Dave Hill – Speaker, Trainer, Speech Coach and Author
In 1956 the Russians had invaded Hungary and wreaking havoc, intimidating people, disrupting day to day life, and murdering people. Several years ago I watched as my teenage daughter interviewed my Hungarian mother in law about her personal experiences in Hungary in 1956. My mother in law talked about the trauma of living in Hungary at this time. The day before her escape, she recalled standing in the streets of Gyor where a Russian tank was pointing its gun turret towards pedestrians to intimidate them. She recalled her eventual escape across a river into Austria with her boyfriend with just the clothes on their backs. They started their new life as refugees in an Austrian camp and were adopted by Canada. It would be over 10 years before they could safely return to Hungary to visit family; however, by then some of the parents had already passed away.
During this 1 ½ hour audio-recorded interview, my mother in law was emotional at times as she recalled the events. Her father was the mayor of the town. The Russians evicted them from their house and they had to build another one using rubble from destroyed homes.
a) To highlight the importance of capturing family stories from parents, grandparents, and others that can provide oral history- it is important that this is handed down from generation to generation.
b) To encourage you to build a story file. I frequently hear speakers lamenting that they do not have any stories to illuminate their points and help the audience relate to the information. People ask me, “Dave, how do you have so many stories?” The answer is that I have explored every avenue to collect stories. When I recall a story I write down three or four words in my story file to help me recall it- should it be a good fit for a speech, seminar, workshop or meeting that I am preparing for. Once I decide to use the story I write it out so it is clear and consise. I also describe the visual details so that audience members will feel that they are right there witnessing the event.
Stories can be used over and over again for different purposes and to illustrate different points. The story about Hungary in 1956 could be used to illuminate points such as:
COPING WITH ADVERSITY
CHANGE IS NOT NORMAL
LIFE CHANGING DECISIONS
TAKING HUGE RISK
STARTING WITH NOTHING
BETTER TIMES COME ALONG
EVIL ONLY SUCCEEDS WHEN GOOD PEOPLE CHOOSE TO DO NOTHING
DIVERSITY – UNDERSTANDING PEOPLE
HUMANITARIAN COUNTRIES TO THE RESCUE
Imagine you are a speaker honing your presentation or developing a new keynote speech. As you gather your thoughts and frame your presentation, you have your speech development notebook in front of you. The Mindmap you have scribbled on the notebook page helps you define the objective of your presentation and the points you want to cover. Once you have this fundamental structure developed, you now want to find stories, quotations, rhetorical questions, statistics and possibly even humor to illustrate your points. You open up a file to find the most suitable story.
Simplified MindMap Example
Your story file might be any of the following mechanisms:
1) Notebook full of tiny post it notes stuck on the pages
2) A typed list
3) Entries into a Twitter account
4) Audio notes
5) Video notes
As a final note; in 1989 my wife and I were walking along the Austria/Hungary border and observed the crosses marking the places where Hungarians died trying to escape the tyranny. This memory and the audio tape bring this to life for me. With the permission of my mother in law, I am sharing this story with you and I encourage you to set a goal to build your story file.
Picture yourself sitting at your computer. You have just finished writing a very personal story to use in a keynote speech. You have gone through the process of building the visual details and incorporating dialogue to help the audience feel that they are witnessing the event. You have fine tuned your story by removing unnecessary sentences and adding visual words.
Once the initial editing of your extremely personal story is complete, you read through it; but you start to question its effectiveness. The story brings the audience on an emotional roller coaster, but when you visualize yourself as an audience member, you ask yourself, “So what?”
The time honored method to successfully integrate stories into presentations and speeches includes:
1. Make a point to help the audience grasp the purpose of the story
2. Tell a story that your specific audience can relate to
3. Identify how the audience can apply this to their lives
Identifying the audience “application” is a critical step to determine effectiveness. The method I use to make sure I have adequately identified the relevance is to read through my story and at the end of each paragraph, I visualize myself as an audience member and ask the question, “So what?” If I feel the paragraph is too much about me and my personal story, then I work to incorporate additional audience perspective.
