Remember the last time you read a book that you just couldn’t put down? No matter who called, no matter what you had to do that day, you just couldn’t put it down. While I was on a train going from Boston to Philadelphia I almost missed my stop because I was so into this particular book. I was living it!
Now how do you do that in your speeches? How do you get people to live it?
Look at some of the best non-fiction writers today. They use tools of fiction; what they call creative non-fiction. We’re going to call it the 4 C’s:
#1 Convey conversation.
#2 Capture concrete details.
#3 Create scenes.
#4 Choose a structure.
#1 – Convey Conversation.
If there’s one thing that audiences strongly relate to, it’s people and the things they say. Through conversation we can learn about a person, a subject or a situation.
In creative nonfiction, a conversation is used to convey many different meanings in an entertaining way. Instead of telling us that a character has deep feelings for something, the author lets his character tell us. But the writer also challenges us to see something in a different way from the character’s perspective. The author will also capture how his character says it, how he talks.
Try quoting a colorful character in your next speech for a similar effect. For example, I often talk about going up to Mount Sinai on a camel. I’m using this technique when I tell the story. My character is the bedouin, and he says, “Don’t worry, don’t worry! The camel knows the way.” So through his words, “Don’t worry, don’t worry!” we can tell that he has good English, that it’s calming and soothing, and it’s almost a command. I use a colorful character to make a point. I’m not just telling, I’m pulling my audience into the story.
#2 – Capture Concrete Detail.
Think about great fiction writers who engage their readers by painting a picture in words. I often use word-pictures. Don’t settle for any old word.
For instance, when I say “house,” it’s like a little stick-figure, flat. If I use “home,” all of a sudden we have a vision of our own homes, family, flowers. It comes to life! It has more meaning. The same is true with words to denote money. If I say “we’re going to maximize our profit through public speaking,” there’s no picture, but if I say, “you can make a boatload of money every time you speak,” now you have a picture of a boat loaded with money! You can’t see “profit” or “revenue.”
Essential for word-pictures is concrete detail. Details alone are not enough. To have an impact, they must be described in a way that implies a feeling or evokes an emotion. Not only do we have to see the boatload of money, we need to feel it on an emotional level.
Nearly every detail should have an emotion designed to increase our understanding. Challenge yourself to notice details like a storyteller, and soon you will be creating vivid images for your audience.
Now let’s bump it up to the next level. When I say the “details in your story,” I’m not talking about starting back when you were 5 years old! I am talking about that wherever you start, don’t leave out the details. How old were you at that time? Where were you? What did it look like? I know because I coach people in storytelling. I am a professional storyteller. I’ve studied the art and have put on paid storytelling concerts. So leave in the juicy details.
#3 – Create Scenes.
Scenes give life to a story through motion and action. Imagine your speech as a movie with scenes connected to each other, maybe connected by a voice-over that provides insight and perspective.
The scenes in your speech will be linked together by your own narrative summaries. Now, that doesn’t mean, “This is a story about…” No, just launch into the story, but create the scenes one by one. Don’t ramble on; the scenes are concise snippets that got you to where you are today. That’s your personal story. And of course, these techniques work for all of your stories. I use this technique when I tell my camel story. The more time I have, the more scenes and details I bring into it.
#4 – Structure.
Your personal story always starts with a place and time. Like folk tales or fairy tales: “Once upon a time in a little village…” They all start with a place and time. You need to do that, too. And then one day something changes, right? “One day the wicked witch put a spell on the princess.” Something always happens. That’s structure.
That is the beginning level of structure; now we’re going to an advanced level because the right structure will keep your audience involved.
How do you put the scenes in your speech? Think of the last speaker you saw who was a storyteller. Dr. Moine’s whole speech is a story. He has little scenes building one onto the other. Another speaker who does it quite well is Ben Gay, III. Coincidentally both of these speakers teach sales, but they use this scene technique to tell the whole story once you put it all together. That’s a structure.
