Do you like the feeling you get when someone fondly remembers something you did for them years ago? Maybe it was a generous act of kindness, a compliment or perhaps it was a story you told in a presentation. Ever wonder what it was that made it so memorable in the person’s mind? It could have been timely, well-said — or better yet, maybe they “felt” your story.
I received an email this week from Ryan Levesque, a fellow Toastmaster from Boston. (If you’re a Toastmaster, you may know him as the host of the Toastmaster Podcast.) He had forwarded an article to me in which he mentioned a presentation I gave in 2004 at a local Boston library. He still remembered it. I love hearing stories like that, so I asked him to elaborate on which of my stories had impacted him that day. It was a story I told just after returning from the Everglades.
While taking a ride on an airboat, I saw an energetic little boy wearing a bright red shirt sitting in front of me, next to his Dad. The boy excitedly reached over the side of the boat to feel the water and touch things as we passed. Noticing this, our weathered tour guide, Scotty, slowed the boat, reached over the side, pulled out his knife and cut off a three-inch piece of “saw grass.” He then passed it around the boat and had everyone touch the sharp barbs of the grass.
When the little boy touched the sharp barb of saw grass he quickly pulled his hand away. As we started across the swamplands again, there was saw grass on both sides of the boat. The little boy slid closer to his Dad and kept his hands as far from the side of the boat as possible. Scotty could have just told people to keep their hands inside the boat — but instead, he sent a more powerful message. He let his tourists feel the sharpness of the saw grass, and make the decision for themselves.
Ryan still had his notes from that presentation in 2004. Wow! Impressive! He recalled the point of my story, which was, “Get your audience to physically / emotionally touch the saw grass. What do you want them to think / feel differently?”
The funny part to me was, I haven’t told that story in years! I still remembered it… all Ryan had to say was “saw grass.”
This weekend, I coached a couple of very experienced speakers from a convention here in Vegas. They were with a network marketing company, on stage telling their story. They were very good speakers and had amazing presence. One was making an important point about how busy she was in her life, running around taking care of her job and daughter. I loved that she was very “coachable.” I suggested to Ms. Coachable that instead of telling people how busy she was, consider saying, “Imagine how I felt when my daughter looked up at me and said, ‘Mommy, are going to miss my game because you have to work again?'” Using actual dialogue will be powerful. Choose real dialogue that other parents will relate to.
Can you see how much more impactful that would be? Many audience members would relate to the emotion and feeling that would bring. They would be more likely to “feel” the story.
When we use stories to make our point in conversations or formal presentations, the effectiveness is impactful. The same principles apply. Scotty’s wisdom prevails. The “saw grass effect” helps to change perspectives because the audience “touches” the saw grass. Before touching the saw grass, the energetic little boy was putting himself unknowingly in danger by leaning over the side of the boat. After he touched the saw grass, he behaved quite differently.
Years from now, you’ll meet someone, somewhere, who was sitting at your presentation back in 2011. Will they remember one of the stories you told? They’re much more likely to remember your story — and your point — if they “experience” it. What will you do to help them “feel” it?
Please share your comments below!
P.S. Thanks, Ryan, for the great reminder — and congratulations on your article! I’m delighted to pass on to you what I learned from my coaches.
For me, my first CD gave me proof. It raised my belief that I had something to offer in order to help other people. It also dramatically increased my credibility. I wish I’d created my first CD a year ago!
Are you making any of these Top 10 Speaking Mistakes?