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WHAT IS YOUR STORY?

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BEHIND THE MIKE

Michael Aun is a syndicated columnist. “Behind the Mike” appears in over 1,500 electronic and print publications in 41 countries around the world. Visit aunline.com for past columns.

By:  Michael Aun,  http://www.aunline.com

I am convinced more than ever that the ability to tell a story is absolutely the key to all communication.

Are you a salesman, preacher, teacher, writer, a parent, spouse …whatever?  You must first be a great communicator and part of that is being a grand storyteller.

You say… I am none of these so it must not apply to me as a CPA, an engineer or a geek who plays with spreadsheets all day long.  I contend you above all others need to be the best storyteller.  Why?  You live in a black and white world.

Communication can stop or start wars.   Remember Hitler?   How about Churchill?  Storytelling can be the number one weapon in your arsenal.  If you accept that premise, it would be nice to know some of the science behind the story.

Harvard University did a two year study on why certain Super Bowl ads were more successful than others.  The study revealed six main conclusions.  The most successful ads…

1- Tell a story.

2- Use a celebrity type endorsement (known people or entities).

3- Involves cuteness (like an animal or an infant).

4- Appeals to the heart.

5- Is memorable.

6- Is relatable.

Remember the Budweiser ad with the puppy?  There you go.

In the speaking profession, you don’t have to use stories or humor in a presentation… unless you want to get paid.  If all you do as a speaker is unload information slides on your audience, you might as well just sent in a white paper and not taken your audience’s time, their most valuable asset.

This is just as important for a priest, a salesman, a parent or a spouse.  Information complete with bullet points, vague principles and data overload will short circuit communication quicker than a cheesy line at a bar with a potential date.

Stories are not information, data and unreliable statistics.  A good story sells those messages on the wings of humor and if the audience buys into the story, they relate the underlying message.

I’m often asked by speakers I mentor “Where do I find stories?”  I contend they already have them… they have just never written them down on a piece of paper.  The exercise we coach people through starts with listing only nouns and posing the questions- who, what, when, where, why and how.  From those one word answers we can further develop the story along the path of their message.

In Toastmasters, they teach that basic structure of all stories should be the sandwich method, i.e. an opening (the top piece of the bread), the middle (the meat of the message) and the closing (the bottom piece of the bread).

No one is a bigger proponent of Toastmasters than yours truly.  I still go every week of my life when I am in town.  However, I don’t entirely buy into the whole beginning, middle and end thing.  I prefer to stage my stories around the following three things:

1-     The status quo- the normal, the regular, the conventional.

2-     The conflict- the explosion, the detonation.

3-     The new normal- conclusion, deduction and supposition of the story.

We teach our coaching clients to concentrate their search for stories by searching themselves first and foremost.  What have you done in your life?  Where have you been?  Who have you met and how do you know them?  What made that subject significant?  Why is that event significant?  How can you fold it into your presentation to make a point?  Finally, when is it worthy to incorporate the story or ax it as being inappropriate for the point you wish to make?

In the speaking profession we use a term called “signature stories.”  We become known on the circuit for those.   Just because it is a great signature story does not mean that it always has to be used.  Like inappropriate friends, sometimes you have to fire them.

Telling the story is the most important part of the strategy.  If a story is strained or stretched to make a point, you might be better off shelving it.  Resolving the conflict you identified in the meat portion of your sandwich is the key to your closing.

Study every movie or TV show.  They start with the norm, move to the conflict and follow with the new norm or resolution.  All of us have our own stories.  Why pirate other’s material?  Dance with the one you brought.

Michael Aun, CSP, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame® is the recipient of the George Morrisey Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Speakers Association®– Central Florida Chapter