Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Is Your STORY?

What makes a great book, play, or movie? Exactly the same thing that makes a good speech—a great story! Long after we've forgotten many details, we remember the stories that touched us and their messages. They become part of our lives and even our culture.

Use stories to make your point. We all love stories because, unlike real life, they have a purpose, a beginning-middle-end, and a dramatic lesson learned. Screenwriter Robert McKee says, "Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience." (A story is NOT a joke, though good stories can be and often are funny.)

Start by identifying your main theme or purpose—your plot—and any subplots. A Gap executive I'll call "John" had just eighty minutes to work with me on an important speech. He was recently promoted and now was speaking for eight minutes to 500 young store managers. His topic was a program to get employees to contribute money-saving ideas. His subtext was, "I deserved to get this promotion."

In eight minutes, he had to excite support for the money-saving program. If he did it well and inspired every Gap manager to go back to inspire all their employees, the impact could be incredible.

"Do exactly what I tell you," I said. "First, never say 'good morning.' It's boring, it's predictable, and the previous six speakers have already said it! Walk on stage; look at the audience, and say, 'We are here to talk about heroes.' In seven words, you've just proved that this is not another dull corporate speech.

"'We are here to talk about heroes,' you say, 'Gap heroes. They may be sitting all around you. They may be YOU.'"

Then I asked John to tell me a story about someone who had saved the company money. He showed me statistics! "Numbers are numbing," I told him. "Where's the made-for-television movie?" We had to phone their accounting department to get a story.

One young man in shipping noticed that seven Gap newsletters were going out in separate packets to the same location. This mailroom hero asked if it was OK to pack them together with a note requesting distribution on the other end. This worked well, so he urged his colleagues to question similar duplications. "We own stock in the Gap, not Fed-Ex!" he told them. His idea saved the Gap $200,000 that year.

Whenever you tell a story, be ready to answer the audience's next question. John's audience would be wondering, "What did the Gap do with that $200,000?" So we researched some answers: "$200,000 is 18 miles of shelving. It's carrying an additional jean size. It's a month of 'The Gap rocks' commercials."

To close, John would challenge his audience: "As Gap employees, you have good ideas all the time. Do you write them up and submit them so they can be evaluated? Or do you say, 'What's in it for me?'" This is where John would talk about cash rewards.

John rehearsed his eight-minute speech, polishing, tightening, and adding more energy with each run-through, until he could do it without notes. All in our eighty minutes!

He concluded his speech by playing David Bowie's Heroes, which tied the opening into the close in a perfect circle. You do remember my brother Robert Fripp played on Heroes?

Source: Patricia Fripp of A Speaker for All Reasons

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