Story secrets for Speakers #4 – Your Secret Weapon

Every speaker faces resistance. If you have done a good job of Painting a Picture of the Possibility , Story Secret #1, you can expect at least 5 types of resistance: personal, relational, practical, social and cosmic. Here we focus on the third kind: practical, also called contextual, resistance.

Apart from the personal and moral objections of Story Secret #2, and the doubts they may have about you as the mentor, Story Secret #3, there is a very real practical resistance. How will I do what you ask? What is the plan?  Will it work for me?

Whatever your solution is: 3 steps to losing weight, 5 principles for being an extraordinary leader, or Seven story secrets for speakers, your audience needs to know it will work for them.

Like Aslan in the Narnia series, Dumbledore for Harry Potter and Griet for Liewe Heksie, the guide in the hero’s story can cut to the chase and bring light to the befuddled mind of the main character. The magic weapon often come in the form of three (wishes), five (stones) or seven (dwarfs).  Finally, the guide provides very specific instructions for its successful use: before the clock strikes 12, only when used by an innocent child or only if you use the right words like ‘Open Sesame’.

1. It cuts through darkness

The magic weapon is often a blade of some kind, like Arthur’s Excalibur, or a light, like Aladdin’s lamp. Sometimes it is even both like Skywalker’s light sabre.  The blade or light symbolises its power to break through darkness or cut through the woods of uncertainty

Your solution  must cut through what the audience experiences as darkness. Clean up the myths and misunderstandings around personal tax returns, what diet to follow, or how people deal with fear.  Give them a torch to guide them through the woods.

Your solution must therefore be  simple to understand and easy to remember and yet show that it really gets the audience’s context and obstacles.

2. The power of three, five and seven.

The numbers 3, 5 and 7 each have an internal logic helping your audience grasp and remember it. Stories have used these numbers over and over again.

Think of 3 little pigs, 3 bears, 3 wishes, 3 days in the belly of the whale, or in the grave, 3 time frames (past, present and future), 3 elements (substance, liquid and gas).  The number 3 has an internal logic because it sets up a pattern. Often the first two are the similar and the third is special, a punchline. The older pigs make mistakes, but the third gets it right. Because of the power of 3, 9 also gains popularity: 3 main ideas with 3 sub ideas under each. The logic of 3 is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness that speakers use it as often as possible.

Likewise 7 has made its mark: 7 dwarfs, 7 brides for 7 brothers, 7 days of creation and 7 days of the week and 7 holy sacraments. Speakers and writers  employ 7often:  Covey’s 7 Habits or Bruce  Wilkenson’s 7 Laws of a Learner. However, seven similar points can be difficult to remember while five is easier. So 7 items are often broken into 2 of one kind and 5 of another: 5 working days and 2 weekend days, 5 loaves and 2 fishes, or 5 types of resistance speakers face and 2 other secrets that frame the 5.

This is also how 5 gets its significance, although it hardly ever features by itself in stories and myths. . Remembering the 5 is made easier by the practicality of having 5 fingers on one hand. Many writers and speakers find acronyms with 5 letters to strengthen the internal logic of their ‘weapon’ or model:  David Rock’s SCARF model, or the SMART goal model.

3. Rules for correct usage

To ensure that the hero is successful in the use of the secret weapon, the mentor provides specific rules for its correct application. But if practicality was the only reason for specific rules, why make it so difficult: Get out of the Ball by the stroke of midnight… Why not let the magic go on forever? By restricting the use of the weapon, you also restrict the number of people who are able to be successful, making your audience become part of a selected, special group. This makes your model so much more desirable and your audience feel so much more like chosen ones (see Story Secret #2).

While your solution is simple, it is not necessarily easy to apply. It will take skill – but if your audience ‘buys’ it, they will then be open to further training in its use creating longer term clients for you – should that be part of your business model..

Now, think of Neo in ‘The Matrix’.  Remember how you as audience member discover that there is a chosen one who has a special gift and a destiny. Together with Neo you discover that he is the One, but you know it before he does and so the tension builds as you watch him get closer and closer to the discovery.  Then there is that moment when it all dawns on him and his entire life up to that point finally begins to make sense…   He is the chosen one, the one who fulfils the conditions of the prophesy, the one who can manipulate the matrix in a way no-one else can.

Imagine you can recreate that moment for your audience, where, suddenly, in the light of your insights or your model their whole experience around a certain subject suddenly makes sense.  If your conditions for use are such that your audience turns out to be exactly the right kind of people in the right kind of context to use it, you will ensure that their resistance on this level crumbles.

There are only 2 more types of resistance to address, so keep a look out for Story Secret  numbers 5 and number 6

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Researcher, Speaker and Coach

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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