I was watching a video of Dave as he was presenting his story in a storytelling workshop. He casually said, “My doctor said, “Dude, you’re going to die if you keep this up!”
Craig Valentine and Darren LaCroix, the workshops facilitators, said, “Whoa! Say that again!”
Dave, a little taken aback, repeated the phrase, “My doctor said, “Dude, you’re going to die if you keep this up!”
Craig and Darren said “That’s it. That’s what you need to say.”
Up until that moment, Dave had been struggling to convey the seriousness of a scene in which he was told he needed to change his lifestyle, or he would die a premature death.
He had been giving a lengthy back story of what led him to that point – being overweight and inactive, an incident of paralyzing chest pains in a hotel room, followed by ignoring the pain, talking to his doctor, who gave him a lengthy explanation, and more details of how he didn’t change his ways.
To be fair, this was the first draft of Dave’s story. As I learned from Craig, a message is a ‘mess with age.’ Dave was still in the ‘mess’ stage. In the debrief of his first version, he casually threw out the line “My doctor said “Dude, you’re going to die if you keep this up!”
Two lessons from this experience:
#1 We are much too close to our own material to see the gold in it. Dave didn’t recognize the power of that one sentence. Craig and Darren immediately understood the significance. Far too often, when writing our stories, speakers tend to over-explain and feel the need to give every detail of backstory so that the audience understands every aspect of the characters situation.
That may be a good strategy for writing a novel, but it’s deadly for speakers. Audiences want just enough detail to understand the situation, and no more. This is the approach used in the movie industry. As Patricia Fripp points out, “Hollywood tells the stories of real life, with the boring parts taken out.”
As you craft your story, get outside opinions. Other people can point out the areas of your story that work best, which are unnecessary, and why you are (are not) resonating with them.
#2 Fewer words + silence says so much more. When Dave finally understood the strength of his one sentence, and practiced the delivery a few times, it became one of the key moments of his talk. He described sitting in the doctors office. He paused for a few seconds. He then said, “My doctor, who is a long-time friend, didn’t waste any time. He said, “Dude, you’re going to die if you keep this up!” Dave then paused to let the audience see his facial expression, the impact the doctor’s words had on him. The silence, and his expression, allowed the audience to feel the significance on the moment.
Even though you’re just reading this, you might feel the impact of the scene. Compare that to the typical speaker who gives a ‘report’ – “My doctor told me he was concerned. He said my blood pressure was 190/110 and that my heart rate was 92 per minute. He was also concerned about my triglyceride count, and we discussed these readings in context with the information from previous visits.
Aren’t you simply riveted by that information?
Some key thoughts to consider:
Are all of the facts true?
Are they important to the story?
Yes, they underscore the serious nature of the health problem.
Are they vital to the audience?
What does the audience need to know?
The implication of all that information to the character.
It’s more dramatic, and creates an emotional response, when a person of authority says something serious like, “You’re going to die if you keep this up.”
Your point made. All in just a few words
As you craft your story, continually hone the conversations to their essence. Don’t overlook simple, powerful statements that capture the emotion of key moments. Cut to the chase, and you’ll create points in your story that audiences will long remember, and that create a deeper emotional connection with them.
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