I have set up this blog to try an experiment in writing a book. The working title for the book is ‘Speak the Audience’s Mind, Not Just Your Own’ and I will introduce some concepts that I have discovered in my research into the human brain and mind. The chapters of the book will be made up of an alphabet of speeches, with each letter of the alphabet devoted to a particular concept.
Each chapter will be posted for two weeks or until forty comments have been received. The ten folks with the most comments incorporated into the book will be listed as co-authors. Anyone who provides a comment that is incorporated will be given the opportunity to purchase the book at a discount and those who provide multiple comments can buy the book at even bigger discounts or receive the book free.
I have read so many books, attended so many seminars, gotten so many newsletters, visited so many websites, and listened to so many speeches that I may have inadvertently used the work of others without attribution. So please chastise me for any unconscious plagiarism, as well as clearing up any muddled thinking and suggesting improvements.
I won’t be going is alphabetical order. This first posting is ‘S Is for . . .’ It deals with an important element of speeches, stories.
Your suggestions, comments, and contributions, please.
S Is for . . .
My mother showed the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s ten years before she died. As I watched her slowly disappear over that decade, I became curious and concerned. I wanted to know what caused it and what could be done about it. I wanted to know if I was vulnerable to it.
I became a student of the human brain and mind. I found that there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s and the fact that my mother was in her late seventies when it hit meant that it wasn’t the inheritable version which begins earlier in life. I also found some research that suggested that those who exercised their brains were less likely to develop this terrible disease. Based on that, I created a workshop on “Brain Aerobics.”
I also found that perhaps the most powerful tool you have in getting your audience engaged is the human mind, particularly the audience’s mind and that you can access that tool through stories. Thus, S Is for Stories. The human brain is wired for stories. When we remember, we tell ourselves stories. We love to immerse ourselves in the stories of others. As World Champion Craig Valentine says, “Facts tell; stories sell.”
The number of different types of stories depends on who is doing the categorizing, but I would like to talk about the two types that I believe are the most important to you as a public speaker. The first is what I term the EBB story. You are Embarrassed, Befuddled, and/or Bizarre. Notice that I said ‘you are’ since this type of story works best when you are making fun of youself rather than of someone else.
The second type of story is the TIDE story. This class of story includes one or more of the following elements: Transformation, Introspection, Destiny, and Endurance.
I don’t know why I decided to use the acronyms EBB and TIDE unless it is because most of my career was spent as a consultant to the Navy and I have a tendency toward sea stories.
Audiences enjoy EBB stories because we all have a sense of schadenfreude, the German word for the pleasure that we derive from the misfortunes of other. As the old expression goes: If we slip on a banana peel and fall, that is tragic; if someone else slips on a banana peel and falls, that is funny. We like to feel superior. Humor is frequently the product of tragedy. And exaggeration puts the icing on the cupcake.
When we tell an EBB story, we are showing our vulnerability, our humanness. I have used the EBB approach to win the Toastmaster District Humorous Speech Contest four times. In one speech, I was the befuddled owner of an aquarium full of tropical fish who found that they were not the carefree and inexpensive pets they were advertised to be. I discovered how short fish life spans can be, how to successfully siphon water from an aquarium, and how heavy eight gallons of water can be.
In another EBB speech, I talked of the first time I auditioned for a play and after getting a part was embarrassed to find that I was cast not for my acting ability nor for my good looks but for my buttocks. There was a lemon involved.
A third EBB speech had me costumed as an eccentric scientist who was convinced that he was receiving Super Ordinary Communications from Kind Spirits (SOCKS) about the future when one of his socks disappeared in the laundry.
TIDE stories are more serious although humor makes them work better. They frequently deal with the grief and introspection associated with the loss of a loved one or the transformation associated with surviving a life-threatening event or disease. Because of the personal nature of this type of story, you should make sure that you have emotionally distanced yourself from the emotional circumstance before telling it to an audience. Your presentation should be educational, enlightening, and transforming. It should not be a therapy session.
In one of my TIDE stories, I talk of my father’s last breath, the deep sigh that ended his life. The first few times I told this story, my voice broke and there were tears. Obviously, it was too soon to tell the story of my father and how he influenced me, my family, his church, and his friends. It was more than a year before I could properly pay a tribute to this great man.
On my way to the finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking in 2008, my story related my bout with cancer and how laughter and love got me through that terrifying and depressing time of my life. A very heavy subject that had to be leavened with humor, particularly how I handled the hot flashes associated with the treatment for the disease.
Your most effective speeches will incorporate stories, whether EBB or TIDE, and the effectiveness will be enhanced when the stories are about you. The audience wants to know how you dealt with a problem, whether you came to the same solution that they did for a similar situation or, if they didn’t solve the problem, how your solution will help them. They want to learn from your experience. They want to share in your victory.
Use stories. Embrace stories. Entertain others with stories.