The following video shows me practicing the story at a public speaking club. The story is delivered first where it is all about my family’s somewhat humorous encounter with my dad’s death. I have added two excerpts where I have added audience “application” to the beginning and also to the end using rhetorical questions. This story is still a work in progress and I continue to take it paragraph by paragraph to bring it more to the audience’s perspective.
To view the video click below or paste the following URL into your browser: http://youtu.be/ye3RPlyqC2o
The following is the text version, the bold/italic sections at the beginning and end are my initial efforts to add audience point of view.
Dad Got “in the Doghouse”…the Day after he Died!
(Audience application addition) Have you ever had tragedy in your life where you felt that part of your soul had been ripped out of your body and that you would never be happy again? Today I am going to share a personal story with you to demonstrate that some of the coping mechanisms include finding strength through fond memories, stories, and even humor.
“If he was alive today, I would strangle him with my bare hands.” These were the exact words my 4 ft. 10 in. tall, 100 lb, tough as nails mother shouted out the day after my dad died. Only my dad could get in the doghouse the day after he passed away.
My family was assembled in my parents’ bedroom, and on the bed was a little wooden box which contained my dad’s funeral wishes. My mother had expected to find a final love letter amongst the documents- but instead of a love letter, she found a paper party hat and a cigar with a brief note which simply said, “Hey, I had a good life, celebrate it.”
In my Dad’s funeral wishes documents, he specifically requested that the family go to the Lakes of Killarney, take a boat out to Brown Island where he used to fly fish, and throw his cremated ashes in the lake. He underlined in the lake. We did not go to the lake for some time since the weather was so bad.
My elder sister kept his ashes in her house, but one day she went into the living room and found her 3 year old son Simon with the ashes in a mound on the carpet. He was making little sand castles decorated with leaves, twigs and feathers. She shouted at him hysterically, “Simon, what are you doing?” Her anger soon melted when he replied with all the innocence of a three year old, “I am just playing with grand-dad Eric, Mommy.”
My sister phoned me up the following day to tell me what had happened. “Dave, it is ironic: a month before Dad died, he suggested that my carpets needed a good cleaning, and there I was yesterday trying to get all of him back in the urn, with the vacuum.”
Eventually, my family went to Brown Island on Lake Killarney. We had a picnic, the atmosphere was jovial, and the sun was shining.
As the sun started to set, we assembled at the water’s edge. The atmosphere became solemn. Poor little 3 year old Simon had tears in his eyes- he couldn’t understand why we were throwing away Granddad.
My mother took the urn and held it up high (as high as a 4 ft. 10 in. woman can hold an urn). She flung the ashes up in the air towards the water, at exactly the same time as a gust of wind blew onshore. Every single piece of ash ended up on the island. They did not quite go “in the lake” as my father had specifically requested.
(Audience application addition) What tragedy have you had in your life, did you wake up one morning to face the fact that a loved one had passed, have you gone through divorce, cancer, financial ruin? We will all have to deal with tragedy at some time or another, and it is important to realize that one of the coping mechanisms is to find strength in fond memories, stories and even humor.
When I think of my dad in heaven, I see him beside a big lake with his best fly fishing rod in one hand and a nice creamy pint of Guinness in the other. He is laughing at me and with a big sarcastic smile he shouts, “Hey, Davy boy, in the lake, in the lake! I wanted my ashes thrown in the lake, not in a vacuum cleaner, not put on the island, in the lake! You’re a bunch of nincompoops; you couldn’t organize a party in the Guinness Brewery! Life is precious, Davy boy, celebrate it.”
Dave Hill – Speaker, Trainer, Author, & Speech Coach
Example – Story Structure
It was August 27th, 2001, and an 80 lb Irish Setter dog called Megan arrived at our home [IDENTIFY THE SPECIFIC LOCATION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE] from the Fort Worth Rescue Center. We had decided to accept her into our family even though we were told she had a history of Mast Cell Tumors (Cancer) and that if they came back, she would probably have to be put down.
