story structure:
Once Upon a Time – this section describes the way things were.
Transition – your hero faces a clear challenge.
Resolution – your hero understands the path to victory and takes the necessary steps.
Intensify the human interest element. Add descriptions of time, place and emotions. Be specific! Compare: “I work up and went to work” is not as effective as “One cold Friday morning in December I shivered as I trudged down the snowy street on my way to the office for the last time.”
Add dialogue. Inject life into your story with lines of conversation. “If you don’t stop pushing this sustainable city idea we are going to have to kill you!”
Use descriptive words. Appeal to the senses and stir your audience’s imagination with words that help them see, feel, smell and taste. Compare: ” I ate dinner.” vs. “I dug into a plate of piping hot meatloaf, buttered greens beans, and fluffy mashed potatoes.”
Use the active voice. Choose verbs that convey action. In the active voice, the subject comes before the verb: “I made a mistake.” (active). The subject takes responsibility for the action. In the passive voice, the subject comes after the verb or is omitted: “A mistake was made.” We don’t know who is the authority responsible. Sound familiar? This is how politicians and business leaders often speak.
Use present tense. Even if the story happened in the past, tell it as if it was happening in the present for greater impact: “I had this client who smelled like garlic and onions” compared with “I have this client, who smells like garlic and onions.”
Use short words. Big words sound impressive. But the most memorable and effective words are short. They are easier for your listeners to follow and remember. As Winston Churchill said, “Short words are the best and old words when short are the best of all.”
Use short sentences. Shorter sentences are easier for you to say and easier for your audience to understand. You can use longer sentences periodically to add variety. There’s a good reason the most memorable lines from famous speeches are short, rarely exceeding 20 words.
Use everyday words. One revealing study found that adults can understand 96 percent of all spoken language with a vocabulary of just 2,000 words. Although most native English speakers know thousands more, they tend to use the same limited pool of words in conversation. When speaking to a general audience, you should too.
Storytelling is the single most powerful communication skill to convey knowledge, appeal to listener’s emotions and get people to act. Next time you tell a story, add these tips and you will be a credible, confident, and compelling storyteller.
Wishing you a story-worthy day!
Dyane Neiman is the Moving Speaker. She helps business professionals at all levels, who are challenged to speak in public, in English. She always encourages people to use storytelling to move audiences to action. Get in touch at email@example.com
* Used with permission from Juan Vargas.
Tags: Storytelling Berlin, speechwriting skills, public speaking tools and tips, personalize your speech, connect with audience, storytelling, storytelling tips.