I started on my journey to become a motivational speaker the summer of 1999. I had just closed my last retail store and I was searching for my next career. A friend of mine talked me into going to a local speaker’s meeting (National Speakers Association of Houston) and it just so happened that on that particular night a group of newbie speakers were presenting their 15 minute graduation talk. I was stunned…”Could someone actually get paid to do this?” If so I wanted in!
I joined the local chapter that night and attended my first NSA national conference in 2000. I was impressed – The quality of the speakers at national was remarkable! It was there that I first heard the fabulous Jeannie Robertson tell hysterical stories about the Miss America Pageant, her husband LB (left brain) and her struggles with panty hose and I realized I needed some stories. The problem was, I didn’t think I had a story to tell – and then I went to the Jazzfest, bumped into Sting and the rest is history!
So, move over Elsa and Anna, because stories aren’t just for kids; they appeal to all ages. Especially in today’s world, stories are serious business! Your stories can be a powerful tool that can help you land your next job, move you into a leadership role, help you sell more or speak more, while building a memorable professional brand.
I have learned through the years that a great storyteller creates a lasting connection between their story and audience. We are hardwired to listen to and remember stories because stories have a way of resonating deep within us. Research tells us that fact, figures, and graphs engage a small area of the brain, but stories engage multiple brain regions that work together to build an emotional response. And when we combine hard data with a story, we are moved by intellect as well as emotions. Stories stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph can never do.
Stories make concepts and ideas come alive and stick.
Stories that stick are remembered and repeated, so here are some tips for Telling Sticky Stories:
- Make your story audience centric. It’s not about you—it’s about them. So, before you dive into developing the story ask yourself these questions: Who is my audience? What is my goal in telling this story? What’s in it for them? Why should they care? What’s my message? (Hint: Your message is what you want them to remember, and hopefully, these tips will help you do that!)
- Add the “human touch,” because compelling stories are about people. Add characters to your story, drawing inspiration from people you know in your organizations or a mentor or someone else. Give your characters a voice and let them speak. Adding dialogue adds a real-life touch that makes your story come alive by showing us rather than telling us.
- Get specific, paint a picture, and add detail with descriptions of time, place, and people. In my Sting Story I describe my friend Mary who has encouraged me to go to the Jazzfest with her like this… “If you ever met my friend Mary by day you might get the feeling you are with Mother Theresa but at night she turns into Lil Kim!”
- Now it’s time for the conflict, which creates the tension and adds to the stickiness! Without some sort of conflict or challenge stories aren’t very interesting, actually they become quite boring and who wants that?
- Keep your story short: I call it “Right and Tight.” They say that our attention span is that of a goldfish, so limit your story to between three and five minutes max.
- Words matter. Write out your stories and look at the words you are using, and then cut out and rethink some of your words. Here is another example of less is more—rather than using several words to describe a person or situation think of one word that paints a better picture and may even tap into emotions. Instead of saying “Her nose was runny and she needed a tissue.” you might try “She sneezed and grabbed a Kleenex.” or “He slowly strolled down the hall to the principal’s office” to He crept down to the Principal’s” office
- Add the Spark—the purpose of a story is the lesson or the moment of truth. Oprah called it her “Aha,” and Akash Karia calls it the “Spark.” The spark is the wisdom your character receives to overcome the conflict! The spark ignites a change and, hopefully, that is the part of your story that sticks.
- Practice—Practice—Practice! There is power in rehearsing, and if you rehearse enough, it will look so effortless your audience will believe you are a natural.
- The most important point is for each of you to believe that stories convince, teach, influence, and evoke wonder. Use what you know and draw from it. Connect with your values and capture your truth from your experiences.
I am doing a storytelling workshop in Houston on April 22. Please email me if you have any interest just send me an email at Karen@KarenMcCullough.com
Karen McCullough is a nationally known keynote speaker and expert on change, generational opportunities and workforce trends.
Karen helps organizations cut through the generational biases and get back to reality by leveraging their team’s strengths, enriching the work environment, and driving better results. Each of her presentations brings a realistic perspective on workplace trends, employee engagement, while offering actionable content.
For the past 15 years Karen has shared her insights to top organizations such as VMware, Procter & Gamble, US Department of Justice, JPMorgan Chase, Symantec, McGraw-Hill, National Homebuilders, Shell Oil, Mercedes Benz, The World Bank, American National Insurance, Humana, United Way, American Heart Association and MD Anderson Cancer Center.