“Your life tells a story and there is someone out there who needs to hear it. You may think your story is not sensational, but it does not have to be sensational it just has to be sincere. If your audience can relate to you and your experiences, and chances are they will, then you need to tell them what you have been through, share your life, share your love and share your message with the world.”
–Mark Brown, 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking.
These are the final words of the powerful moving documentary by Paul Galichia and Brian Weidling titled SPEAK. It is the story of a thousand stories. It chronicles people’s fear of public speaking as well as the struggles, frustrations and joy behind the World Championship of Public Speaking. What does this have to do with your presentations? I believe great deal. How they told the story in the film is much like telling a well-told story in a presentation.
First: The Idea
No matter what point you are trying to get across, you have to start with a thought… an idea. Your ideas have to come from somewhere. Where do you look for them?
Speaking last week to Paul, one of the film makers, he said they had heard of a story from a mutual friend about a very shy woman who was, quite frankly, socially awkward. She had made a commitment to give a presentation at work in front of company executives. Three months later she nailed the presentation When asked what she did, she simply said she joined Toastmasters. As a result of the presentation, she even got a promotion. Wow!
Brian and Paul were intrigued by the story of personal transformation. They had to find out more about Toastmasters. When they did, they were captivated. They dove in to learn more and they started to capture stories not knowing how it would end up looking. They first turned on their cameras for this project in 2007. It is just now being released around the world.
Second: The Structure
Hall of Fame Speaker and Speech Coach, Patricia Fripp will tell you in order to create a memorable speech you must start with good structure. When Paul and Brian started this project they only knew of Toastmasters. They were surprised to find out there was a World Championship of Public Speaking. Paul told me that finding out about this contest made them even more excited. Why? He said it was a great way to lend a “natural structure” to the story they wanted to tell.
Once a structure is decided upon, it then makes the story easier to tell. Even the most complex stories have much structure.
Third: The Characters
We love hearing about characters we can relate to. We also enjoy when they are very different. We love seeing what they do and how they act… and more importantly, react.
When Brian and Paul took on this enormous task of following the speech contest I’m not sure if they realized what it would take. Trying to capture the characters who would make it to the finals meant they would crisscross the country getting hours of footage that may never make the film. Imagine lugging camera equipment through airport after airport, not knowing if you were going to get any usable footage. That is what master storytellers do. If you don’t capture all of this footage you may miss a golden moment that would bring the touching story together in the end.
In the film there is an appearance by Chris Matthews, former Toastmaster and the host of MSNBC program Hardball with Chris Matthews. There is a brief appearance by World Champions, Mark Brown, Ed Tate, David Brooks, myself and Jock Elliott (before he was the Champ). The main characters, however, include: Rich Hopkins, Robert Mackenzie, Dr. Katherine Morrison, Martin Presse, LaShunda Rundles , andCharlie Wilson. You see the love and support from friends and family, along with their struggles and challenges.
In my speech “OUCH!,” I knew the story of my main character, Dr. Robert Goddard, because I grew up in the town where he launched the first liquid-fueled rocket. Even though I knew it, I did lots of reading and research about his story. I found some fascinating facts about him that would never be used in my story. Through my research though, I did discover the New York Times headline, “Moon rocket misses target by 236,799.5 miles.” That one tidbit helped me tell a better more impactful story and gave me a great laugh.
Fourth: Gather Stories to Tell Your Story
Looking through your life there are plenty of stories. As Mark Brown said earlier, we often think we have to have a sensational story in order to be interesting or make a difference. Most people “undervalue” their own experience. They think their story isn’t interesting enough to matter. As World Champion David Brooks says, “We all have different stories, but we all share the same seven emotions.”
Do you have kids? You have stories. Do you have parents? You have stories. Don’t have parents? You have stories. Have siblings? You have stories. Did you grow up? Even though some would say I didn’t, I still have stories. You just need to see the value in them and how they can help you connect with others.
It is more than just giving a speech, it is also telling of intentions, the “why” behind the speeches. There are literally thousands of stories each year revolving around the contest. You’ll hear Rich’s personal life and health challenges as well as Robert’s. Even though both are related to health they could not be more different. Not only will you learn about Martin’s last minute decision to change his speech, but also why and how it affected him.
You’ll be touched by Charlie Wilson’s story of his high school sweetheart, but what I really loved was seeing the behind the scenes… what they did and how they felt. You can’t help but relate to them on so many different levels.
