Why would you want to build in stories in your speech in the first place?

The answer is very straightforward: because people may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel! That‘s right! We are driven by our emotions and the stories we tell both stem from our emotions and ignite them. Your stories are a great way to move the emotions of the audience in the direction you want.

How to move your audience with your stories?

First, think if the effect that you want your story to have! Do you want to inspire, to call to action, to placate, to warn, to scare, or to recruit people for your vision, and motivate? Start with the end in mind and go first! Think of a time in your life when you felt the emotion you want to evoke in your audience and make sure you feel it first! Recall the situation, remember the visual details, hear what you heard, feel what you felt and see what you saw. And when you feel the emotion, let go of the memory but hold onto the emotion! And there you have it: the emotion is the backbone of your story, the hook that will help you fish out other stories from the endless sea of your life experiences and learnings to illustrate the point you want to make. Feeling the emotion will determine the red thread of your speech and will let you deliver the adequate performance as well. If you stir enough emotions in your audience, the listeners won‘t even notice any formal deficiencis of speech, isn‘t this great to know?

The basic story structure

So, what is the simplest story structure there is? Here goes:

1. There is some status quo which is some state or some sequence of iterrative events. The classic example is „Once upon a time there was X. Everyday Y…“

2. Something breaks the status quo.

3. As a result of the break in the status quo, something happens or a number of thing happen.

4. As a result of what happens of the the break, the initial status quo can no longer be the same and somebody is emotionally transformed.

This story structure is already sufficient to guarantee enough storiness to even the most mundane situations. You can make a story more engaging by stimulating by providing sensual details or by exaggerating them. Remember, it is your own emotion that drives your storytelling and evokes the same emotion in the audience! This is the whole point of telling a story.

Having this basic story structure at the back of your mind, you can scale your story up by including more elements such as protagonists, plots and subplots. A story can be somebody‘s journey from A to B but it can also include stopovers and encounters on the way; you can tell one story in 2 minutes or in 2 hours or in 2 days, depending on your objective. The professional entertainer-storytellers of older times had just a few stories in their portfolio they could scale up or down depending on the gage or time constraints.

Nested Loops

So, in the context of speech-giving, within one and the same speech you can tell more than one story as well. There is one psychological phenomenon that you can leverage on to make your stories more captivating. It is based on the Zeigarnik effect, as it is known after the Russian psychologist that made a point of exploring it. The Zeigarnik effect refers to the peculiarity of our mind to search for closure. If a line has been drawn so to say, the story is over for us and we disengage. If on the other hand a story is interrupted, the mind keeps searching for the closure and stays engaged. This is how Scheherazade told her tales and stayed alive: she would start a tale but not finish it until the next night and start a new tale right away that was unfinished at dawn so the Sultan did no kill her as planned but kept her alive until the next night in order to hear the end of the tale and so the cycle went for 1001 nights!

How can you use the Zeigarnik effect in your stories? You can build the so called nested loops. Here is how it goes: you start one story but do not finish it; close before the end you interrupt the story and start a new one, close before the end or at the climax, you interrupt it again, at this point the attention of your audience is so eager to have all the closures, that this is the best moment to make you most memorable point. You make you point and close the stories in reverse order finishing with the story you started out with. It all depends of course on the objective you want to achieve with your speech in the first place. Go first, as was stated in the beginning.

Here is an example:

1. The objective is to want to encourage your audience to tell more stories in their speeches.

2. Think what resources may be useful to storytellers to encourage them to tell more stories.

3. Think of stories around each one of the resources you came up with, these can be related to your own experiences or to famous people or simply to your friend John. One resource may be letting go of „either, or“-thinking and going for „both and more“. Another one may be to question standard practices and be willing to try out new things, the third one my be to just have the courage to tell stories in all situations.

4. You start story 1, interrupt it at the climax casually, like „Oh, this reminds me of…“ and start story 2, interrupt it at the climax in a similarly, start story 3 and at the climax you interrupt it to make the main point „Have courage, have the courage to tell stories anywhere, anytime“. Then you close the stories in reverse order.

Here is a short demo of how I do it:

Have the courage to practice and tell me how it goes!

© Teodora Rudolph. All rights reserved 2017, Zürich, Schweiz