Do you truly know how to powerfully tell your story?

Do you truly know how to powerfully tell your story?

Little red riding hoodI recently heard Megan Finnerty speak. Megan is a reporter with the Arizona Republic and a leader of the Arizona Storytellers, which is an organization that coaches and features people telling their stories.

The topic of the talk I attended originally sounded worthwhile but at the end of her thirty minutes, I came away with a much greater appreciation for something most of us take for granted but do constantly – tell our story.

For all of us in the business profession, telling an engaging story is a skill that’s crucial to our success. We are telling stories daily and for most of us, without much regard for how skillfully we are doing it. But in fact, I could make the case that regardless of your profession, story-telling mastery contributes to your success and personal fulfillment more than you are aware.

Every time someone asks you “What do you do?” or “Tell me about your company.” or you are called upon to present the value of your company’s products or services, you are telling a story. Whether you are writing the next great American novel, telling a potential investor about your value proposition, or trying to impress a date, here are a few points Megan suggests to make us more effective tellers of great stories.

Key elements of a great story

According to Megan, there are three key elements of telling a great story:

  1. Surprise, so we don’t know everything that’s going to happen. There must be a reason for people to stick with your story, and suspense or surprise are important elements to a compelling story. Edward R. Murrow award-winner Ira Glass illustrates this in a very simply story.
  2. Action, so things happen that the listener can picture in their mind as you tell the story. Use powerful verbs to make the listener see and feel the action. You leapt out of bed versus you got out of bed this morning.
  3. Physical spaces, so the listener can picture what you’re saying – the room, the people, the colors, etc. Using concretes instead of concepts will help transport your lister into your story.

Objectives of your story

Make sure your story accomplishes three things:

  1. Reflect who you are and who you want to be to your audience. Make sure it conforms to your image and to the occasion.
  2. Have some point, lesson or take-away. At the end of it all, reward your listener with something of value.
  3. Be entertaining. Even if you don’t consider yourself naturally entertaining or charming, inject your story with action, suspense or humor.

What story can you tell?

Whether you’re telling a story about your personal life, professional life or your company or product, here are some questions to ask yourself that can incubate a good story.

  1. What do you know that most people don’t because they don’t have your job?
  2. When in your life did you fail or mess up big?
  3. When did you learn an important lesson – one you never forgot?
  4. When did you change your mind about an important idea or project – and what was the result of that change?
  5. When did someone come to your rescue?
  6. What is it about you or your job that people find interesting or surprising?

Counter-intuitive as this may seem, injecting your vulnerability into your story rather than you as the infallible hero will make for a more engaging tale and one to which your audience will better respond.

Probably the most important first step in all of this is to simply be consciously aware of your story telling to your audience of 1 or 100. Is there an element of surprise that you set up in the beginning? Is there a point that will be interesting or valuable to your listener? Can you tell if you are holding their interest throughout?

Hypnotic Writing by Joe Vital of “The Secret” is a terrific book about holding and building a reader’s interest throughout their engagement with your writing. A lot of what Joe teaches relates to Megan’s terrific points on telling a great story.

5 questions you must ask yourself about your presentations

5 questions you must ask yourself about your presentations

Microphone-and-audienceI recently attended a multi-day event on a variety of business topics. The first session I signed up for was apparently in a location I couldn’t find, so after finally giving up on that one I sat in the audience for a session proceeding the next one I was attending. It was about sales.

Quickly seeing that this was on very basic sales, I was pondered the dozen other things I could be doing rather than sit through this presentation. In the end I’m glad I stayed in my chair. While the presenter did his best, there were some glaring problems with both the content and style of his talk that serve as reminders for all of us. Consider them, “5 questions you must ask yourself about your presentations”.

1. Do I look frumpy? Think about what you are wearing. Women think about this way more than men, but guys, we have to at least spend more time on how we look than we spend deciding on the brand of bottle water we want at 7-Eleven. The presenter that day was exclusively wearing various shades of gray. Not a spot of color to been seen. And being SEEN is the point. You are the center of attention, so draw part of that attention from your appearance. No need for a red polkadot shirt unless that’s your brand. But perhaps crawl a few inches out of your comfort zone and wear something colorful that attracts attention. And make sure it fits you. Don’t be frumpy!

2. Is my Powerpoint frumpy too? This presentation was literally black and white. Not only was each slide comprised of black text with black bullets on white background, but the images he used as section headers were old-fashioned black and white images. If they had PowerPoint in the 1930s, these drab photographs would have been perfect. Spend time on finding great images that pop off the slide, integrate into to your message, and get your audience thinking (and paying attention). Yes, you can get by nicely with black text and white background, but strategically place a few attractive, relevant images. Color bullets, anyone?

3. Am I treating my audience like wax figures? Engage your audience. This speaker asked no questions – just droning on and on about what he wanted to say. At the very least, take a quick poll in the beginning – “Who here is uncomfortable selling?” Watch the hands go up and then make a reassuring comment like, “I’m going to help you change that by the time we’re done.” Better yet, if you are teaching a skill to an audience, ask for someone to offer you an example that you can work with. But wait, won’t that steer you away from your carefully rehearsed and neatly organized content? Probably. But are you there for YOUR agenda or for that of your eager audience? And isn’t that basic sales in itself? Hmmm…

4. Do I look like a wax figure?  Be animated. That doesn’t mean prancing around the stage like a gazelle (unless that is your brand), but it goes back to the idea that you should be attracting attention. A few steps in any direction shows that you are alive and interested in being there. And move your arms. Like any of these points, it can be overdone and become distracting. Find the point of balance between too much movement and not enough so that without distraction, you draw your audience in to your topic.

5. Am I reading the room? Do people look interested? Are people asking questions (please don’t hold off questions for the end)? Anyone nodding off? Unless you are giving a scripted TED talk, be flexible and call an audible if necessary. Pick someone out and ask an easy question of them. That will wake up your audience. Or recognize that you’re not on track with what people want to hear, and switch to another point or topic. Look at these people and determine if they are engaged – hopefully, just like you are doing with one on one conversations.

This speaker was doing the best he could and, appearing to be in his 50s, his shortcomings were not due to a lack of experience. We all need to ask ourselves some simple questions that allow us to move audiences and provide them with the value for which they invested time and/or money.