Our need for stories that move us

How can I increase the potential for shift to happen?

Story-Strategy, Act 1, Episode 2 continues  – Possibility

Lectures where info is simply transmitted, shows, like feel good motivational talks and games like paint ball and potjiekos competitions (team cook-ups), all lack one or both of the essential ingredients for programmes that maximise the potential for shifting your audience, team or workshop participants. These two essential ingredients are performance design and creative participation.

Learning design is the art of turning information into a carefully sequenced and well crafted learning experience. Here the content does not dictate the design, but rather how best to shape the content so that people buy it. Often story, pictures, audio visual stimuli like props and videos and interactive techniques are employed to unfold the material and enliven the presentation. Speakers, trainers and teachers who add this component to their material significantly increase the potential for shift to happen  since it creates more brain connections for participants drawing them into the ‘story in the room’ (content presented).

Creative participation is the art of creating structures that invite participants to contribute their ideas, thoughts and actions to the material. This kind of experiential process  allow participants to bring their own ingenuity to the conversation, and even discover tacit knowledge that they did not know they had. Programmes, talks and interventions that employ games, interactive processes, conversations  and liberating structures also greatly enhance the potential for shift since people are able to connect their own stories to the story in the room.

Old fashioned lectures are poor in both these aspects, shows are stronger in performance design, but lack creative participation and games have the latter, but not the former. For shift to occur, both are needed.

Story-Strategy is a learning design principle that uses the structure of story to design talks, workshops, conferences, and other organisational development interventions.  . Storytellers from the early ages until now have learned to frame and simplify the complexities and abstractions of human experience of change.. Understanding the dramatic  structure of change and developing an intuitive sense of its ebb and flow can greatly improve your ability to create conditions for shift to happen. Story-Strategy is, therefore, an understanding of the big picture of the sequence in which people can take and adapt to new information or behaviour

ImprovSense is a creative participation methodology that uses the principles of Improvisational theatre to foster a climate for creative collaboration and team innovation. Improvsense  is the ability to know when to listen and observe, when to take action and initiative and how to mix the two into a dance of intuitive sensing and responding.  It is the skill and art of improvising in the moment and trusting that the outcome is what it needs to be. These skills are essential for creative participation in finding solutions that individuals can own and use.

When you add Story-Strategy to a game, lives can be changed just like the game of soccer can transform kids when the learning of life skills are designed into the game.

Similarly, when you add ImprovSense to a show by letting the audience take part in the meaning making, you can shift whole communities just like some of the successful AIDS education programmes that combine theatre and educational workshops.

At Playing Mantis we find that story and improvisation are potent companions because they work well together and where they intercept shift is inevitable. This blog is devoted to Story-Strategy, but will refer to ImprovSense as and when needed, so you can have the benefit of both.

When you want to increase the potential for shift to happen, your ImprovSense halps you navigate your action in the moment while your Story-Strategy helps you retain perspective of the big picture. Between the two you create the conditions for shift in the lives of your team members, workshop participants, customers, employees, and, of course, yourself.

 

How do I bring about shift that lasts?

Story-Strategy, Act 1, Episode 2: Possibility

If you are a speaker, trainer, facilitator, coach or OD (organisational Development) practitioner, you would have noticed that audiences, trainees, participants and teams have become more and more distracted, demanding and opinionated. Like Claire in yesterday’s story:

we need new moves  to move the people we serve.

With the explosion of the internet, everyone can be an expert, everyone can personalise and customise their programmes, profiles and preferences and everyone can choose what information they want to allow in their headspace. In addition, the shaky state of world economies and the uncertainty created by political shifts and health threats, people are more and more weary of solutions that would either waste their money, or cause more uncertainty.

Lectures

Old fashioned lecturing, like FUNDA Training and Conferencing was used to, does not work anymore. On one hand lectures are content driven and the content dictate the design and flow of the presentation. On the other hand, the content proposes to be a one size fits all solution that is not customisable and adaptable for every individual particularity. Furthermore, lectures do not leverage the power of human connection and emotion as a way to drive messages home and make them stickable.

Shows

Motivation Inc and Team Adventures, from yesterday’s story, had each tried to solve some of these problems. Motivational speakers liven up presentations  by turning it into more of a show.  Through showmanship they artfully design their content using story, evolving emotion, clever presentational gimmicks like props, visual aids and performance skills. In addition, motivational speakers are high impact, but low in time investment. And while the really good speakers are expensive for the time they put in, a once off payment is still cheaper, than a process that unfolds over time and consumes both time and money.

