Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Are You Storytelling Challenged?

Storytelling is the sinewy strength of your ability to Speak & Deliver.

Our lives are full of stories, from the ones we read, watch, and listen to to the stories we live everyday. Stories provide the muscle, skin, hair, and even the makeup on the skeleton of our speech structure. It's one thing to have a great point to share with your audience, but stories turn your points into messages, and messages drive your point into the heart of your audience.

Random Kid w/Recorder
Storytelling comes easier to some than others, just like most other talents, from math to music. But just like I eventually pumped up my mental muscles enough to balance an equation and play Mary had a Lamb on my recorder, people with Storytelling Challenges can learn the basics of creating a compelling yarn fairly quickly.

The most difficult part of overcoming a Storytelling Challenge is identifying its existence. Does your speech go from point to point with little or no practical examples to back them up? Are you regaling your audiences with concept after concept assuming they will understand their value without anecdotal evidence? If you're just telling your audience your thoughts, you are lecturing. When you anchor your thoughts in actual events you move to teaching. When those events become emotional and visceral, you graduate to persuasion - transforming you into an effective speaker who moves audiences.

Some with a Storytelling Challenge do work to rectify it, and toss in a sentence or two to back up their ideas. But knowing you have to bang the keys of the piano doesn't allow you to play Beethoven, or even Chopstics. Do the stories you do tell consist of Spartanesque pronouns, verbs and nouns, with nary an adjective or proper name to be found?

Don't ask yourself - you probably won't see it for yourself. Ask your spouse, your friends, your family - they'll tell you if you have a Storytelling Challenge. So will your evaluator at Toastmasters, or the coach you hire to help you with your next speech. Videoing your speech will help as well - hearing yourself as others hear you does wonders for self-understanding.

Storytelling, of course, is a skill that is worthy of a blog of its own. There are plenty of books and audio series available to help you improve your skills. But you don't have all day, so lets stick to basic principles.

Example A: "Persistence is the key to success." OK, good point.
Example B: "Persistence is the key to success. My daughter learned to ride her bike after several days of practicing her technique." Now you have a good point mixed with some anecdotal evidence. We're getting warmer.

Random Kid who fell off her bike.

Now try this: "Persistence is the key to success. The first time my 6 year old daughter Riley tried to ride her pink princess bike without training wheels, she took a hard fall. She ran back into the house never wanting to see that bike again! I wouldn't let her give up though. The next day, we went out together and tried again. It took a few days, but now Riley is an expert rider, and loves the feeling of the wind blowing through her blonde hair as she zooms down our street."

Same story as Example B. Same point, same outcome. Different feeling. The first story is clinical, the second visceral. You know more - who my daughter is, how old, her hair color, what type of bike she has, and have a mental picture of her joyfully riding her bike successfully. You feel the success of the statement through the story, versus being told to accept the validity of my point via an emotionless piece of evidence.

This story can be further strengthened by adding dialogue between me and my daughter, adding a third character to the mix (maybe mom, or a girl across the street who can already ride her bike), and providing more description of her pain and anguish after the first crash.

Improving your stories will improve your speaking without you even knowing it. When you tell emotion-filled tales, your voice naturally changes, and gestures begin to flow from you subconsciously. Allow yourself to get caught up in the moment enough to keep your audience in the moment.

No matter how sturdy the bones of your speech may be, they will not stick together very long without emotional muscles anchoring them in the minds of your audience. That emotion will only be found in your stories - which means your ability to Speak & Deliver is riding on whether or not you can spend enough time exercising your ability to Speak in emotional equations, and Deliver verbal music to your audience's ears.


  1. You want "visceral"? Alrighty!

    "Nietzsche famously opined "that which does not kill us makes us stronger". What's largely forgotten, though, is that he yelled that particular comment to his parents while learning to ride a bicycle. It takes a certain degree of reckless persistence to master a bicycle without training wheels. Persistence...and 330 dollars. That's how much money my wife and I spent in various hospitals as a result of teaching my three kids to ride their bicycles in a rather hilly neighborhood. 2 broken arms and one nasty gash that required stitches. Many kids have "war stories" about learning to ride...my kids simply show their scars. Learning to ride a bit more painful to my children than most, but they've become very strong, very confident riders."

  2. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is going to higher level :) Thanks Bob!



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