Story Secrets for Speakers #1: Paint a Picture of the Possibility

What made James in Roald Dahl;s ‘James and the Giant Peach’ climb inside a giant peach, befriend life size bugs and steer across an ocean to go to New York? What made Cinderella get out of the ashes and off to the Prince’s ball? What made the frog turn into a prince?

The answer to all these questions is the same: they believed that it was possible. Of course, none of them started out believing it, they all needed someone to paint them a picture of the possibility. James lost hope when his cruel aunts destroyed the picture his deceased father had given him showing the big vibrant city of New York.  This dream needed reviving by the peculiar little man with the shiny green things. Cinderella was shattered and crying in the ashes when the Fairy Godmother found her. As for the frog: it was the arrival of the princess that sparked his hope.

So why then do most marketing gurus tell you that, if you want to sell yourself as a speaker, you have to paint a picture of the problem that you want to solve for your client? ‘Make them feel the pain’ is one piece of advice I had received. Speaking to your audience is, in essence, nothing different than selling an idea, so what gives?

Stories, being metaphors for life, provide a possible solution to this question. In stories some of the guides or mentors also opt for painting the picture of the problem rather than of the possibility, but this happens mostly when they want to get the hero to change the lot of others rather than her own lot.

Gandalf tells Frodo an elaborate and alarming tale highlighting the dangers of the magic ring and pointing to the evil it could bring to the hobbits of the Shire. It is in response to the plight of his fellow hobbits that Frodo takes up the burden of the ring and sets off on his impossible mission to destroy it. Similarly, if you want your client to spend money on your keynote or your training, you may well have to paint them a picture of the problems their staff and their company may experience should their issues go unaddressed. Doing this enroles them as the potential hero: the one who will save his or her community from the dragons they face.

But, behold, if you want them to change their own lives and take up new habits, you will have to sell to them the possibility of life beyond where they are. People are notoriously blind and even resistant to seeing their own flaws. You may show them what problems their colleagues, children or managers might be facing, but this does not help them to face their own demons, for that, they need more preparation.

For people to really see their own weakness and choose to do something about it,  you need the rest of the story – you need the other 6 story secrets. A story is nothing other than the sequence of events that are necessary for the main character to change, to undergo a permanent shift in perspective as they face their own demons.

As guide and mentor the first step is to paint a picture of the possibility so that they can ‘feel the pain’ of not being there yet and begin to yearn for change. Your first job is to ask ‘What if…” What if you could go to New York in a giant peach What if you, the lowly Cinderella could dance with the royal heir?  What if a frog could be a prince?

What if you knew all 7 secrets of how to get the Cinderellas and the frogs in your audiences to change their own fates?

Watch this space for the next instalment of 7 Story Secrets for Speakers: Story Secret #2 Call on the hero’s character.

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Researcher, Speaker and Coach

Find all the sectrets here:

  1. Paint a picture of the possibility contrasted with the pain of the current reality.
  2. Call on the Hero’s Character This is the chosen one, the one whom the prophesies mention
  3. Demonstrate your magic: by providing a personalised tool
  4. Your secret weapon and the power of 3,5 and 7
  5. Introduce the travelling companions so they know who is in it with them
  6. Reframe the situation with a fresh perspective when the pawpaw hits the fan and then:
  7. Die with grace…

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