Okay, I’m not going to lie to you. This could be the most important, influential article you ever read about storytelling. That may sound arrogant, but I’ve been studying this for decades and learned from some of the best in the world. Craig Valentine and Michael Hauge have probably been the most influential in teaching me this subject. The information is finally starting to crystalize at a deep level.
Sure, we presenters want to entertain when telling stories. But it should not be our overarching intent. Great stories make our points clear. They need to clearly show a shift, a transformation in the character. That’s what makes the story memorable.
When I was teaching storytelling last week to a group of executives in Nashville, this point hit me right in the face. There are so many important aspects to storytelling, but this one, though people tend to understand it, they do not yet not implement it properly. Myself included. As they say, we teach what we need to learn.
When you tell your stories, can the audience clearly see the transformation? Or in other words, the identity shift of the character. In corporate presentations, don’t think “case study,” think “case story.” This is a tough question to ask yourself, but based on the facts of what you tell your audience, not what you know personally about the story, can your audience clearly see a change in the character?
Many, myself included, will know the huge transformation of the character, but not make the change simple and clear for our audience. We often show apples at the beginning and oranges at the end. Yes, both fruit, but to your audience hearing it for the first time, we need to see the apples are very different and are changed the way I wish to be changed. For a true transformational story, we need to see the shift in identity of the character. The client was frustrated and upset and now the client is confident and thrilled. Is there a noticeable shift?
Here is a real life example, as I’ve been working on my book and movie script, I ran my idea by Michael Hauge. He helped me get clear on the identity shift that must happen in the main character. At the end of the book and movie, there must be a shift in identity. This was so helpful to me!
I had many ideas on the circumstance at the beginning of my story and so many things I could say about my character, me, back then. I was too close to my own story. There were too many facts and flaws I could focus on. When I looked at the end of my story and the new identity of the main character, it was so helpful for me to go back and plant the seeds at the beginning that would set up the obvious transformation at the end.
Let’s just look at two aspects that helped me get clarity on telling this story. When I grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s, I rarely left my home town. At that point in my life, I rarely even went into the big city nearby, unless it was a class field trip. I had also never been out of the country, unless of course you count driving over the Canada line with my family when we did a camping trip to Niagara Falls in our tent trailer. At the end of the story, or aftermath, I have ended up speaking in 44 international cities around the world some which I never even heard of growing up. Can you clearly see that difference?
Now let’s look at the internal and emotional of the same character. I was a quiet, shy, introverted kid who barely spoke up. My sister was the super smart one in the family and my brother was the standout athlete. I was neither. In high school, I felt invisible. The contrast needs to be shown and felt at the end. This will be contrasted with people lining up to take their pictures with me and seeking me out for advice. That is a complete shift of identity. See how that shows the opposite of invisible?
I can still remember when I was 30 years old, and had to take a plane to my first speech, all the way in Panama City, Florida. I was giving a speech about using humor in business based on my book. It went well, I got some laughs and gave some insights. My career was finally starting to take shape. What struck me as an emerging speaker was after my speech, one of the attendees, whom I never met before my presentation, spotted me in passing. Then the craziest thing happened, as she saw me a smile grew on her face. I had made her laugh and she enjoyed my keynote. She saw me. I was noticed because of what I did on stage. This was a pivotal moment in my career. This alone would not be enough for the aftermath, but it will be a sign of some progress in the middle of the story.
This is an extreme example, but I think it illustrates the point well. If your main character has fear at the beginning, let’s see confidence at the end. If they are arrogant at the beginning, we need to know they are humble at the end. If they are struggling with selling at the beginning, we need to see they are selling with ease and abundance at the end. Important point for us telling stories on stage, this must be at least based on the truth!
When I first started studying screenwriting, I learned that when first considering a script, some Hollywood actors will first read just the first ten pages and the last ten pages. Do you know why? They know that to be a part of a great story, they must be able to show the change in identity of the character they will play. If it looks clear and doable for them, then they will read the whole script.
The journey of the struggle to transformation is obviously important too. There is so much more to storytelling at a world-class level, but I wanted to focus on this one crucial, often over-looked aspect of storytelling for speakers and presenters. If you want to know more, consider connecting with me and my coaches, online at StageTimeUnviersity.com or at one of our live workshops.
Here is a crucial bonus idea to keep in mind while delivering a story. When we demonstrate this in our storytelling, we also need to deliver the emotional shift in the character too. My coach Patricia Fripp, taught me that the biggest enemy of corporate presenters is sameness. If we deliver the situation of our characters at the beginning of our story in a monotone format and we deliver people the change in facts at the end of the story in the same monotone delivery, some people won’t even notice the change! This is just because your delivery is the same. The words being different are sometimes not enough. If you want a powerful impact, we need to see the emotional shift in the character as well. It can be subtle, but we should feel it.
I’m telling you the truth and this is more important than you think. Remember: the purpose of story for presenters is to make our points clear, memorable and show the shift in the character. When you tell your stories, can your audience see and feel the identity shift of your main character? You do not need to spend too much time telling it all, but we as your audience need to see the diametrically opposed before and after. We do need to invest time in preparing what we will say to make it clear and concise. The cool part is the time in which we invest in preparing is multiplied by every time we tell that story on stage for the rest of our career.
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