Emmet from the Lego movie

Story Secrets for Speakers #6 – When the world is against me

 

You painted a picture of the possibility (Secret #1).  Then you lead your audience past their doubts and reservations about their own suitability (Secret #2), whether or not they can trust you (Secret #3), the practicality of the solution (Secret #4) and the people that would be on the journey with them (Secret #5). Nowthey look at their context and go: “Great plan, but life just doesn’t work that way”.  They look at their reality and say: “What if the solution or the people having to implement it fail?” I call this cosmic resistance.

Cosmic resistance is what happens when everything is lined up to go and your budget is cut, or a key player gets sick and unable to continue, or the equipment simply fails. Through no fault of yours, or the people trying to make the difference, it just fails. What then?

In stories this is that devastating moment where all seems lost. This is when Andy Dufresne, in Shawshank Redemption learns that his eye witness was murdered by the prison warden, when Brave Heart is betrayed by one of his own, when, in The Great Escape, the fleeing prisoners discover that their tunnel is a few feet short of the cover of the trees.

In situations like these stories provide only one response: Reframe.

Here are 3 story tools to help your audience of participants reframe their situation:

 1. Humour

The Blonde goes to the doctor complaining of aches all over her body. “Where does it hurt?” The doctor asks. Pointing to her left shoulder, then her nose and then her right calf she answers: “Here and here and here”. The doctor takes her hand gently examining it and says “My dear, your finger is broken.”

This is a reframe.

Humour is fantastic for helping your audience reframe their situation and see it in a fresh light. The right story at the right time can break cosmic resistance.

2. A true story

My husband hates it when the local minibus taxis stop directly after a traffic light it really gets him angry.  Taxis all across South Africa do this driving the other motorists insane causing hoots and honks at every intersection. The are the fiends of the roads.

Then I move to Johannesburg – the big scary crime ridden city fill of bad guys. As usual I am reliant on public transport because of my bad eyesight, and I need to make use of taxi’s. Can I make peace with having to drive with a fiend behind a wheel?

I get into my first taxi and as he pulls into the road he does it with gusto exactly in the fashion that most irritates my husband. “What is he doing? Can’t he use his eyes??” I can almost hear him saying.  Behind my taxi a 4 X 4 family van swerves out of the way and honks loudly. The taxi driver honks back, leans over to me and says: “It must be a friend”.

Fiend or friend, it is all a matter of perspective, and choice of attitude. What a beautiful reframe and one I have used many times to break through cosmic resistance.

3. An interactive exercise

Yet, as I have mentioned before, it is really only when the audience can apply what you offer to their own individual life stories that break through is really possible. The following is a story structure to help your audience do this. It comes from the world of Applied Improvisation.

Step 1. Reflect on an issue in your personal or professional life that you would really like to change. Complete the following sentence:

Concerning this issue, I really want  … (fill in what it is that you want to see happen).

But… (list one to 3 things that are in the way of you achieving this outcome – things that are blocking or frustrating your efforts).

Step 2. Cross out the ‘But’ and replace it with the word ‘and’. Now the obstacles become mere conditions for the solution, they are no longer blocks.

Step 3. Complete a final sentence:

So what if … (what alternatives can you think of that accepts the conditions for the solution.)

Anexample from a workshop participant:

As the event co-ordinator of a large networking evening, I really want my guests to feel at home and set the scene for a wonderful event. I also want to enjoy the event myself.

But  AND I am not a good speaker, my hands shake and I am afraid I will forget important information. I stress so much that the whole evening is a blur usually.

So what if I rehearse a short welcoming speech to set the scene and then get an MC to co-ordinate the rest of the event, so I can sit back and enjoy it.

When all is lost, it is time for a reframe. A story that beautifully illustrates this reframe is the recent Lego movie. All seems lost when Emmet, the main character fall into the void, the abyss. His friends believe he is dead and their cause seems lost. In fact, Emmet simply falls off the table where the humans build their lego models. He is picked up by the boy playing there and from this big picture perspective Emmet’s entire world is reframed. With this insight he returns to save the day.

Humour, stories and interactive exercises all help your audience to reframe their failures and see them from a fresh angle braking through cosmic resistance. Now there is just one more thing left to do…die. Read more in the final of the series: Story Secret 7.

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Researcher, Speaker and Coach

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