However, traditional motivational speakers can not bring about shift that lasts. They get a high rating from people attending their talks, but a very low rating in terms of creating real shift. What they lack is the ability to help people connect their own individual stories to the story in the room. They provide a grand show, but still offers a one size fits all solution that can not shift the individual. It is a known fact enough speakers that only 5% of the people in your audience will be deeply moved and impacted by your presentation. While many may enjoy it, only 5% will be at a place where your story and their stories intercept to create shift. There is still something missing.

Games

Team building programmes step into this gap by offering game like solutions. A game is not content driven, it is structure driven. This means that within the confines of the game, people have a certain amount of control to manipulate the rules to their advantage. A game can be individualised. A game is also good for connecting people and building relationship, something that often enhance emotional connection either by awakening competitiveness, or by leveraging people’s feeling of belonging. However, unless games are structured around content that can bring about learning, people often leave a teambuilding experience warm and fuzzy, but without a lasting shift notable in the workplace.

Shift

If lectures, shows and games do not offer lasting solutions that can bring about shift, there must be a fourth option – a solution we simply term SHIFT. The Playing Mantis SHIFT model is the subject of tomorrow’s blog.

How do I improve learning and development programmes?

Story-Strategy Act 1, Episode 1: Current reality

FUNDA is a training and conferencing company who specialises in providing the knowledge and resources their clients need to train their people and develop their teams. FUNDA (funda is the Zulu word for ‘learn’) started out 17 years ago and quickly made a name for themselves in the organisational learning  and development sector. Their clients praised the quality of the content they provided and the expertise of the spcialists they hired to present the training.

Over the last 7 years or so, FUNDA had been losing clients, though. When they ask defecting clients why they are leaving, they get mixed answers:  ‘we are cutting costs, so we are opting for online learning courses’, ‘We felt that we needed more entertainment and inspiration mixed into the learning – something wow’, or ‘our people want something that is more fun and challenging, something that brings the team together ’and ‘we are looking for something different, that is more relevant to us specifically and can cater for the diversity of people we employ’.

The owner and CEO of FUNDA, Claire Pillay, started looking at what her competitors were offering. She noticed that the speaker’s burro across the square from her had halted their office renovations. A few years ago when the renovations at Motivation Inc started, it looked like their were doing great, now it seems they were cutting costs. “If people are really looking for inspiration and entertainment mixed into the learning, why is Motivation Inc not booming?” Claire wondered.

A previous loyal client of her company  dropped in one day to give her a pamphlet: ‘Team Adventures’ it read ‘every extreme adventure you can think of for your whole team’. She looked at her client with raised eyebrows: “So is this the trend now?”

“No,” he answered “too expensive and nothing changes at the office after you go on one of these”. Can’t you get us something that is fun and meaningful? Isn’t there a way in which we can learn, bond, be inspired and shift our company into the 21st century so that we can keep up with the changing times?”

Claire realised that the lecture based, information transmission model her company was built on, no longer served. People can get everything they wanted to know off the internet in various forms to fit their individual needs, from blog articles to full online courses. But people are also no longer looking for pure motivational or inspirational speakers who can both entertain and teach them at the same time. While people enjoy the ‘show’, they still leave without the message impacting and changing their work environment. Yet, when organisations try to remedy this by taking their teams on teambuilding experiences to build relationship and connection, still people do not integrate the experience into everyday work life.

“So what is the solution?”  Claire asked herself, “How do I improve our learning and development programmes?”

What can I do with a Story-Strategy?

Move your audience, your team, your people

Through the ages from ancient myths to modern fantasy, Bible stories to Grimm fairy tales, story tellers from the earliest times until now has harnessed the power of story to impact the lives of others and to teach them truths that otherwise seem abstract and complex.

They knew how to meet their audience where they were and draw them into a story world that opened to them a new perspective and took them on a journey of discovery so that, by the end of the story, something had shifted for them. In identification with the people in the story, the listeners could change how they see things, what they believe about their world and how they act within it.

Story-Strategy is the underlying blue print of how stories do this. What are the mechanisms that draw people in?

How do you shape the story so that people change their beliefs, opinions and actions?

