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