Preparing your speech and writing appropriate stories can be a challenge at the best of times, but the real challenge is in using and writing those stories in such a way that they really engage your audience.
First, think about how other speakers and presenters manage to grab your attention. Sure, their stories about themselves may be amusing but as with anybody who is all about “me me me”, you can find your concentration drifting. What really grabs your attention, and keeps it, is when the presenter talks about things that relate to you… so it’s more “you you you” than “me me me”.
A successful storyteller engages their audience by telling stories that elicit responses like, “Wow, that’s happened to me, too!”, and “Yeah, I’ve seen that happen!”, and feelings of sympathy and empathy because for whatever reason, they can identify with your story. You may be telling a story about yourself, but in their minds it is about them and everyone is interested in themselves, right?
The secret to connecting with your audience is by bonding with them on an honest level. Honesty can be funny or it can be sad, but everyone can relate to the human condition. At some stage of our lives we have all experienced something similar that made us laugh or cry or just want to go hide under a rock. So don’t just talk at your audience – talk to them in an honest way.
When you are preparing a story, relate it to your intended audience. A popular presentation these days, as in most economies, is addressing small business owners who are struggling to reach success. So think back to a time when you were struggling, but through sheer determination and perseverance you managed to hang in there and come through relatively unscathed. So what was it you did, exactly, that helped you through your trying times? It’s one thing to say to your audience, “think positively” – but put yourself in their shoes, listening to this advice. These are empty words unless you can demonstrate their effectiveness. Just HOW does one think positively and use that advice day to day? How did you do it? Did you catch yourself with each negative thought and say “cancel, cancel” and replace it with a positive one? If you became too downhearted, did you take yourself off to the gym to sweat it out? Did you watch a funny movie to lighten your mood? Did you visit a homeless shelter and volunteer? What was it you did?
Think about all the emotions and experiences you had that your audience has likewise experienced and spin the story to relate to them. You’ll want to explain your own feelings during your own time of difficulty so they can identify with them, and once you have them on side, then you teach them how to keep going when the going is tough, because then they will know you have been in their shoes and if you succeeded, maybe they can too if they listen to you.
Don’t turn your talk into a glorified lecture, preaching to the audience about how clever you are. There are a lot of ‘guru’s out there who like to tell their audience how successful and wealthy they are and became that way despite difficult economies, near bankruptcies, etc. and this information is not only taken with a pinch of salt by some, but is totally unhelpful to them. How does knowing that you are so filthy rich and successful that they should be grateful you spared the time to come talk to them help them? They didn’t come to hear how clever you think you are or how rich and successful you are now. They came to hear you talk about your similar problems and learn new ways of managing their own challenges. Of course, at some stage you will want to tell them that you came through struggles and became successful, but talk about it in a way that is tasteful – don’t brag – show your humility. You are offering them hope, not a look into the life of Mr or Mrs Clever Pants and if they buy X or do X or hire you, they will be as clever. Audiences are becoming savvier. Maybe they really will be doing themselves a favor if they buy X or hire you, but the secret is to let them come to this realization and make it easy for them to find your products or reach you.
You are talking about grave matters that weigh people down – they were already weighed down when they signed up for your talk… are you going to send them home as heavy as when they arrived? Will that make you a memorable speaker? The trick is to share your wisdom but in an entertaining manner. If you entertain your audience, you will have their undivided attention. I’m not suggesting you turn all your speeches into comedy routines because that has its time and place, but what I am suggesting is you mingle your sad stories with some humorous stories. Get your audience to laugh – share an embarrassing moment – people love to laugh at others! Some of the best laughs have come from stories where pain was mingled with humor. An oft used example of this is when talking about a much loved deceased friend or family member… one minute you’ll be teary eyed and the next laughing your head off. Life is like that. It is okay to find humor in grave situations, provided it doesn’t hurt or insult your audience. It must be tasteful.
Don’t just throw your stories into the speech willy-nilly. A great talk is like a book – it has a beginning, a middle and an ending. You must start by grabbing their attention right from the start, getting them to identify with you and wanting to hear more. This is where great stories come into play. Regardless of how much more successful and rich you may be than your audience, you want them thinking that you are one of them, not some smarty pants come to preach at them. Here is where you need to establish rapport with your audience.
How do you want your audience to react by the end of your talk? Crying? Laughing? Deep in thought? Primed for action and raring to go? The end of your talk must make a powerful impact on them. You don’t want to look like you are deliberately trying to get a laugh or tears out of them… it should come naturally. This is where you save your best story for last… the most powerful story… the one that will elicit the required response. This is where you must allow yourself to be vulnerable, to remind them you are one of them and to enable them to feel a rapport with you and your message. Your final story may be the one they most remember, so make it count. If you are hoping for donations, appeal to their better natures; if you want support for a special cause, pull at their heartstrings; if you want them to lighten up and think positively, leave them laughing and feeling good about themselves and hopeful for the future…
Make sure you rehearse – tape yourself or video yourself to ensure you are achieving your speaking goal. Is your humorous anecdote as funny when you say it as it looks on paper? How best to deliver it then? How are your facial expressions and mannerisms? Do your words say one thing but your face says another? Look for areas of improvement and practice… because practice makes perfect.
Peter “The Reinvention Guy” Fogel is a humorist, speaker, seminar leader and proud member of the National Speakers Association has appeared on over 22 television shows. He delivers presentations on humor, reinvention, copywriting and marketing to corporation and associations across America and parts of Jersey. As an information marketer he is also the creator of Peter Fogel’s Guide to Effective Public Speaking. For more information on his products, or to sign up for his FREE 7 Days to Effective Public Speaking E-course, go to http://www.publicspeaklikeapro.com.