Patricia Fripp once said to me, “Craig, people will not remember what you say as much as they will remember what they see when you say it.” In other words, we have to make our speeches very visual in order to have the deepest impact. Here are 3 ways to accomplish this:
1. Put your audience members somewhere in your scene
Storytelling is not about re-stating what happened. It is about reliving what happened and inviting your audience into your “re-living room.” For example, take a look at the following excerpt from one of my speeches:
If you had been sitting beside my wife and me, on our old beat up black leather sofa, with the chocolate chip cookies baking in the background, you would have heard my wife say something that can absolutely change your life.
Question: Where are you in my scene?
Answer: You are sitting on the sofa beside my wife and me.
I set the scene up so that you are actually in it, hearing what was said and re-living it with me. Re-stating (narrating) always puts your speech in the past. However, when you put your audience into your re-living room, it is as if they are actually in the present as the story unfolds. Here are some other ways I bring audience members into my scene:
- “Imagine being in my passenger’s seat as I drove up to the KFC (you are in my passenger’s seat)…”
- “If you had picked up my phone in the year 2000 you would have heard (you are on my phone)…”
- “You should have been with my wife and me as we took our 6 month old daughter Tori to the doctor’s office (you are walking into the doctor’s office with us)…”
- “If you had been walking towards me in the Chicago airport…”
Important note: You do not always have to make bringing them into the scene the first thing you do in the story. Sometimes I introduce characters and tap into my audience with a question before I actually bring them into my scene. However, when you put a story together, always ask, “Where in my scene will I place my audience members?”
Another important note: Do not keep using the same phrase each time you bring your audience into your scene. For example, if you keep saying, “If you had been walking with me…” or “If you had been sitting with me…” or “If you had been standing with me…” your audience will tire of it and the technique will be too detectable. I see this all the time now. The key is to mix it up. In one scene, if you say, “If you had been with me…” then, for the next scene use, “Imagine being in a smoky hotel room…” For the next scene you might say, “I wish you would have been there…” Find different, creative ways to put your audience members into your scenes.
2. Check the VAKS
When you create a scene, it is important to engage your audience members’ senses. VAKS stands for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Smell. When you invite your audience members into your scene, you want to make sure these VAKS are present. Here is the same excerpt from my sofa speech. Read it and then answer the questions below it.
If you had been sitting beside my wife and me, on our old beat up black leather sofa, with the chocolate chip cookies baking in the background, you would have heard my wife say something that can absolutely change your life.
Visual question: What could you see in that scene?
Answer: The black sofa.
Auditory Question: What could you hear?
Answer: You could hear my wife. That is why I specifically used the word heard so that I could reach the auditory learners.
Kinesthetic question: What could you feel?
Answer: My audiences usually say, “I could feel the leather.” Sometimes they say, “I could feel the love.” I usually respond with, “Love and leather always go together.” LOL.
Smell question: What could you smell in my scene?
Answer: The cookies. In fact, you might even have been able to taste them, which of course is another sense. So I checked the VAKS in this story. Make sure you do the same with your scenes.
Two Important Caveats about Checking the VAKS
Make sure you set your scene quickly so you do not take away from your story. If you drone on and on about the VAKS, you will lose your audience because you will not get to the conflict (the hook) of the story fast enough.
Also, try not to make the VAKS too poetic. Poetic is fine for a novel, but a speech needs to sound more realistic. In other words, use words you would use in everyday conversation, as if you are talking to a friend.
3. Give your characters a hint
Your characters are the stars of your speech and it is difficult for an audience to connect with characters they cannot envision. The key as a speaker is to just give a hint to what your characters look and act like. For example, listen to the following 37-second excerpt from one of my stories:
How do you see her in your mind? “Petite lady” and “pink dress” are just small hints that give the audience momentum to start mentally filling in the rest of her image. That is the key. In order for your audience to own a piece of your character, they need to create part of that character. If you give too much descriptive information, you take away your audience’s ownership. People buy into what they help create, so let them buy into your characters by co-creating them. On the other hand, if you provide little information (i.e. no hint) your audience will not have much to go on and so they probably will not see anyone in their mind.
