Aslan the lion

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