The speeches with scenes fall into a natural chronological order, going toward either the climax or the close. What you want to do in your speech is to go for that close. You want your climax to be the close, but you still need to build up to it. If you master that close, then that’s when you can help more people.
I had a speaker on my stage recently who had a climax close. He kept saying he had something huge, and then he would say “this is the hugest of the huge!” and then “the hugest of the hugest!” It was hilarious to watch. When he was done, a lot of people signed up for his program and he was able to help a lot of people. That’s why it is so important to master your close!
Getting back to structure. Even if your scenes are in chronological order, begin your speech at the heart of an action. One way to structure your story is not to complete the story. You can create scenes, take that story to a certain level, and then bring it back to the middle. Then close for a climactic effect. This is a technique where you build your story with stories that seem unrelated, until you bring them together at the close.
Another way to do it is to string your story together and pick them back up. Your speech will immediately grab your audience and hold them while you’re telling your story and not finishing it.
I’ve seen this done by a speaker who started by stringing 3 or 4 different stories together and didn’t finish any of them. The audience didn’t even realize it. He was telling a story about running a marathon and then told a totally different story. But at the end of his speech he cleverly brought back all the stories he’d strung together but in the opposite order. In other words, the one he started with was last. Then he closed the story, like closing the loop. He was very entertaining and effective in his close.
Don’t Make Up Stories.
Using this creative non-fiction tool can be very powerful, but it can easily be misused. Don’t make up or distort things to make them more interesting or dramatic. The details are already there. Pick your details wisely—they should be important! Like the time and place. I tell people that I was in corporate America and everyone has a picture of that. I don’t have to say it was in downtown L.A. because that doesn’t matter. So pick your details very carefully, and make sure to add them. People want details.
This is not a gimmick. It’s pulling out the truth and using emotion and character. Your favorite speakers use it. They’ve practiced it. It is a potent technique for finding the heart of a story and communicating it to an audience. That’s what it’s all about.
Stories open the hearts of your listeners. Your words should be simple, clear and to the point. They should not be used to show off your speaking style or command of some technique. These techniques are powerful in themselves and will open up the emotion.
Whenever I use these creative non-fiction techniques in my speeches, the results are electrifying!
You can see and feel that everyone is on the edge of their seats paying attention. Whenever I use the story about my brother’s lymphoma, you can hear a pin drop in the room. It’s very emotional, and I use it to share with people not to wait—don’t wait to get out there and start speaking!
Every story that you do; these scenes, have a moral or a teaching. It could be that each scene has a lesson or that the story as a whole has a lesson. You don’t have to say what it is.
For example, when I tell my camel story, I don’t explicitly say it’s about leading. In the story, I had to trust a camel to get me to the top of Mount Sinai because the camel had a lot of experience. The camel becomes a metaphor for a mentor. I had to relax, be guided and know that my mentor has experience and knows the way. So through that story, I teach the audience to trust that I will get them to the top of the mountain. I will guide them because I’ve been there many times.
However, when I tell the emotional story about my brother, I do tell the audience exactly what the message is. I don’t want anyone to miss its meaning. The lesson is that because my brother has lymphoma he can no longer go out and speak. He can no longer change the world because his time is up. So I tell people that they need to get out there and speak because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Remember, when you open people’s hearts, they open their wallets and pocketbooks. And that’s the only way you can help them. They need to get into a long-term program with you. You have to charge for your products and services. You’re doing a disservice by giving it away because people won’t use it and then you won’t have helped them.
Another payoff for using these techniques is that you can create a standing ovation and applause. I love that! And you will, too.
Arvee Robinson, is a Master Speaker Trainer, International Speaker, and Author. She teaches business owners, service professionals, and entrepreneurs how to use public speaking as a marketing strategy so they can attract more clients, generate unlimited leads and grow their businesses, effortlessly. She teaches a proven speaker system for delivering persuasive presentations, and easy formulas for creating killer elevator speeches and magnetic self-introductions. Arvee has helped hundreds of individuals to win clients and close more sales every time they speak. She offers private coaching, workshops, and weekly teleclasses. Her programs will make you money for the rest of your life.