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

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

 

 

 

Why a ‘just fine’ facilitation is not good enough – and how to get it unstuck

Photo of solitary confinement cell door

Stories teach us about five types of resistance that a storyteller must take the main character through in order for him or her to transform. If you want to turn a frog into a prince, and not just dress the frog up in princely garb, you must guide that frog through. And your strongest ally in this journey is information. People need information – five types of information, matching the five types of resistance:

  1. Personal Resistance – Why me? How is this relevant to me?
  2. Relational Resistance – Why you? Why would you know how to help me?
  3. Social Resistance – Who is in this with me? Do I belong with them and they with me?
  4. Practical Resistance – How is this going to work? What is the process and the strategy?
  5. Cosmic Resistance – What happens when things don’t work out as planned? If it or I fail?

When you are the speaker, facilitator or coach, you are the story weaver and your client or audience is the princely frog.

I spoke this morning at the Knowledge Resources Organisational Development Conference about these five types of resistance. I devised an ingenious interactive process to illustrate it and cleverly used Shawshank Redemption and The Great Escape as metaphors for breaking through (or out of) the prison of resistance.

But it bombed.

No, it did not bomb, it actually went just fine, but it did not wow the way I dreamed it would (being so clever and all). ‘Just fine’ is just not good enough.

Why did it not work?

At first I thought it was because I failed to get two thirds of the audience over the first kind of resistance.

The plan was for the whole group to get up and act the part of someone who had been in solitary confinement for two months and then gets released. One third of them were ready to do so immediately. The idea was that, by the end of it all, most of them would be willing to do it. But, it was mostly the same group doing it by the end. Yet I tried it the day before with another group and it worked like a charm.

What went wrong on Wednesday?

I know that personal resistance has two aspects. I worked them through the first aspect, but not the second.

The question: “Is this for me” has two sides: first it relates to my personality i.e. “am I the type of person who would get up and act out anything?” But the second part of it has to do with the relevance of this to me: “Is this relevant to who I am and where I am at in my life?” This latter question is the one I did not make room for, and therefore two thirds of the people did not come with me on the journey.

How did I miss this?

Firstly, the answer lies in how a story begins. No story starts with the hero at the first point of resistance. It starts with the hero somewhere in a situation of stuckness. In the midst of that stuckness, whether or not they are aware of this ‘prison’, they receive the Call to Change. Only then can they resist this call.

As the story weaver, I needed to ‘get’ the nature of this stuckness so that I can fashion an appropriate Call. Usually I take quite a bit of time to understand where the audience is at, and to let them voice their perspectives on their situation. Unfortunately, I did not have time to do this as part of the talk and I could not mingle with them enough beforehand. I also think that, unconsciously, I thought I knew where they were. I did not.

Secondly, I know that the moment of cosmic resistance is usually such that, if any of the other resistances were not overcome by the time you get to it, they will surface and you can loop back and deal with them. My time was up, though, and I could not address them. This idea is supported by the fact that one participant said: “I could not get up and play the role as asked, even though I was ready to jump up and do it when you first suggested it, because the details of the story (the rape and the pain in the prison) upset me and it is unresolved.”

I wish with all my heart, dear participant, that I had the time to explore this with you. I am sorry to have opened it up without the opportunity to loop back and accompany you through it a second time – you and anyone else who needed it.

But this was not the whole story.

Really it comes down to simple group dynamics (if group dynamics were ever simple). I talked with a delegate the next day about the presentation. Of course he told me it was wonderful. Then I asked him why it was so difficult to get them moving? He agreed that it seemed like a tough crowd, but then simply said: “These guys are all strangers to each other: and it is a large group of strangers. They just needed more time to warm up. Also, it took me a while to remember the Shawshank story. I’m one of those people who forget detail.”

And that means that, in spite of my efforts, resistance number 3, Social Resistance, could not be broken with no warming up and in the short time I had. It also means that I needed to spend more time on establishing the shared reality: the Shawshank story.

What did I learn for next time?

  1. I will never again assume I know where people are. It’s odd, I have learned this lesson so many times and still unconsciously made assumptions. So the word ‘never’ is an intention, but I may step in the trap again. To help me, I will remember to take time before a talk to speak to people and ask them about their current challenges.
  2. I will not accept only 30 minutes of time for such a talk, especially if it is the first talk of the day and there is not time before hand to talk to folks. I need at least 60 minutes so that I can talk to folks, tell the story. And later on, get the feedback from the group and loop back if needed.
  3. I will not rely on PowerPoint to set the scene, but play to my strengths which is facilitation and conversation rather than information transmission. I so badly wanted to show my clever pictures and get through my slides that I could not work with the group where they were. If ever I use PowerPoint, it must be embedded in a facilitation process and not the other way around.

