November 01, 2011

Wanna rock your next presentation or speech? Tell a story that people will follow and act on.

A few years ago, I discovered speech coach guru Nick Morgan and his fantastic book

In it, he talks about what it takes to move an audience to action with your talk.  The key, he points out, is to write a speech that follows the plot line of one of the archetypal stories we are all familiar with. This way, your audience is 'with you' from the beginning and your talk respects how they make decisions to change.  

Story telling has been the key to helping people transport themselves from Point A to Point B, especially with change is hard.  When we recognize a story by it's structure, the trust of it rings out and we likely have an emotional response to it as well as strong reference markers in our conciousness.  Here are the six basic stories (I've adapted Nick's list over my speaking career to corporate and association meetings): 

1 - Love Story.  This is great for talks about customer service and member retention.  

2 - Stranger In A Strange Land (or Fish Out Of Water).  Great for change management, buzz trends like social media.  

3 - Revenge.  Good selection for internal speeches about competition or ethics. 

4 - Hero's Journey (Quest).  My personal fave.  It recognizes the audience as heroes, faced with a struggle.  The speaker becomes a helpful guide in this role and exudes respect for the audience. Read Nancy Duarte's Resonate for more on this one.  Here's an outline of a speech I'm giving tomorrow to a room full of health care heroes in Nashville (Planetree Keynote).

5 - Coming Of Age.  Good for leadership, personal develop or company innovation talks.  At Yahoo!, this was a common story our executives told about how the company was created, grew up and matured into a services organization. 

6 - The Burning Platform.  A popular CEO story, about how the company is in dire straights and if they don't make quick changes, may perish.

The problem for many speakers though is twofold:  

1 - They think that their anecdotes are stories.  When you tell a case study or share a personal experience, that's not an archetypal story - it's a single occurance of a situation/resolution.  There's usually no full plot (Setting, Antagonist, Call to Adventure, Call to Action, Resolution, Better world).  Many speeches are a hodgepodge of anecdotes, all hinting at one of the 6 archetypal stories - but not focusing on it and connecting it to the psyche of the audience.  

2 - They can't commit to a single story type, so like Quinten Taratino, they create a hybird of stories. They mix a little Love Story with Stranger In A Strange Land or Burning Platform with Coming Of Age.  The result?  Much like Pulp Fiction, your talk is entertaining and maybe thought provoking - but it doesn't elicit buy-in to your calls to action.  

So, the next time you write a presentation, ask yourself: What story should I tell to move the audience to action and make a difference with this opportunity.  As Nick Morgan wrote in his first book, "the only reason to give a speech is to change the world." 


Posted at 8:38 AM in Public Speaking  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)  |  TrackBack (0)



Jump right into the attention grabber. Otherwise, you fail right from the start.


I love this post! Thanks so much for sharing - I have ordered two of Morgan's books and can't wait to get and read!

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