But Story-Strategy does not end with its use in shaping stories that are written or told. This very same strategy can help you shift the story of your life, the lies of your audience, the story of your organisation.  You can apply the same strategies that story tellers use to tell great stories, to live a great life story, or to design a story for an organisation, or a team, or a social grouping of any other kind.

Story-Strategy is the internal structure of stories that allow them to move people. These same structures can be used to design

  • talks,
  • workshops,
  • Organisational Development Programmes,
  • Interventions,
  • conferences,
  • learning material or
  • personal development projects.

But it is not just these internal design features of story that can move people, but also the delivery methods: the way you present the story through training, coaching, facilitation, talking and selling. There is also an entire printed media side to this, but I like to focus only on the oral delivery of the story.

Story-Strategy is the big picture sequential design and the poignant delivery of messages and events that take people from where they are to where they could be.

Every good story-strategy, like every good story, has a well designed beginning, middle and end. Each of these three can be divided into three more sections so that your beginning leaves no-one behind, your middle keeps everyone rivitted and your end leaves them changed forever.

To design conferences, workshops, talks or programmes that move people, use a Story-Strategy.

 

Story Secrets for Speakers #3: Demonstrate your magic

Why should your audience trust you?

Once you have painted a picture of the possibility (Story Secret #1) and you have overcome the first block to your message, personal resistance, by calling on the hero’s character (Story Secret #2), it is time to let the audience know why they should trust you. Who are you that I should take you seriously? What makes you the expert? Because if you can overcome their resistance then you can get them to act on what you say. Why does Cinderella do what the Fairy God Mother told her to do? Why does Frodo leave the beloved Shire and go on a journey to Mordor, and possibly death? The only reason why Frodo set out on a journey to the land of Mordor was because Gandalf told him to do so. And because the Fairy Godmother told Cinderella to go to the ball she did.

But how did Gandalf get Frodo to trust him? And the Fairy Godmother Cinderella?

By demonstrating their magic. Yes, it helps to rattle off an impressive CV and it helps to list your credentials, but this is not half as powerful as turning pumpkins into carriages. What they think is, mice are really white horses and what they think is an ugly old dress need to become a beautiful evening gown. What if an old ring your uncle played with, suddenly becomes the most powerful object in the world. Before their eyes ordinary things turn into something out of this world. Not by itself. Through you, demonstrating your magic. Demonstrating your magic means that YOU let your audience see ordinary things in a whole new light. And with all magic it is simpler than you think. Here are three of the most used ways in which speakers help the audience trust them by revealing their magic…

  1. By demonstrating their expertise – reason
  2. By sharing personal experience – action
  3. By relating to the audience’s experience – heart

Whichever one of these techniques you choose, the aim is always the same: to help your audience overcome doubts and reservations so they will believe again. Let’s take these techniques one by one to show what I mean: 1.         Reason through demonstrating expertise How many times have you heard a speaker say something like: The Harvard School of business has proved that 93% of a certain group of people do something a certain way, but in fact it is the 7% that is left that are successful?  Then the speaker reveal the logic behind this; giving facts, statistics and logical argument until, like that 7% the audience also sees the light. If they buy the reasoning, they buy your magic. 2.         Share your personal experience – Action The typical story here says: “In nineteen-hundred-and-something, I faced this or that challenge. But today I stand here having overcome… these are the simple things I did… the actions I took…  to make it work. In your story you were the Yahoo and by trial and error you saw the light and now you can share your insights–your magic–with the audience. Your audience believes you, because you are living proof. 3.         Relating to the audience – Heart This technique goes like this: “You know how you sometimes do xyz only to discover abc?” or “Have you ever found when you do d then e happens right after?” By citing typical behaviour and experience common to all human beings, you show how the audience themselves intuitively know that these are the steps to take in spite of the doubts and questions they may have. You can do this with great humour as you typify universal experiences and poke fun at people’s common reactions. Again you show yourself to be the one to trust because you know them and you can even clarify their own muddled experience and make sense of it. I find this latter technique the most powerful of all three, especially in a participative training and facilitation space where you can ask the question directly to your audience and create a safe environment for them to air doubts and reservations. If you can allow your audience to have doubts and accept that their doubts are okay. If you can understand and allow for their questions, you reveal your heart and the strength of your own conviction.

Ironically, talking about doubt often builds the most trust.

