Four words that will get everyone’s attention: Once Upon A Time. Those four words have the power to ignite our imagination and get us excited for an adventure. We have been telling stories from the very beginning- Stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Stories teach, inspire, and motivate us.
The one question I hear many times, as a motivational speaker, is “How do I present my ideas and keep everyone’s attention?” The simple answer is: Tell them a good story.
I believe the best stories are true personal stories. Let’s face it; facts are always stranger than fiction. Yes, once when I was bellydancing a monkey did grab my foot and started sucking on my toe, and yes I did take a knife away from a big biker dude and yes, I was almost eaten by a shark.
I found that telling personal stories connects us to each other. It teaches us compassion and empathy. It gets our message across in an emotional way that stays with us.
We are all hardwired to want to hear other people’s stories. That’s how we get to know each other. That’s how we learn from each other. That’s how we know to stay away from the crazy person who seemed normal until they started talking.
Researcher Paul Zak presented his findings in a paper called Empathy, Neurochemistry and the Dramatic Arc: How Stories Shape Our Brains. He took blood samples from people before and after they watched an emotional story. Two primary emotions that were elicited was distress and empathy. The brain produced two interesting chemicals: cortisol which is released when we are feeling distressed and focuses our attention, and oxytocin, which triggers our emotion of care, connection and empathy.
Storytelling can change our behavior by changing our brain chemistry. To quot Zak: “By knowing someone’s story-where they came from, what they do, and who you might know in common, relationships with strangers are formed.”
The opposite was true when participants were asked to watch a video where there was no story. People started to let their minds wander. There wasn’t anything happening to keep their attention.
We have all experienced this. A presentation that is devoid of any emotion, just an explanation of facts and statistics. Our minds would dissolve into day dreaming just to keep us awake. I am sure most of you have experienced that. I think if someone is going to show a powerpoint presentation they should also pass pillows out to the audience.
I think our greatest fear in public speaking is that we will be boring. Here’s a few tips that I’ve learned that I think will help take away that fear.
There is a universal story structure. It comes in three parts. Beginning, Middle and End.
The biggest component is the battle between good and evil. The struggle and success against tremendous obstacles.
The beginning: The main character, who sets out on an adventure.
The middle: They face daunting, sometimes frightening, challenges like a fire breathing dragon.
The ending: Our hero learns to defeat the dragon, understands the lesson that they have been taught and comes away with the success of those efforts.
Use descriptive words that helps our mind see the people and envision the scene they are in.
Give details. Give us an idea of why you are telling this story. We want to know where the story is taking place. We want to know what you are thinking and feeling. We want to know how the story will end.
Three parts to a story:
1. The hero of the story is your message.
2. The fire breathing dragon is your challenge.
3. What the hero learned is your call to action.
We all have experiences of facing challenges that shaped our perception of the world. There’s a very good chance that someone in the audience needs to hear your message. This is our chance to help someone who is looking for answers or reassurance that they are on the right track. This is our chance to connect with each other. We all come from different places and different backgrounds but our stories are universal.
Take that leap of faith and tell us the story that inspired you. The story that helped you turn a corner and put you in a new direction. Tell us about your fire breathing dragon.