Where did this last point come from?

I noticed a pattern that, of the three bombed keynotes I did over the last five years, all of them had in common that :

  • It was based on a set of slides. In each case I worked on the slides till late the previous night, so they weren’t seasoned and embedded into my talk yet.
  • Also, I noticed that all three occasions was for an audience larger than 30, I do not know yet what that means… But I will watch and reflect and keep learning.

So, why should 65 OD practitioners need to get up and act like Tim Robins in the role of Andy Dufresne?

How entrenched in, or ‘confined’ by, their current way of doing are the people in your organisation? How harsh would they experience the new ideas that you want to introduce? Do you truly get their current reality? What can you do to guide them out of their solitary confinement safely and yet firmly so that they, like Andy, can own their actions and so be truly transformed?

Post image from Wikimedia Commons

Making friends in Jozi (Johannesburg)

Imagine a 40 year old white woman on the side of Republic Road trying to hail a minibus taxi. Not too much of a stretch? Now imagine that this same woman just moved to Jo’burg. She does not know which taxi sign to use to indicate that she wants to go to Randburg, she does not know where to stand exactly so that the taxi expects that she may want a ride and finally, she only has about 40% vision, so she cannot really distinguish a taxi from a four by four family car. How likely is it that she will be able to get a taxi to stop?

Yet, there I was, hailing every token blonde mommy with her 2 darlings in her 4 X 4 hoping against hope… It did not work. I corner the first likely guy (young black guy walking purposefully down the street) and ask him to help. He teaches me about the downward pointing finger to show I want to go to Randburg, he tells me to wait just past the corner after the robot, which is where the taxi might expect me and he walks on. Yet 2 taxi’s drive by without picking me up. I look up and my helper is back.

“No, no, no, they are all showing you that they are full”, I will help.

As we wait, he tells me that he is a cleaner at Cresta and is walking home after his shift ended at 8am this morning. I tell him that I do not see well and that I am new to Jo’burg, having just moved here from the Cape. The taxi comes and as I get in he says: “here is my cell number, tomorrow you call me and tell me where you are , then I will explain the sighns to you. You now have a friend in Jozi”.

I am still smiling touched by this man’s generosity of spirit when my taxi pulls into the road with gusto exactly in the fashion that most irritates my husband when he is behind a taxi. “Don’t they look before they turn into the road?” I can 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”.

“Everyone in Jozi is a friend it seems”, I muse to muself.

Eight months later and I am travelling a different route in a different taxi. I am now a seasoned traveller and far less confused. This time I am on my way from Empire Road via Emmerentia back to Randburg to take a taxi there to Nicolway to meet my husband. I have an hour to make the trip, but my cell phone is flat (yes, bad planning on my part, but for some reason I let it happen to me often). I seem to be the only passenger in the mini bus taxi – they usually do their best to be a full as possible.

‘You came just for me today’, I joke with the driver and get in.

He grunts shyly.

We are well on our way when he leans back and explains to me that we are taking a detour because there is a traffic cop ahead of us.

A part of me thinks like my indoctrinated white heritage demands: “what does the driver want to hide? These cabs are never properly roadworthy – trash cans on wheels the lot of them”. But I check that voice and ask: “Why is that a problem?”

“It’s weekend and he wants extra money.”

I deduce the rest of the explanation: He will pull us over for nothing and make us pay.

“Okay”, I say and smile. Five minutes later we were still trying to get back on the original route, but as Jo’burg roads go, we have turned to many times in the wrong direction and now we are lost.

I imagine that the driver knows his own route well, but doesn’t explore much off it. He has no idea where we are and how to get back. I look at my watch… The driver is stressing markedly and he feels embarrassed on top of that. Also, he has no way of filling his cab if he is on the wrong roads. Al this I gather from his body language, because, shy as he is, he does not talk to me much.

Don’t worry, i say, “ask someone for directions, everyone in Jo’burg is a friend.” He looks at me doubtfully, but finally slows down to call to a guy walking on the opposite side of the road. They converse in their mix of isiZulu and other languages and the guy comes over, jumps into the cab and starts pointing.

A few minutes later the taxi stops, the guy jumps off and the driver smiles at me: “I am right now.”

“See, everyone in Jozi is a friend”, I say.

