How do I make a strong beginning?

5.1 How do I make a strong beginning?

Story-Strategy, Act 2 Episode 5 – The Journey: Current Reality 2

Upon entering the room where the workshop on Participatory Methods for Learning and Research on HIV/Aids and Sexual & Reproductive Health was to take place, an unusual sight met my eyes. Instead of people straggling into the room and finding a seat either around tables, behind desks or even in a circle, they were forming clusters and clumps around posters and pages of news print on the walls, markers in hand.  Was I late? Did they start without me? As I was wondering, a student came up to me: “Good morning, while we wait for everyone to arrive, take a moment and look at the pictures and posters on the walls. On the news print below them, just record any thoughts or associations that come up for you in relation to the pictures. Here is a marker to document your ideas.”

The year was 2008 and I was attending the first Drama for Life Conference at WITS University. The facilitator of the workshop was Ross Kidd. It was the first time I learned the value of beginning a workshop before it begins. The pictures on the walls were of gender stereo types and people’s typical reactions towards HIV. By recording our own thoughts as we looked at the pictures, we were all given an opportunity to become aware of our own positioning in relation to the story in the room as depicted by the title of the workshop. Before Ross Kidd had opened his mouth, we all had formed an opinion and had a story of our own to contribute.

Even if you did not want to be as highly participative as this, it is essential that you help delegates become present to the current reality regarding the story in the room. Most traditional speakers choose to do it by telling a story, raising a case study or citing some research results. However you chose to do it, step one of Story-Strategy is:

Sketch a picture of the current reality

(Once upon a time there was someone, somewhere in a certain fix). 

Every story begins with someone (character) somewhere (scene) in a certain fix (plot). Some examples: Little Red Riding Hood at the edge of the forest, wearing the same hood every day. Brave Heart in a particular time in history with his tribe getting murdered by the English. Harry Potter is in Privet Drive being mistreated by his family. The Game of Thrones begin with a young lord on the other side of The Wall (a monstrous wall of ice that marked the edge of the seven kingdoms) killed by walking dead…

In each case the scene is set in such a way that the reader, watcher or listener (from here on the audience) identifies with the plight of the character so as to be drawn into the story.

  • How do you acknowledge the current reality and the pain of your audience regarding the story in the room?
  • How do you help them acknowledge where they are?
  • How accurately do you sketch that current reality?
  • How deeply can you empathize with them?

If you remember the SHIFT model, you will know that telling them is not as effective as letting them tell you. Creative participation is essential so that people can connect their own stories to the story in the room. Yet, there are many ways to do this. It begins before the talk, workshop, or conference really begins. From the moment delegates arrive, it is the beverages you serve, the way you let them register, the conference pack or learning material you hand them, the way you set up the room and the way you as facilitator or trainer greet them at the door or from the platform.

The Double Journey

This is because there are two cycles of Story-Strategy – there is a ‘double journey’ at stake. First people must be drawn from outside the room to inside: not just physically, but also with their attention and emotion. Secondly, once willing to be ‘here’ they must be drawn from their current understanding of the issue in the room to a new perspective. First they cross a physical threshold from their everyday existence filled with partners, colleagues, kids, traffic and unanswered emails into the learning space. Then they must cross the threshold from their current understanding of the learning content e.g. customer service, leadership or Learning and Research on HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health, to a fresh perspective i.e. the one that you as speaker, facilitator or trainer want to convey.

In the example above Ross Kidd did not have to pay much attention to the first threshold because we were already in conference mode, but the conference designers themselves sure had to do it. I remember a carefully planned foyer space with musicians setting a tone, and a clearly themed conference pack. I also remember Warren Nebe starting the conference with a story about Blue Beard, immediately capturing attention and focussing it on the theme of the conference: African Research in Applied Drama and Theatre. He was establishing current reality by asking us to identify the role we see ourselves playing using examples from the story: Are we the naïve one driven by instincts to open the forbidden door? Do we find ourselves overwhelmed and surrounded by bloodied bodies? Are we dealing with the old folk hiding the past?

