Mistake #1: Confusing Your Audience Because You Have No Clear Purpose
Have you ever listened to a story and thought, “What was that all about?” or “What was the point?”
Unfortunately, this happens far too often in the business world. People tell stories, but they don’t them tie to an overall concept. This results in leaving your listeners irritated, frustrated and even angry.
A story with no purpose is simply entertainment. Or worse, a boring waste of people’s time.
And, it’s a missed opportunity for you.
Before you develop your story, answer these questions:
- Do I have a concise central idea?
- Will this story support that theme?
If the answer to either one of these is “no,’ do not write the story. Know your central takeaway message that will most benefit the audience. Only then should you determine how your story can best illustrate that main point.
When you do this, your story will resonate because it serves a larger purpose. This will increase the odds that the listener will act on your message.
Mistake #2: Not Creating Characters Who Are Emotionally Engaging
One of the keys to developing stories that connect is to include characters that your listener will relate to, and even cheer for. Most presenters don’t provide enough pertinent details about characters that create this response.
It’s rare that you hear a character described with just enough detail to understand her personality and her background. Those few presenters who do sometimes make the mistake of giving you too many details.
The key to effective character development is to offer enough details so that the audience will feel they know the person, and care what happens to her. Hollywood screenwriting guru Michael Hauge believes that you can best give insight into your character in two ways:
- Describe how the person is dressed
- Paint-by-numbers canvas of a turtle
Treat character development like the paint-by-numbers kits used by kids. If you’re not familiar with those, there is a canvas with lines drawn to outline a picture. There are small sections with numbers that cover the canvas.
The numbers correspond to a specific color of paint. You paint each section with the corresponding color. When you finish, you’ve painted a picture.
As you craft your story, create the ‘outline’ of your characters. Offer three details that give insight into that person’s style of dress, or how she moves through a room. Allow the other person to complete the picture of them.
When you create characters that the audience cares about they’ll want to hear about their journey. As World Champion speaker Craig Valentine has said, “In order for your audience to care about your characters, they must KNOW them.”
Paint a picture so that the audience knows your characters.
Mistake #3: Not Developing Compelling Circumstances
As with character creation, many presenters fail to illustrate relevant or relatable circumstances to develop audience interest. They either give no details or, far too many. Either way, the listener quickly loses interest.
A powerful tool that most storytellers fail to use is sensory details. To build an emotional bridge between the audience and your story, provide as many sensory details as possible. Include references to visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and taste experiences.
Listening to a story devoid of sensory references is like a eating a bowl of noodles with no seasoning or sauce. It’s just a bowl of bland pasta.
Do you need all five?
No, but the more you can include, the more likely your listener will become enmeshed in your story. This isn’t a major undertaking. You only need one sentence for each. In some cases, you can combine two or three senses in one sentence.
For example, “I stood by the food table, taking in the sounds of the party and the sweet smell of pastries, cake and chocolate-chip cookies. You could practically taste them. The lights in the room were dimmed, but I could feel the joy in the room and see the happy faces of the party-goers.”
You can quickly convey the feeling of a scene and create the feeling that the audience is in the scene.
Again, as with character development, offer just enough details to give the audience a feel for the scene, and let them paint in the rest of the picture.
As important as sensory details are, don’t add these just to include them. Ensure they add to the feeling you want to convey, and that the scene supports the overall point of the story.
Mistake #4: Omitting an Escalating Conflict
Most stories are missing a critical aspect that intensifies listener interest in a story:
Without some type of conflict, you have no story. Consider fables from thousands of years ago, childhood stories, or popular movies. Each has a central ‘clash.’
Most presenters offer a quick summary of a character and the circumstances, then may mention a conflict. The ones that do typically don’t build it up, so the audience doesn’t feel an increasing emotional buy-in to the story.
There are several types of conflicts, but the most relevant to business storytelling are:
- Person versus Person
- Person versus Him/Herself
The second is typically the type that makes the deepest impression. These come in many forms:
- A woman tries to overcome fear of rejection and become a star salesperson
- A man has to fight the urge to be liked by everyone so that he can effectively managing his team
- A teenager wants to try out for the school play, but fears failure
These are relatable types of conflict and can ‘hook’ the audience.
In order to increase their interest, the conflict must slowly build to a “boiling point.” Most presenters don’t understand this. They either explain a conflict that stays at the same emotional level, or they increase from calm to maximum intensity in a short time.
Some speakers call this the ‘airport walkway’ or ‘hotel elevator’ method. Imagine an airport moving walkway. It is a level ride. There is no increase in speed or elevation. It just slowly moves along.
An elevator, on the other hand, quickly moves up or down. Some elevators rides can be jarring.
Stories that slowly moving along, with no change in emotion, or that quickly move between emotional extremes are not realistic. This is not how most conflicts unfold.
Think about a disagreement, argument or fight you’ve witnessed or been involved in. They typically begin with little emotion and then there is a minor inciting incident. The feelings then build as the intensity of the conflict increases. Eventually, it reaches a peak.
To be believed, your story must illustrate conflict as it occurs in real life.
Just like an escalator. Escalators slowly rise until you reach a high point and step off. In storytelling, the ‘stepping off’ point is where the dispute is resolved, and the lesson is learned.
