Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lead with a Joke^H^H^H^H Story

I am currently reading "How to Win the World Championship of Public Speaking: Secrets of the International Speech Contest" by Jeremey Donovan. He goes in great detail through each of the 9 finals speeches of the 2012 World Championship of Public Speaking, bringing in examples from World Champion speakers since the late 1980's. I am just reading the chapter on storytelling. The author reveals interesting facts. In the 27 years covered by the book,

  • Nineteen of the winning speeches started with a story
  • Fourteen started with a personal story, meaning five started with a story not about them
  • Only two of the five, and none since 1987, never transitioned into a personal story
  • Among the speeches that didn't start with a story, most quickly transitioned into a personal story; Darren Lacroix's "Ouch" (2001) and Lance Miller's "The Ultimate Question" (2005) are examples, quickly moving into personal stories after an opening attention-getting question.
It should be clear that most great speeches eventually turn into personal stories. Think about the best and most memorable speeches you've heard; think about the last keynote speaker who was not a total bore. Think of the last seminar speech that didn't have you stifling a yawn after 30 minutes. They almost always seem to come back to meaningful personal stories, meaningful to the speaker and meaningful to us. Darren Lacroix says "it's not the speech that you give, it's the life that you live." (He loves coming up with Darren-isms like this.) He assures us we have most likely lived that kind of life.

If there is anybody reading this, you are probably thinking "I don't have any stories that would interest anybody." Storyteller and speaker Deanna Moffitt said in her What the Speak podcast that she works with people all the time who finally get down to admitting, yeah, they probably have two or three stories in them. Yet she, too, assures us that they do have many, many stories in them.

I totally get where these people are coming from. In fact, I look back on my life and, sure I could probably come up with a couple of stories that people would not be totally disappointed to hear. But no way could I ever come up with even one story that would inspire people, let alone enough stories to make up two winning speeches (the minimum you'd need to win the World Championship of Public Speaking); and having enough stories to make up major hour-long keynote speeches is totally out of the question.

Yet, here I am, hoping to be a professional speaker some day. Knowing that if I am to ever succeed, I'll have to find those stories. I have started keeping a "story journal" where I write down interesting things that happen. Darren says to pay particular attention to painful experiences, since great and inspiring stories live in those painful experiences. And, as Steve Allen said, "Comedy is tragedy plus time." Or as Scott Meyer amended it to in his thrice-weekly web comic Basic Instructions, "Comedy is my coworkers plus time." :-)

Until next time, find your stories well.

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