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

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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 #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…

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