Charlie told the story of how his family grew apart. He felt that he had waited too long to bring them back together. His intention was that if one person in the audience was able to pick up the phone, call a relative, and renew a familial relationship, he would consider himself a winner. Wow…
When we screened the film with our EDGE Members there was not a dry eye in the house. I think Jim Key would say we all had sweaty eye balls. Some people even mentioned that they knew LaShunda was going to be the winner long before they even showed the contest. It was how she carried herself and the depth of her intention. As Craig Valentine, 1999 World Champion says, “I didn’t reach for the trophy, I reached to touch lives. Every time I reached my hand out for the audience, they put a trophy in it.” That was very apparent with Lashunda.
Fifth: Cut, Cut, Cut
When making this film I was told the guys had over 426 hours of footage. Think of going through all of that and having to cut 424.5 hours of it. That’s like Michelangelo saying he sees the figure in the block of stone and then releases it. A story well-told must be edited down again and again. My speech started with 1492 words and I had to get it down to less than 800 to fit within the time.
Part of the challenge is knowing what to cut and what not to. Alfred Hitchcock says that what Hollywood does is take real life and pull out the boring parts. When you are cutting down 426 hours, just like cutting down your story, you not only have to take out some boring parts, you have to also take out some interesting parts as well. No one really wants to watch a 426 hour documentary.
Paul and Brian had to take out some amazing and interesting parts of the stories. What they had to do is figure out what interesting facts disrupt the “flow” of the story. I’m sure they were bummed about some of the footage that ended up on the cutting room floor. Master story-tellers sacrifice even great facts to create a masterpiece. I learned from mentors that sometimes you have to “kill your babies.” Rough image, but it contains much truth. Those little nuggets that you fell in love with, and may even be the reason you want to tell the story, often must go to create the flow.
Finally: Crave Feedback
This final version was not the first one shown. Paul and Brian originally showed the pre-release screening at the Foxwoods Casino in 2009 in front of a group of Toastmasters. They did a Q & A and got lots of comments. I saw that version. It was pretty good. However, it did not nearly have the flow and was not nearly as captivating as this final version. Great speeches are not told, they are re-told.
Brian told me since that first viewing they had gone through 30 versions the film. The first version was 103 minutes. They final version was 89. So it took that many versions to cut only 14 minutes. Wow!! Sometimes we don’t want to take the time to tweek a story. Tweeking is often the difference between good and great. Often, it is the difference between a good story and a memorable one.
What else does that mean to you and me? If you have a story, SPEAK. Meaning… give it and get feedback. There are some improvements we can’t make without experiencing how our audience will receive it. Even with my corporate clients, I require them to do a live run through with their peers before they face their client. This may seem obvious, but in this “get it done yesterday” business world, where people are often putting presentations together as they are headed to a client’s site, if you really want results, you need to become a tweekologist. (Hey new word!)
When the original version aired in 2009 it was titled: SPEAK EASY. The guys received a letter from a lawyer in the mail that required them to change the name. Often times in life, a seeming point of frustration can become a blessing in disguise. My original title of “Ouch!” was “Don’t Chop Down Your Cherry Tree.” Even though many people told me to call it “Ouch!” along the way, I was not ready to receive the message until later. SPEAK, I believe, is a much stronger title and coincidentally the same title as LaShunda’s winning speech. It seemed to add to the flow. I’m sure it became clear that was what the title was meant to be. It also resonates as a call to action by those viewing it.
In conclusion, there is a philosophy I coined: If you go through the process, you will grow through the process. I believe that the more you put yourself into a contest like this, the more you will transform along the way. This is one reason it pains me when people work so hard on a speech for a contest and never give it “outside,” to the real world. That is where it truly belongs.
LaShunda prayed that she would get the opportunity to leave her mark. She did. Now it is also forever etched into this film for all to see, and more importantly to feel. All the stories play a role in one story, that is SPEAK. Paul and Brian invested four years and almost a half a million dollars to tell this story. It is all of our stories.
“We are not half afraid of dying as we are that no one will remember we were ever here.”
~LaShunda Rundles, 2008 World Champion of Public Speaking
SPEAK not to win a trophy. SPEAK to be remembered…because you helped someone with your story.
Your life tells a story. Someone needs to hear it. Will you…SPEAK?
We never can tell our story best alone. I counted at least 107 people in the credits who helped tell this story as well. You probably won’t need that many to tell your story, you just have to….SPEAK.
See video clip CLICK: SPEAK the Movie Trailor (video)