A client preparing a presentation told me, “I know it’s important to share stories, but I don’t have any.”
I told her, “We ALL have stories. Stories are simply the intriguing things that happen to or around us that are relevant to our topic and purpose.”
She came back with, “But I wouldn’t know how to tell a story even if I had one.”
I told her, “The good news is, story-telling is a skill. Anyone can learn it. And it’s important. Even in business, the more you illustrate your ideas with TRUE stories, the more people will listen, remember what you say and be motivated to act on it.”
She said, “Okay, I agree with you in theory, but it’s hard to do in practice. Is there some kind of template I can follow that shows me how to tell a good story?”
“Yes.” I shared my step-by-step S.C.E.N.E. approach with her to show how she can re-enact relevant, real-life stories that prove her point and make her content come alive.
She said, “I wish someone had given me this years ago.You should share this with more people. I bet they need it as much as I do.”
Done. First, I’ll start with a story to show how to turn something intriguing that happens to you into a business story that wins buy-in to what you’re recommending/requesting.
Several summers ago, I realized I was spending way too much time sitting. I went online, registered for the Waikiki Rough Water Swim and vowed to swim four times a week and try out every one of the twenty public pools in my community.
One day, after being a desk potato with consults, I decided it was time to get up, get outside, get moving. I jumped in my van and went “pool shopping.” I drove by a pool I hadn’t seen before tucked behind some shade trees. I hung a U, parked and went in.
As soon as I walked in and saw one of those mushroom-shaped water fountains, I knew I’d found the “family” pool. The place was packed with kids having fun playing “Marco … Polo …” (It did my heart good to know kids still play Marco Polo.)
I settled in on a chaise lounge next to a woman watching her three young kids swim. Just then, a man in a business suit walked in. The three kids bounded out of the pool and ran to meet him, “Daddy, Daddy.”
He hugged them, gave his wife a peck on the cheek and headed to the locker room to change into his swim trunks. Moments later, he was in the pool playing with his kids. They were diving off his shoulders and proudly showing him the strokes they’d learned in their swim lessons. It was a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Suddenly, he looked up at his wife and said, almost in a state of wonder, “Hon, why don’t we make this our default? Why don’t we meet at the pool every night after work?”
I have to admit, I held my breath. I looked at her, thinking, “Please say yes.”
She thought about it for a moment, nodded and said simply, “Why don’t we?”
In 5 seconds, they abandoned an old default and adopted a new one. Instead of, “Get up, go to work, come home;” it was now “Get up, go to work, go to the pool, come home.”
Who knows, that family may always remember that summer as the one they met Dad at the pool every night after work. Perhaps I”m being a Pollyanna about this, but maybe they will remember that summer as the time everything was right with their world.
So, what’s this got to do with stories? As soon as that happened, I knew it was “story gold.” Story gold is anything evocative, moving, profound, funny or insightful that causes a shift. When we’re lucky enough to witness something intriguing that catches our attention, it will probably capture our listeners/readers’ attention. First we’re grateful, then we figure out how this could be relevant to an upcoming business presentation, conference program, staff meeting or writing project.
For example, imagine you’re concerned about the health and wellness of your employees and want them to become more physically active.
You could start by warning them about the dangers of sitting for hours at at a time. You could cite research that reveals sitting is considered the “cigarettes of our era” in terms of how hazardous it is to our health.
Or you could start off with a true story SHOWING how someone chose to stop being sedentary and it led to a happier, healtheir life. You could begin with a real-life example of someone you know (maybe even you?) who replaced a long-time default of being sedentary with a new default that benefited them and the people around them.
Which do you think will be more effective?
In today’s world of INFObesity (information that comes across as blah-blah-blah) people are more likely to be receptive to real-life stories because they don’t feel lectured or like they being “shoulded” upon.
True stories give people a Socratic opportunity to relate to a story (“Hmmm … that’s what I’m doing, thinking, feeling”) and make up their own mind – come to their own decision- that this is something they want to stop, start or do differently.
Furthermore, when we hear a speaker share a real-life example, we trust this actually happened and isn’t “made up.”This goes to trust. When a speaker puts him or herself in the story and confesses that they have done/felt this, they set an “I’ll go first” precedent. We’re more likely to identify with that person and warm to them because they’re not putting themselves on a pedastal where they’re “talking down” to us.
Are you thinking, “I agree with this, but I’m not good at telling stories?”
Many people aren’t taught how to tell stories. They try to tell a story of something that happened a long time ago (or to someone else) and it flops because it’s not relevant or interesting to the audience. They think, “I’ll never do that again.”
The good news is, this 5 step approach helps you relive a real-life event so it’s relevant and helps your content come alive. It shows how to put people in the S.C.E.N.E. so your listeners are there with you, experiencing what you experienced.
SAM HORN’s 5 STEP PROCESS for “PUTTING PEOPLE IN THE S.C.E.N.E.”
S = SENSORY DETAIL: Start with WHERE to put us THERE. Describe the surroundings with just enough detail so we feel we’re standing right next to you and are picturing it in our mind’s eye. What did it look like? Smell like? Feel like? Sound like?
C = CHARACTERS: WHO is there? Describe the individual(s) involved so we can see them and know what mood they’re in. Are they sad, mad? Happy, excited? If you want us to CARE about your CAREacters, flesh them out so we have a “feel” for them.
E = EXPERIENCE IT: Robert Frost said, “No joy in the writer, no joy in the reader.” I think, “No emotion in the speaker, no emotion in the listener.” This may be the 10th time you’ve told this story, but if you’re just reading from a teleprompter or repeating what you’ve memorized, we won’t be engaged because you’re not engaged. Put yourself back in the scene. Ee-experience it as if for the first time, then re-enact it in the prensent tense as if it’s happening NOW. You will feel what you felt then – and so will we.
N =NARRATIVE: Why can we read novels for hours at a time and it’s not hard work? It’s because authors use dialogue. If a story doesn’t have dialogue, it’s not a story. Narrative – what’s being said and by whom – is a non-negotiable if you want your story to come alive and sound and feel real. When you re-enact the conversation with comma/quotes “(i.e., “He said, “Why don’t we change our default.” She said, ”Why don’t we?”) we feel we’re right in the middle of the conversation.
E = EPIPHANY: What is the lesson-learned, happy ending, problem solved, the shift, the aha where everything comes together and suddenly makes sense? Every story needs a “moral of the story” so it serves a relevant purpose and the audience gets the point.
Speakers used to be taught to “Make a point, tell a story.” I believe, in these days of short attention spans where goldfish have longer attentions than we do, that’s badvice. If you’re long, they’re gone. It’s smarter to start with a relevant, real-life story because it will prove your point better than anything else.
John Steinbeck said, “If there’s magic in story-telling, and I’m convinced there is, the formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge to convey something you feel is important.”
Do you have a cause you care about? A project you want funded or approved? An important idea or message you want people to act on?
If you want it to succeed, share a TRUE STORY that shows precedence (where and how this has worked before somewhere else) so people trust it and will be more likely to say yes to it.
Relevant, well-told stories create commonality which is how we connect.
And isn’t that point of all communication? To connect, always to connect.
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Sam Horn, Founder/CEO of the Intrigue Agency and TEDx speaker, is on a mission to help people create quality communications that add value for all involved. Her books – including IDEApreneur, Tongue Fu! POP! and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? – have been featured on NPR and in New York Times, Forbes, INC and presented to Intel, NASA, Boeing, Cisco, ASAE, National Geographic, YPO, Accenture and Capital One. Want Sam to speak to your group? Contact Cheri@intrigueAgency.com