How and where do your stories fit into your presentations?
In the last couple of posts, we looked at the power of stories to emotionally connect our message to our audience. If they can feel what we are saying as well as hear it, the impact will be higher and we can therefore deliver more value.
The last post talked about building your library of stories using techniques like the A-Z list. Once they’ve done it, some people are concerned that they’ll need to remember or create a new story for each presentation that they give. Luckily, for those who are busy, it’s rarely the case that you need to do this.
Most stories, anecdotes and experiences can be tailored and tweaked to match a variety of contexts and presentations. This doesn’t mean that you should change the story entirely and lie to people, but that you can emphasise certain things and downplay, or even remove other parts of the story.
As an example, I take my story from the A-Z about working in a job with a lot of office politics where I felt unhappy and demotivated. Here are some key points of the story, both positive and negative.
· I worked in a radio sales team for a cluster of five, well ranked radio stations in the DC area.
· My job was very simple (admin support) and so I didn’t feel challenged or that I was learning much.
· Most the sales team earned only commission so they were under pressure to keep selling. As a result, requests came to me with a lot of urgency.
· My salary wasn’t very good ($26,000 a year) relative to the living costs and amount of time spent travelling.
· My commute was long (~90 minutes each way for 50km of mostly highway) and frequently unpredictable. Sometimes it would be smooth. At others times traffic would stall for half an hour or more.
· I asked of and shared things with colleagues and in several cases those things were passed on to managers or others who I didn’t plan to share with. I became very guarded with what I said to whom and didn’t feel safe or able to be open.
· We had the chance to meet quite a few celebrity musicians who came to the office. This was great fun and interesting.
· A couple of the DJs got on well with me and even featured me on their shows from time to time. I was something of a novelty being an Englishman in the office. One colleague even asked me to record her voicemail message in my poshest accent.
· My voice was used for some commercials and sound bites. I learned a bit about vocal recording.
This story can be told in so many ways providing I tailor it to the topic or point of my presentation.
· I emphasise the struggles in talking about badly matched jobs and employees (I shouldn’t have stayed there).
· The struggles can also be used as lessons on motivation and engagement at work. This story formed one of two central themes for a motivational speaking engagement I delivered recently (see the picture above). As it discussed internal and external motivation, I focused on my failure to get clarity at work, the challenges in the job and my emotional reactions.
· In talking from a company’s perspective, I can use the story to show how an employee’s engagement and results delivery fall when the environment is poor. In this, I could talk about my managers’ feelings and experiences (or my best estimation of them since I never knew exactly how they felt).
· The story can be funny if I skip the negative emotions and make them more comically exaggerated. A colleague sharing something private to the boss could turn into a funny conversation as I act out trying to explain that, “what I really meant was…”. In this I can also play up being a ‘celebrity’ because of my accent, as that led to some amusing situations, especially as I tried to understand American slang.
· If I’m discussing the power of words and impact on people, I need to focus on how some of our DJs were very well known in the area. People told me frequently how much they paid attention because that particular DJ was speaking. I also saw it in the endorsement and sponsorship fees they received. People cared what they thought.
· When appreciating the skills of others, I look to my experiences with voice recording and, in particular, how much work it was for sound engineers when voice artists aren’t so careful how they record. Now I take a lot more care of how I record, when I speak, what I say and how I leave gaps before re-recording a part after a mistake (it’s easier for the engineer to cut that sound bite out if it’s not all mixed in with other parts).
In each case, the core of the story remains the same. I simply adjust which parts are focused on to give the main message.
Please remember that in storytelling, one of the most powerful components are the emotions and feelings that occur during the events. Facts can be valuable and relevant to the message but people don’t connect to them in the way that they do to emotions. Making it dry doesn’t make people want to pay attention and listen. Making people feel and empathise with the characters in your stories can work. In one exercise, I deliver the same story twice. Once, short and to the point with the facts, and then with the full emotional content and people have started crying the second time I tell it, even when they know what is going to happen.
Feelings and emotions make a strong impact. Tailor your stories your message. Show the feelings.
We feel because we’re human.
We like to listen to others who speak to us as humans.