My shy driver says nothing, but his hooter is happily honking away calling for more passengers. Soon we fill up and reach Randburg. I ask my driver the sign for Bryonstone  and I change taxi’s.

But the day is not done. The driver I hailed asks me where I am going and when I tell him he shakes his head: “No, you used the wrong sign, we are going to Sandton not Bryonstone. But we will drop you where you can get the right one.” The clock is ticking. Still, I may be lucky to make a quick transfer. At least they are friendly enough to set me on the right way.

They go on honking and smiling picking up more people. Then, after a while: “We changed our minds, we are taking you to Bryonstone.”

I shake my head: everyone in Jozi is a friend – except perhaps the husband now fuming and fretting because I am 15 min late, unreachable via cell phone and he knows I am travelling these @#$%ing taxi’s.

Why the brain likes it when you begin before you begin?

5.2 Why the brain likes it when you begin before you begin?

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

Whether you use high levels of participation as in the example of Ross Kidd and the posters, or implied participation through the use of story as in the Blue Beard example, it is how the strategy captivates the human brain that lends to it the power of transformation.

According to the AGES model Attention is one of the key components of learning that sticks and it is the job of the conference designer, workshop facilitator or speaker to make sure it is captured and held. Both story and participation captures attention because it involves emotion. When emotion is connected to an event, the brain builds a stronger memory of it. Additionally, the emotion activates the Amygdala which signals to the Hippocampus  that the event is salient and must therefore be more deeply encoded.

Both the involvement of emotion and the activation of the visual cortex through pictures helps the brain to Generate more associations with the ideas presented. Stories generate pictures in the mind of the listener, and the use of posters also stimulate this part of the brain. If you then also introduce a social aspect where people share their impressions of the story or the participative exercise, you create even more opportunity for generating multiple perspectives and associations.

Both Generation and Emotion are also aspects of the AGES model to help us understand how the brain takes in information so that the learning sticks. Between simply telling a story or allowing people to work with and talk to each other about the ideas through participation, the latter strategy is obviously more powerful for helping the brain to remember, but it is not always the most practical.

If you need more motivation to increase participation levels when you speak, train or conference, take a look at the SCARF model of David Rock. By letting people form an opinion about the story in the room and giving them a voice even before the facilitator or speaker has begun, you heighten the Status of the participants significantly. Suddenly they are not inferior to the facilitator, but co-creators of meaning.  Allowing them to choose which pictures to comment on and what words to write down increases Autonomy too. Talking with each other directly, or indirectly by the way in which people notice each other’s comments on the news print also builds Relatedness. Finally putting everyone through the same process and making them co-creators of meaning increases the feeling of equality and Fairness.

The only element of the SCARF model that is not directly involved is the sense of Certainty. It is usually also this aspect that makes people dislike participatory methods. The sense of fear and uncertainty caused when walking into a room where things are not as you expect the, to be can cause a fight or flight response. But with careful structuring it is possible to change this emotion to one of excitement and novelty which draws Attention and uses positive Emotion.

Click here for examples of how you can begin before you begin.

 

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

 

What are the components of Story-Strategy?

What are the components of Story-Strategy?

Story-Strategy Act 2 Episode 4 continue – The Magic Weapon

Story-Strategy is the big picture sequential design and the poignant delivery of messages and events that take people from where they are to where they could be.

Every good story-strategy, like every good story, has a well designed beginning, middle and end. Each of these three can be divided into three more sections so that your beginning leaves no-one behind, your middle keeps everyone riveted and your end leaves them changed forever.

Here are the components of each:

Beginning

1. Sketching a picture of the current reality (Once upon a time there was someone, somewhere in a certain fix).

At the beginning of Cinderella we find her in the ashes dominated by an evil stepmother and two spoilt step sisters.

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 and how deeply can you empathize with them?

2. Issuing a Call to Adventure that opens up new possibilities   (then one day something unusual happens).

Cinderella and her sisters get an invitation to the prince’s ball…

What new opportunity or possibilities do you/your material or programme open up? How do you communicate these possibilities? How do you allow your audience to begin dreaming a new dream?

3. Making room for debate and doubts (But there are obstacles and questions)

Yet, Cindy cannot see her way open to attend: she will exhaust her time and energy in helping her sisters get ready and anyway, she does not have a dress…

Neuroscience dictates that anything new brings about mixed feelings of excitement and fear along with actual obstacles that could hold you back.

How do you make room for these mixed emotions that relate to the new possibilities you are opening up? How do we allow for a conversation on the doubts/reservations people may have? How do we make room for them to identify obstacles and debate pros and cons?