I knew this was a big risk; if the dog had to be put down, my family, including two very young kids, would be devastated [IDENTIFY THE CHARACTERS AND DO NOT HAVE TOO MANY].
Three months later, Megan had settled into our home, her nervousness disappeared, and she was a. bundle of love. While rubbing her tummy one Saturday morning, I noticed a black spot under her thick red hair [DEVELOP A “HOOK” AND IDENTIFY CONFLICT]. Panic set in- I grabbed the family, and we drove to the local vet at high speed. As my kids held hands, the vet examined Megan while she lay quietly on the ground. The vet’s face became tense, tears welled up into her eyes, [BUILD TENSION] and she said, “You do realize, Mr. Hill, [STORY REACHES A CLIMAX]…. that dogs…. have teats“!!!!! [RELEASE OF TENSION] As the vet finished her examination, my wife stepped on my foot discreetly and whispered, “You are forbidden from telling anyone about this!”
At some stage, the vet’s assistant left the room. It appears that there is no Hippocratic Oath for assistants, because when I got to the reception, everyone knew that our dog Megan…had teats. Nobody was making eye contact, and there was an electric sense of suppressed laughter. I went to the cashier- she was young, pretty, and evil. She was clenching her teeth, and appeared to be holding her breath. She looked at me and snorted, “That… will be $80, Mr. Hill”.
They say that Irish Setters are not very intelligent dogs. This brings up a rather obvious question about a certain Irish owner… luckily, the school of hard knocks taught me a long time ago how important it is to be able to laugh at myself.
Success Strategies for Story Structural Development
1) Use your own stories (people may know other people’s stories, and the impact can be lost if they know the outcome).
2) The following story structure and components have been in effect for thousands of years:
• As soon as possible identify the location with vivid details. Be specific e.g. “It was July 10th, 2009, at 9:15 am in London, England”. Provide a “hook” to capture the audience’s attention, e.g. “I was stepping off the sidewalk on Mayhem Street when suddenly…”
• Identify the characters with visual details, e.g. “A weathered looking man dressed in rags holding a frayed rope with an attached dog collar looked at me with tears in his eyes...”
• Provide visual details of conflict- build the struggle step-by-step (some effective stories have someone overcoming an obstacle or many obstacles building to a climax. The story evolves which will be resolved by the end of the story) – e.g. “A weathered looking man dressed in rags holding a rope with an attached dog collar looked at me with tears in his eyes and asked me to help find his old dog”
• Bring the story step-by-step to an emotional peak, e.g. “No sooner were the words out of his mouth, I heard the screech of car tires, followed by the pitiful sound of a dog yelping. There was a thump as the car hit a fire hydrant and a jet of water shot 100 feet in the air. In the following moment of silence, a glow of happiness flowed through my body when out of the firewater downpour trotted a big, old, shaggy dog with a grin on his face...”
• Make sure the plot of the story is clear – how do all the details fit together, is there a clear roadmap from start to finish? A plot is the chain of events that moves the story towards a conclusion. The audience can get frustrated if they lose their way in the story when it is too complicated.
Ways audiences get confused during a story include too many characters, the story jumps all over the place in an illogical manner, or is too wordy and lacks visual detail.
This is the starting point for developing your story. After that, you can work with honing it to a masterpiece with visual details.
To illustrate this in action, I have included one of my favorite stories at the beginning, and embedded some CAPITALIZED and BOLDED comments to identify the structure and story components. I would like to be able to tell you this story is fictional- unfortunately it is true. I used this story several years ago to illustrate my point that humor can evolve from a stressful, traumatic situation- that it can be beneficial to laugh at your mistakes, and that audiences love humor where you are making fun of yourself.
The following link will take you to my Public Speaking Demo Video where you can see clips from two personal stories. The clips will give you a feel for the identification of characters, conflict and outcome.