In C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ the lion and mentor Aslan tells Peter that he will be a king. Peter says that Aslan must be mistaken, that he could not possibly be a king. That Aslan does not know how much of a coward he is. That Aslan does not really understand him at all. While they are talking an enemy wolf attacks Peter’s sisters, Lucy and Susan. Peter rushes to defend them and then come face to face with a wolf he has lost against before, acting like a coward. His friends want to help him, but Aslan holds them back saying “This is Peter’s fight”. Peter fight the wolf and kill him, overcoming his own doubt in Aslan’s words. Aslan allowed him to have his doubts and express them freely. And then, through action, Peter proved that Aslan did in fact know him truly – magically – and knew he was no coward at all. Of course, Aslan does not send Peter into the battle without a sword. It is the nature and power of the weapon you provide for your audience that is the focus of Story Secret #4.

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Researcher, Speaker and Coach

Story Secrets for Speakers #2: Call on the Hero’s Character

Once the audience catches on to a new idea, a new way of viewing a problem reframed as a possibility (Story Secret #1), they must be enrolled as the heroes who can make that possibility happen.

As soon as your audience starts dreaming about new possibilities their status quo is threatened. This automatically leads to at least four kinds of resistance. The first kind is personal resistance.

The most effective strategy to overcome this kind of resistance, is to make an appeal on the prospective hero’s character as revealed in their core values. Why does Horton in Dr. Seuss’s Horton hears a Who take up the dangerous opportunity of saving the tiny city on the clover? Because Horton believes “a person’s a person no matter how small”. It is this belief that sets him apart from the other creatures in the story – interestingly underlined by the fact that he himself is the largest ‘person’ in the story. This belief not only gets Horton to commit to the adventure, but also pulls him through when it becomes difficult to continue.

Gandalf convinces Frodo in Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to take on the treacherous journey to destroy the ring and save Middle Earth, by appealing to his Hobbit nature.  Frodo gets angry and resistant, but Gandalf goes even deeper. He calls upon ‘the pity of Bilbo’, Frodo’s uncle,  as a trait that not only Frodo possesses too, but one that could be the key to success. Frodo, who dearly loves his uncle and who is also Bilbo’s heir, understands the gravity of this idea that he had also inherited Bilbo’s nature as one who takes pity. He sees that he is the one to take up the challenge.

It is the ability of the guide or mentor to see the best in the hero that inspires the hero to take on the challenge. It is similarly the job of us as speakers and trainers to see the potential in our audience and view them as possessing the special qualities that will make them successful. In this way we begin to overcome personal resistance early on.

The teacher who looks at her class and sees difficult teenagers who would rather Mxit than learn, has a very hard time teaching them. Another teacher looks at the same group and sees teenagers desperate for something intriguing and worthwhile to learn.  She has a ball in class  inspiring them to achieve new heights. She even uses Mxit in her learning strategy to help them internalise her teaching.

How do you enroll your audience as heroes? Here are some examples I have used with success:

1. Name tags: At a youth conference we printed the designation ‘chosen one’ on the name tags worn by the audience identifying their roles as heroes with an important job.

2. Hand outs: with a vision and values alignment workshop we printed the handout in the form of a passport and enrolled the delegates as ‘ambassadors’ for the newly articulated vision and values statement..

3. Interactive devices: At a staff conference of Spier Wine Farm on customer service, we asked the audience to be judges of the presentation enrolling them as the experts on customer service. We devised a tool whereby they could intervene and fix the service disasters we were presenting to them.

As we look over to our audience what do we see? People in need of our rescue, or people endowed with exactly the right character and nature to make the change themselves?

Sure, you say, but what of those experiences where the resistance in the room and the scepticism is so thick you can cut it with a knife? Change is difficult and often painful and people will resist it.

Dealing with the other 3 kinds of resistance is the subject of Story Secrets for Speakers #3, 4 and 5. Read more in next month’s newsletter.

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Professional Speaker and Story Strategist

 

Story Secrets for Speakers #1: Paint a Picture of the Possibility

What made James in Roald Dahl;s ‘James and the Giant Peach’ climb inside a giant peach, befriend life size bugs and steer across an ocean to go to New York? What made Cinderella get out of the ashes and off to the Prince’s ball? What made the frog turn into a prince?

The answer to all these questions is the same: they believed that it was possible. Of course, none of them started out believing it, they all needed someone to paint them a picture of the possibility. James lost hope when his cruel aunts destroyed the picture his deceased father had given him showing the big vibrant city of New York.  This dream needed reviving by the peculiar little man with the shiny green things. Cinderella was shattered and crying in the ashes when the Fairy Godmother found her. As for the frog: it was the arrival of the princess that sparked his hope.

