If you had been sitting in my living room last night, you’d have heard my fiancée, Linda, say in an exasperated voice, “You know, I just don’t care what happens to this character!” ‘This character’ was a key individual in one of our favorite TV programs, Lie to Me. He was an Iraq war veteran suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. His problem was that he wasn’t likable, not because of the PTSD, but because the writers of the show didn’t give us insight into his good side, or make us want him to get over his struggles. He wasn’t a bad guy, just not someone that had what Hall of Fame speaker Patricia Fripp calls a ‘rooting interest.’
Linda’s comment inspired a question: When you tell a story, are your characters likeable; are they people your audience will root for? Far too often, speakers tell stories without developing their characters. They don’t give you background, history or insight, so the audience doesn’t feel a connection. For example, a presenter could introduce her main character, Mary, as a woman struggling to make ends meet and keep her family together. This is generic information, not an uncommon situation, and doesn’t give you depth into who Mary is.
What if, instead, Mary was introduced as a 38-year old single, British immigrant, her face etched with the stress of caring for two young children, working by day as a waitress and attending night school to earn her accounting degree. What can you ascertain about Mary from this one sentence? She is under pressure, responsible, ambitious, and she is capable of working a physically demanding job. You can also probably hear her British accent in your mind. Now, do you have a little more feeling and compassion for her? Can you relate to her? Keep in mind, you learned all of this information about Mary in one sentence. Some presenters, to give you insight into their characters, go overboard with long-winded descriptions. As you can see in the previous example, this isn’t necessary. You don’t need to give every detail about someone, just important points.
In one line, you can give your audience insight into the key players of your story, give hints into their character and create opportunities for the listener to connect with those people. When you deliver this type of description, you pull your audience into your story and reduce the odds of them ever saying “You know, I just don’t care what happens to this character.” You make your story memorable and greatly increase your impact.
© 2012, Michael Davis. All rights reserved.