An excellent example of the ‘escalator concept’ is the movie ‘Titanic.’ When the ship first strikes the iceberg, water pours into the bottom levels. Over the ensuing two hours, the water level steadily rises, as does the tension between the characters. The rising water eventually creates a resolution of the situation when Titanic sinks to the ocean floor.
Imagine that Titanic had struck the iceberg, and the water poured in until it stopped at a certain level. And then stayed at that level and the ship floated until rescuers arrived.
On the other hand, if it had struck the iceberg and sunk within two minutes, there’d be no tension. The story would end too quickly.
Neither of these versions is satisfying to the viewer. Titanic grossed over $1 billion dollars even though the audience knew walking into the theater that the boat was going down. It was the escalating conflicts and the uncertainty of the outcome for the characters that attracted and kept our interest.
If you want to create a higher level of interest with your story, create the escalator of conflict.
Mistake #5: Not Showing a Change in Your Character
An important reason to tell stories is to offer hope to your audience. This is best illustrated by a step that far too many presenters leave out. By doing this, they cheat their audiences out of a ‘payoff’ for investing their valuable time listening to the story.
What is this key aspect?
Without some type of change in the character – a new way of thinking or living – there is no lasting benefit to the listener. Remember that audiences are busy. If they give you their time, it’s your obligation to give them something that can improve their lives, if only a little bit.
If there is no change in your character, there is no impact in your story.
When you introduce your audience to characters in difficult circumstances, then take them through the conflict, then give them the payoff: show them the change that the character experiences.
If you’ve structured your story well, and you’re speaking to the right audience, this is the type of change the people listening to you also want to experience.
For example, consider the story of Patti. She said, “I wish I’d never agreed to do this speech. It’s making me sick just thinking about it. I’m worried that I’m going to embarrass my group and our team. Can you help me?”
On the night of her talk, she gave a fabulous speech. Afterward, she said, “I can’t believe how fun that was! I’ve never gotten a standing ovation! And did you see those people walking up and giving me checks for the Foundation? I can’t wait to do this again!”
This is a shortened version of an actual client story. When I share this with a group of speakers or presenters, they typically have the same response: “How did she make such a big change? Tell me more.”
This is the type of response that indicates interest in your story.
Give your audience hope that they can achieve the same kind of change, and you increase your chances your story will leave a long-lasting impact.
Mistake #6: Not Creating Curiosity in Your Story
The best and most successful speakers know that if there are no questions in the minds of the audience, you have no story. Curiosity is necessary for it to be relevant and interesting to your audience.
Curiosity must start from your opening words, continue through to your foundational point, your supporting ideas, and your conclusion.
When you create questions in the minds of your audience, people want to hear more.
Average presenters create little, if any, curiosity. Often, those who do leave them unanswered.
As you craft each part of your story (Circumstances, Characters, Conflict, and Change) review them to uncover your ‘curiosity points.’ Ask yourself:
“Where am I creating questions at each point of the story?”
“Am I creating questions like:
“What happens next?”
“Why did he say that?”
“How is she going to get out of this situation?”
“How will he be different after that experience?”
Once you’ve reviewed for questions, ensure that you have answered all of them by the end of the story. Unanswered questions can confuse, frustrate or even anger audience members.
Because you’re too close to your own story, it’s an excellent practice to ask others for feedback. Ask what questions you’ve created, where you may need to develop more, and if you’ve answered all questions by the conclusion of the story..
Mistake #7: Delivering Report Versus Creating an Experience
‘Think about the average storyteller. She may provide a quick overview of the circumstances and the characters, much like a television reporter. Phrases like ”She did that” or “He then felt the frustration building” or “She angrily yelled and left the room.”
Is there anything wrong with this?
No. But, in a word, this type of storytelling is forgettable, and boring. OK, that’s two words. The best storytellers use dialogue, or client conversation, to create an experience that brings the listener into the story. This builds the bond between the audience and the characters because they feel as if they’re in the scene.
Consider the example of Patti from above. The average storyteller would tell her story like this, “When I met my client Patty, she was really stressed. She had agreed to give a speech, and was afraid that it was going to be a disaster and that she’d embarrass her group. She was hoping I could help her.”
“On the night of her talk, she gave a great speech. She was so was excited she couldn’t wait to go out and speak again.”
Compare that to the ‘dialogue’ version:
Patti said, “I wish I’d never agreed to do this speech. It’s making me sick just thinking about it. I’m worried that I’m going to embarrass my group and our team. Can you help me?”
On the night of her talk, she gave a fabulous speech. After it was over she said, “I can’t believe how fun that was! I’ve never gotten a standing ovation and did you see those people walking up and giving me checks for the Foundation? I can’t wait to do this again!”
Factually, are these two versions the same?
Emotionally, are they the same?
When a speaker gives an overview, or report, she can’t recreate the emotion of the scene. It’s devoid of emotion.
When she recreates the words that were said, in the character’s voice and tonality, she increases the likelihood of an emotional connection. The audience will more likely relate to, and feel empathy with, the character.
Dialogue is the heart of your story. Use it, and you’ll create a memorable experience that makes the audience more likely to develop an emotional bond with your characters.
Use this tips given in this report to overcome the 7 common mistakes. Your stories will create emotional connection, and leave a long-lasting impact.
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