So why then do most marketing gurus tell you that, if you want to sell yourself as a speaker, you have to paint a picture of the problem that you want to solve for your client? ‘Make them feel the pain’ is one piece of advice I had received. Speaking to your audience is, in essence, nothing different than selling an idea, so what gives?

Stories, being metaphors for life, provide a possible solution to this question. In stories some of the guides or mentors also opt for painting the picture of the problem rather than of the possibility, but this happens mostly when they want to get the hero to change the lot of others rather than her own lot.

Gandalf tells Frodo an elaborate and alarming tale highlighting the dangers of the magic ring and pointing to the evil it could bring to the hobbits of the Shire. It is in response to the plight of his fellow hobbits that Frodo takes up the burden of the ring and sets off on his impossible mission to destroy it. Similarly, if you want your client to spend money on your keynote or your training, you may well have to paint them a picture of the problems their staff and their company may experience should their issues go unaddressed. Doing this enroles them as the potential hero: the one who will save his or her community from the dragons they face.

But, behold, if you want them to change their own lives and take up new habits, you will have to sell to them the possibility of life beyond where they are. People are notoriously blind and even resistant to seeing their own flaws. You may show them what problems their colleagues, children or managers might be facing, but this does not help them to face their own demons, for that, they need more preparation.

For people to really see their own weakness and choose to do something about it,  you need the rest of the story – you need the other 6 story secrets. A story is nothing other than the sequence of events that are necessary for the main character to change, to undergo a permanent shift in perspective as they face their own demons.

As guide and mentor the first step is to paint a picture of the possibility so that they can ‘feel the pain’ of not being there yet and begin to yearn for change. Your first job is to ask ‘What if…” What if you could go to New York in a giant peach What if you, the lowly Cinderella could dance with the royal heir?  What if a frog could be a prince?

What if you knew all 7 secrets of how to get the Cinderellas and the frogs in your audiences to change their own fates?

Watch this space for the next instalment of 7 Story Secrets for Speakers: Story Secret #2 Call on the hero’s character.

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Researcher, Speaker and Coach

Find all the sectrets here:

  1. Paint a picture of the possibility contrasted with the pain of the current reality.
  2. Call on the Hero’s Character This is the chosen one, the one whom the prophesies mention
  3. Demonstrate your magic: by providing a personalised tool
  4. Your secret weapon and the power of 3,5 and 7
  5. Introduce the travelling companions so they know who is in it with them
  6. Reframe the situation with a fresh perspective when the pawpaw hits the fan and then:
  7. Die with grace…

Need a speaking coach? Contact Petro

Interested in a course in facilitation and coaching? Click here

Looking for a speaker or storyteller at your event? Contact Petro

What your posture and breathing says about you

I see the speaking space as one of those precious in-between worlds where fears and fantasies both come to life. If you are able to manage your fears all your fantasies can come true!

This week 10 people who attended my workshops in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, are starting work on the roots of their voice: Posture and breathing. They are on a six week do it yourself voice training course using my book ‘Grow Your Voice to Speak with Confidence’ and the training CD that goes with it. You can join them by following this blog. If you want the book and CD, click here.

Check your posture constantly, but especially while you are speaking. Your body reveals if you are over eager, do not care enough, or self-conscious. From a neutral ‘perfect’ posture you can go anywhere and take your audience with you. Your muscles are relaxed and ready to respond to your intention and serve your message.

When you are in ‘perfect’ neutral posture, you also have the maximum capacity for breathing. Always keep your chest extended and only breathe from the lower lungs. Here you have control and increased capacity.

To inspire you, here is a link to a youtube video of Victoria Labalme. She is a speaker/performer. She begins her talk immediately after dancing. Yes a dancing. Out of breath she begins her talk. You can hear how she catches her breath in between sentences, but he speech itself is unaffected by this. Watch how she manages to control her speech completely in spite of being out of breath. This is only possible because she knows how to breathe, keep her voice in her chest, use her articulation to shape words and maintain control the meaning of the words not letting her rushed breathing and heightened energy take over.

When you are done watching, come back and tell me what you got from watching.

Victoria Labalme: Check her voice control after dancing.

Full video

Shorter version that starts after the dance.

Maritzburg, when are you putting in your 12 minutes? Share with each other by commenting on this post.

.