The middle

4. Preparing for the journey (Because of this characters receive magic weapons, a clear plan and a mentor that help to bring safety and build confidence)

 

The fairy godmother appears with her magic to make a plan and send Cindy on her way. She proves her point by giving her a coach, horses, coachman and a dress.

What specific model, plan or strategy do you offer to guide participants through? Whose plan or strategy is it and why should it be trusted? Do you give a quick overview or big picture perspective before delving into detail? Can you give a short example or story that brings it home?

5.  The Journey itself (Tests and trials along the way, meeting friends and enemies)

At the ball Cindy meets her Prince and dances all night and deeply connects with each other. She plays at being royal, pretty and rich, but forgets to watch the time. When she flees the scene as the clock strikes, all seems lost…

What are the key tasks and who is the tribe that typify the journey to the new reality? How do we structure the steps/processes of the solution? How do we help people practice new skills increasing the level of difficulty?  How do we build relationship in the tribe that travels together?

6. Rewarding valiant effort (Finally there is a breakthrough and characters receive short term benefit).

The prince rushes after her and there on the steps he discovers her glass slipper and with it the promise of finding her again.

How do we celebrate breakthroughs and frame insights? How do we reward participation and risks people take in reaching into unfamiliar territory? Neuroscience again shows how people are motivated by a sense of reward. This can be given in the form of a feeling of accomplishment, of being appreciated by others, or of receiving input that is relevant and applicable to them personally.

The ending

7. Return (With new found insight characters return to their world to apply it)

While Cindy is back in squalor, the prince (as representation of her other half) now return to the village to look for her, trying to fit the slipper on every possible girl that seems likely.

What strategy or structure do you use to help people apply your model or new ideas to their personal contexts? How do you help them not just see its possible use, but actually try it out? Can you come up with a simulation that help you do this?

8. Commitment and sacrifice (After trying new ideas in practical contexts, the characters discover that they will need to sacrifice something of their old life to make room for a new commitment)

When the prince finds her, he must let go of his expectation of a ‘likely’ candidate and accept that his queen might be a serving girl…

How do you call them to commitment in adopting the new ideas and behaviours? How do you inspire them to let go of old patterns that may interfere with the shift they want to achieve?

9. Integrating new ideas to form a new current reality (Now everyday characters live in a new state different from before, but stable and integrated)

As the prince slips the glass shoe onto Cindy’s foot, poor and rich merge, servant and queen become one…

What first steps, tools and support structures do they leave with for integrating new ideas and actions into their everyday lives? How fully can we, as journey guides, ‘die’ so that we are not needed when people are back in their everyday lives.

And they live happily ever after.

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

What can I do with a Story-Strategy?

Move your audience, your team, your people

Through the ages from ancient myths to modern fantasy, Bible stories to Grimm fairy tales, story tellers from the earliest times until now has harnessed the power of story to impact the lives of others and to teach them truths that otherwise seem abstract and complex.

They knew how to meet their audience where they were and draw them into a story world that opened to them a new perspective and took them on a journey of discovery so that, by the end of the story, something had shifted for them. In identification with the people in the story, the listeners could change how they see things, what they believe about their world and how they act within it.

Story-Strategy is the underlying blue print of how stories do this. What are the mechanisms that draw people in?

How do you shape the story so that people change their beliefs, opinions and actions?

But Story-Strategy does not end with its use in shaping stories that are written or told. This very same strategy can help you shift the story of your life, the lies of your audience, the story of your organisation.  You can apply the same strategies that story tellers use to tell great stories, to live a great life story, or to design a story for an organisation, or a team, or a social grouping of any other kind.

Story-Strategy is the internal structure of stories that allow them to move people. These same structures can be used to design

  • talks,
  • workshops,
  • Organisational Development Programmes,
  • Interventions,
  • conferences,
  • learning material or
  • personal development projects.

But it is not just these internal design features of story that can move people, but also the delivery methods: the way you present the story through training, coaching, facilitation, talking and selling. There is also an entire printed media side to this, but I like to focus only on the oral delivery of the story.

Story-Strategy is the big picture sequential design and the poignant delivery of messages and events that take people from where they are to where they could be.

Every good story-strategy, like every good story, has a well designed beginning, middle and end. Each of these three can be divided into three more sections so that your beginning leaves no-one behind, your middle keeps everyone rivitted and your end leaves them changed forever.

To design conferences, workshops, talks or programmes that move people, use a Story-Strategy.

 

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