More examples will follow in future posts. For now, just remember:

Begin before you begin

 

Story Secrets for Speakers #5 – Who is in this with me?

If you have overcome personal resistance, relational resistance and practical resistance, you are now ready to tackle social resistance. Every person in your audience wants to know: if I do this thing you suggest, or believe this idea you promote – who is in it with me? In essence the question is: what tribe do I become part of? In the Lord of the Rings Frodo has learned that 1. He is chosen (Story Secret #2) he has learned that he can trust Gandalf  (Story Secret #3) and he has heard the plan (Story Secret #4). Now he trembles as he almost accepts his duty…”So I must go to Mordor and deliver this ring into the fires that created it. And I must go alone…” But Gandalf surprises him. The wizard gets up, opens the door and brings in Samwise who had been eavesdropping the entire time. Neither Samwise nor Frodo can believe their good fortune when Gandalf informs them that Samwise must accompany Frodo. Sam is thrilled because of the promise of adventure, Frodo is thrilled because he would not be alone. Samwise becomes Frodo’s loyal companion and it is thanks to him that Frodo finally manages to achieve the objective. We all need loyal support when we accept a new idea, try out a new habit or open up to a new perspective. But there are other social forces too that are needed to make sure we succeed. I will share six of them with you here. Note though, that they work together in pairs. 1. The Sidekick and the Sceptic Samwise is an example of the Sidekick – someone usually in the same peer group as the hero (the hero is of course your audience member). Can you tell a story or produce a testimonial from someone like them who has bought and used your idea/behaviour perspective successfully? Find someone that your audience knows and can relate to. I have seen many a speaker who draws on the approval of one of the audience members to strengthen their case. “In the break I talked to (name) she agreed with me that…” Piglet is Winnie the Pooh’s sidekick: unquestioningly enthusiastic and positive. Yet opposite piglet sits Eeyore… Sceptics who end up buying your idea/habit/perspective give the best testimonials. “When I first heard about… I thought it would be too expensive to implement, too airy fairy/too time consuming, but, I am warming up to the idea.”  A sceptic’s voice is even more powerful when he/she is of a higher status than the general status of your audience: get their boss’s story of why he wanted to book you as speaker. Get the opinion of someone well known to the audience that endorses the idea you are putting forward. You can do this very successfully with quotes or stories. Always balance the positive energy of a piglet story or with an Eeyore story, else people will take it with a pinch of salt. 2. Emotion and Reason Your audience needs to know that their peers and superiors are already in the tribe they will join if they accept your ideas, but they also need to know that they will be both emotionally and mentally accepted into the fold. They need to feel good about joining and be able to satisfy their logic. If both Tigger and Owl support the idea, they will be likely to accept it too. Ever wondered why advertisements either use sex appeal or scientific proof to make their point? Your case is doubly stronger if you can do both. It is always a good idea to use either a celebrity or a professor’s quote or story to strengthen the idea. The trick is not to be too obvious, though. People can see through sales talk and they want to hear authentic stories. I have become weary of speakers who ‘namedrop’. It is not so important who you know, but who knows the ideas you are promoting. 3. The Guide and Contagonist  When all is said and done, you as the guide will be inviting the audience into your peer group. They need to like and  trust you and they need to know if you like and trust them. You as Guide face the opposite energy of the Contagonist. This is the person, or type of person, that will distract, tempt and confuse your audience. Your job is too also guide them through these possible misunderstandings, distortions and false solutions that may be hidden in the ideas you promote. Failing to do so will leave them vulnerable to failure, but will also leave you more open to criticism. Just like the Sceptic’s testimonial is often stronger than that of the Sidekick, your illumination of pitfalls and misunderstandings is more powerful than your praise singing. Stories of failure can build success and stories of doubt can build faith. For seven whole volumes Harry Potter distrusted and suspected Severus Snape, but after he heard his true story,  sadly a little too late, Harry named one of his own sons after him. For more on these archetypes google Dramatica.

Now just as you think you have covered it all and now it is plain sailing, everything goes wrong. This is when you need Story Secret 6

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Researcher, Speaker and Coach

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

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

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