21 points for developing stories and making them impactful
1. Gather your story ideas and memories on small post-it notes that you can keep in your wallet, car, kitchen counter etc. (or gather them on an audio recording device etc.).
2. Write out your stories to maximize effectiveness.
3. Minimize the amount of words, but provide the details – every word has value.
4. Open with impact (rhetorical questions, “imagine”, “visualize”, story).
5. Substitute words beginning with “Kuh” (e.g. Canadian) for humor impact – people laugh at “Kuh” sounding words when used in humorous context.
6. Create visual images.
7. Use dialogue to bring your audience into the story – into the “present”.
8. Use accents to make the dialogue more effective.
9. Dialogue – Face different ways to emphasize different characters.
10. Use the humor “rule of three” – set-up, set-up, twist.
11. Put the punch-word at the end of the sentence, so it is clear to the audience when to laugh.
12. Use crafted pauses to allow the audience to process the information.
13. Make sure your stories are credible so the audience can relate to them.
14. Use wordplay – take a scene from your story and apply “word relation” techniques.
15. Embellish your stories by examining each scene to see what could happen.
16. Embellish to the extent that is appropriate for the audience and the content (e.g. 100% truth, 80% fact).
17. Make your story impactful (e.g. to make a point during a training session).
18. Make your story humorous, yet still believable.
19. Make eye-contact and deliver your punch line to your “humor friend” in the audience (the person who has a great laugh).
20. Deliver your stories and make “honing” changes as you get to understand what is working and what is not.
21. Don’t “throw away humor” – you typically get more laughter with bigger audiences.
Dave Hill – Speaker, Trainer, Author, & Speech Coach
Back when I was living in the countryside of Ireland, I used to travel to a farmhouse type pub way out in the countryside, seven miles from my home. I had to travel along roads that were barely two small car widths, with twists and turns all along the way. I used to frequent this pub on a Tuesday night because that was when musicians, poets, and storytellers would show up for a fun filled, relaxing evening.
The roaring coal fire would push out the dampness. The characters that would turn up ranged from pretty, young farmer girls, to weathered looking storytellers, to jolly musicians. Just thinking about this place brings fond memories and warmth to my mind. It amazed me the way the old storytellers could tell a story with so much tension, emotion, humor, and visual detail.
As a public speaker and award winning storyteller I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of using stories in keynote speeches, workplace meetings, presentations, seminars, and training. They make your points come alive, they captivate your audience, and they make your information memorable. There is no better feeling than someone coming up to you and saying “I remember you- you were the one who told the story about…”
In this blog, I will cover a methodology for compiling hundreds of your own stories. Once you start compiling your own stories, you will never end up looking at a blank sheet of paper thinking to yourself, “What can I write about?” or “How can I make this interesting?”
Dave Hill – Capture Your Stories with Post-It Notes
Purchase some mini Post-It notes and keep some in your car, in your wallet, and in your kitchen. Anytime you see, hear, or recall something funny, amusing, or interesting, write down a very brief outline within 1 minute. The outline could be just enough to jog your memory when you come to expand the story, or it could be a more detailed description. The reason I have a golden rule to write down the thought within one minute is because it may be lost even as I scramble to find a pen. There is nothing more frustrating than standing with a pen in your hand, looking at a Post-It Note and finding that the thought you had a few moments ago has just evaporated.
Over a period of a few years, I have captured nearly 300 vignettes and observations which I build upon to incorporate into presentations, training sessions, humorous speech competitions, blogs, newsletters, humor, and even books that I am presently writing. Every month or so, I gather my Post-It Notes and transcribe the information into a database. In this database I hyperlink the story summary to a separate page where I stretch them from observations or vignettes into stories that have vivid details. Does this sound like a lot of work? It really isn’t. When I am having a lunch break or drinking coffee at home on the weekend, I might peruse my list of outlines and decide which one I am in the mood to elaborate and write out in more detail. All my blogs started off as a sentence or two on a post it note (or in my database) to remind me of the observation.