Michael H. Schaefer, DTM

One on One Coach, Keynote Speaker, Leadership Trainer


Using Stories with dialogue and conflict

Lascaux Cave Paintings, France

When you were six years old, could there have been better words at bedtime? Or after a sweaty recess at school, the glorious moment when you and your classmates sat on the floor in a semicircle around your teacher as she opened a book to face you and said those magic words, ‘once upon a time?’

Recent studies have shown that we are built to believe an emotional story before we believe a rational statistic. Something about our group dynamics as cavemen and women. The key to survival was achieving consensus within a group. We needed to persuade others to flourish as a species. And one of the very first methods was storytelling. The Lascaux Cave Paintings are a testament to our desire to capture drama (the hunt) and elevate it to a collective expression, part art, part narrative.

All this is a way of saying that speeches should be built with stories if you seek to be fundamentally effective. Speeches may seek to inform or educate, they may advocate strong opinions, they may be largely entertainments. But whatever the purpose, if you aren’t seeking to use stories to illustrate your point, you’re not really giving a speech. David Brooks, World Champion of Public Speaking in 1990 says, in fact, that a speech is making a point and telling a story, making another point, telling another story. And so on. A fully formatted story should take between 6-7 minutes. A basic speech structure contains a theme, three supporting points supported by three stories.

Tracie, a young product manager had to give a speech about a new product rollout at her manufacturing firm. She had never given a formal talk to her bosses and the heads of the division, the men in dark suits. But she had been told by her speaker coach (www.MichaelHSchaefer.com) to use a story to communicate her point. She wanted to tell them the product was an improvement of an existing product, not an unknown, untested risk.

She told them the story of her high school prom as part of her introductory remarks, how she bought a new dress and matching shoes, got a great new hair style. She told them that she and her boyfriend were facing some hard times but that night they turned the corner and ended up having a wonderful time. She paused. She told the group that the point of her prom story was that her boyfriend didn’t have to find somebody else to ask to the dance; she was new and improved. She paused again to make her point relevant. In a soft southern accent she said, “When our customers see our new and improved product, you can be damn sure they’ll dance with the one that brung ‘em in the first place.”

The audience was hers. The story took less than 45 seconds to tell. But after that, they listened to the marketing, packaging, and brand support information, clearly appreciating how all the information supported her larger point about improving on a success.

The point of retelling Tracie’s story is, as you may guess, to use stories; they work. Even in situations that seem technical or serious.

The more conflict a story has, the more attention it grabs. Think of the last scene of Little Red Riding Hood. A wolf in grandmother’s clothing, ready to pounce. Now that’s suspense.

And, by all means, use dialogue. Dialogue can create an instant mental image of the environment, convey character, conflict and put the listeners in an active, immediate present action moment. In other words, it’s compelling and effective. And you only need a single line of dialogue to create an effect. Use short dynamic description to get to a key moment and then spring the dialogue on them. Want to see how effective dialogue can be? Watch:

“All the better to eat you with, My Dear!”

Did a picture suddenly spring to mind? Did you start to fast forward into the climactic action between the Wolf and Red? Dialogue can grab an audience just like that.

Dialogue can be between you and yourself. It can suggest character with a little vocal variety. It can also be the most honest and emotionally vulnerable moment of your speech.

“Forgetting dialogue is like forgetting the arrows on a hunt,” the speaker coach said quietly in your ear.

If you have any questions about how to build better stories or to transform your message into a story, send me an email.(Michael@MicahelHSchaefer.com)

Happy Storytelling.

Next time: Secrets from the stand up comedy world…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>