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Tell Stories

Tell Stories

    We live in a world with information overload. Data, facts, statistics and definitive answers to specific questions are immediately available from search engines on the internet. But people want more than facts.  They want understanding.  They want meaning. They want context.  They want stories.

    Children ask their parents to tell them stories because they like to fit the pieces of the story into a context they can understand. It is the same with adults. Audiences at conferences do not want to be bombarded with data and figures. They want stories with emotional impact that hold their interest and convey meaning.

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    Telling a story is a powerful way to get your message across. One of the reasons that Christianity took hold is that Jesus conveyed his message not in sermons or theological discourses but in parables – he told stories that people could easily understand and repeat to others. Stories involve people, emotions, feelings, consequences and outcomes. They hold our interest because we want to find out what happens to the people in the stories.

    When you want to communicate an important point then tell a tale.  Compare these two approaches that a bank might use to let entrepreneurs know about business loans.

    A. Last year we made over 15,000 loans to small businesses with a total funding in excess of $1200 million. On average we arranged the loans within 27 days of initial enquiry and we have streamlined our applications with on-line systems that speed processing. We have over 250 trained account managers to optimize customer service. In surveys of small business owners we are consistently rated one of the top four banks to deal with.

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      B. Last year we made over 15,000 loans to small businesses. One was to Gerry Martinez who runs his own office fitting company. He is the 35 year old son of Spanish immigrants and he had built his business to a level where he employs 20 people – including many of his relatives. He secured a major contract worth over $500,000 to refit the purchasing offices of a large retailer and he needed a loan of $50,000 to fund the stock and equipment required. Gerry was anxious because he was in danger of losing the contract if he could not secure the funding and he had been turned down by two other banks before coming to us. One of our most experienced advisors, Eddy Jordan, quickly assessed the situation and arranged the loan within 7 working days of first meeting Gerry. Eddy was able to offer further help with insurances and in securing training grants for some of Gerry’s apprentices. Gerry’s business has doubled in turnover since he got the loan and he says, ‘Thanks to your help, we pulled through a very difficult time and I am proud of what we have achieved.’

      Which message is more likely to gain your interest? If you want a loan which approach is more likely to convince you to look further into what the bank has to offer?

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      How do you tell a story? Here are some simple steps to follow:

      1. Introduce the characters. Stories involve people so describe them.
      2. Set the scene. This often involves some challenge or difficulty that has to be overcome.
      3. Explain what happened next and how the situation resolved itself.
      4. Draw out any conclusions or lessons learnt.

      Go through your own life and think about some of your most vivid memories, some of the difficulties or problems you faced, some of the funny or emotional things that happened to you.  What were the lessons you learned? We all have stories within us and sometimes we can enrich the lives of others if we tell a relevant story well. You have to be prepared to bare yourself, to share your feelings and frailties.  But by doing this sincerely you can gain enormous respect and sympathy from your audience. Do not short change your listeners; vividly describe your feelings, your emotions, your pain, your joy. They want to hear how bad it was, how scared you were, how surprised you were, what happiness you felt. Above all they want closure. They want to know what happened and why.

      When, in later life, you think about your parents or grandparents what you will most likely remember are not the facts about their lives, nor details of their earnings, wealth or qualifications. You will remember the stories they told you; especially heart-warming stories about when they were growing up, their relationships with their parents, the mistakes they made, the adventures they had.

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      Build your own store of interesting stories. Be prepared to tell them in social and business contexts.  You can tell a personal story on all sorts of occasions – on a date or when giving a keynote talk. The stories about things that happened to you are the best. But interesting stories about other people are also worth retelling if they are really amusing or make a great point.

      E. M. Forster explained it very simply. A fact is, ‘The queen died and the king died.’ A story is, ‘The queen died and the king died of a broken heart.’ When you want to convey a message, don’t think just in terms of giving information. Ask yourself how you can illustrate the message with examples and tales.  Use fewer facts and more stories.

      P.S.  Here is a personal story I told on Lifehack:

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      Paul Sloane

      Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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      Last Updated on July 20, 2021

      How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

      How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

      You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

      Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

      Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

      Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

      1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

      According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

      “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

      Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

      Warming up

      If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

      If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

      Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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      1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
      2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
      3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

      Stay hydrated

      Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

      To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

      Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

      Meditate

      Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

      Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

      Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

      Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

      2. Focus on your goal

      One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

      Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

      Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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      Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

      If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

      3. Convert negativity to positivity

      There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

      ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

      It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

      Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

      Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

      Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

      4. Understand your content

      Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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      However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

      “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

      Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

      Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

      One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

      5. Practice makes perfect

      Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

      In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

      Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

      6. Be authentic

      There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

      Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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      Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

      To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

      With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

      Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

      7. Post speech evaluation

      Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

      Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

      We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

      You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

      Improve your next speech

      As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

      Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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      • How did I do?
      • Are there any areas for improvement?
      • Did I sound or look stressed?
      • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
      • Was I saying “um” too often?
      • How was the flow of the speech?

      Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

      If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

      Reference

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