Here are several creative ways to give a hint for what a character looks like
Give it in dialog: You can have one character say, “Oh wow, I like the new look. When did you become a blonde?”
Give it in posture: Give your character a certain posture or specific gestures while he or she speaks. For example, for the old homeless lady I have in one of my stories, I take a posture that is slightly bent at the waist and speak almost as if I am lecturing in a grandmotherly way. Your audience will remember what they see so make sure you take on the physical characteristics of your character.
Give it in the voice: The way your character sounds will help your audience see him or her. When you talk to someone on the phone that you have never met, you probably form a picture of that person in your mind, right? The voice helps.
I have a story about when I am 10 years old and I run into a man I call Mr. H. Mr. H is a father of one of my friends and I give his lines in a slightly raspier voice than normal. Of course he also takes a posture of an authority figure in my life at that time. Later on in the story, as I fast-forward 18 years, it becomes rather amusing that I now take the authority stance as I tower over him when I speak. The voice I give him helps my audience picture him because they probably have people in their lives who speak like him. I do not care exactly how they see him; I just care that they do see him.
One Caveat Regarding Posture and Voice:
Do not go overboard with the posture or with the voice. It is distracting and annoying when a speaker takes on the character of a child and speaks in the child’s high-pitched voice. Instead, make everything subtle. You can speak in a slightly higher pitch and you can look up slightly too as a child would when speaking to a standing adult. The actual use of words and expressions in your eyes can be that of the child but there is no need to take on that child’s actual voice. Remember, the eyes tell the story.
Use Dialogue to Give a Hint about Your Character’s History or Attitude
At times it’s important for the audience members to know something about your character’s history or even his or her attitude. For example, listen to this quick 105 second audio (from a speech I gave to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development) about my friend Steve. See if you can find out something about him.
So, what did you find out about Steve? You know he’s positive, right? But did I say, “Steve, my positive friend and I talked one day…”? No, I described him in dialogue by saying, “Steve, you’r positive…tell me something…tell me anything!” That’s how you found out he was positive. It was dialogue, not narration.
If you use these three tools above, not only will your speeches become more visual, but you will also become more visible because more and more audiences will want to see you speak. As always, keep speaking up.
How do you make your stories more visual? Can you give an example?
3 Responses to “How to Make Your Stories More Visual (3 Tools)”
Leave a Reply
Over the years I’ve learned and taught quite a bit about storytelling, but there has been one secret I held close to the vest. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to share it but I needed a story that would illustrate it.
What I learned from Keith Harrell
It all started when I watched a video of my favorite speaker, the late Keith Harrell (if you have not seen him, you must). He told a story about having a stuttering problem when he was in Kindergarten (5 years old). The teacher called on him to say his name and he couldn’t. He stuttered and couldn’t even finish his name and the kids laughed.
He ran home (about two miles) and his mother was waiting for him on the front porch. She hugged him and told him that she was proud because at least he tried. And she said, “One day my little baby’s gonna stand tall, and you’re gonna say your name as loud and as well as all the other boys and girls.” Keith then turns to the audience and says, “She told me that over 40 years ago…I think she was talking about today.” Then he looks out at the audience and says, “I’d like to take a moment to finish something my mother told me one day I’d be able to do.” He faces the audience completely and says, “My name is Keith David Harrell.”
I have never been touched so much by a story and every time I watch it, I go through the same emotions. So, as a speaker, I eventually asked, “Why? Why does his story touch me so much?” It took some time but then I figured it out. It’s because the story ends today.
Make Your Story End Today
Keith’s story didn’t end years ago or months ago like most speakers’ stories. Instead, it ended right there on the stage that day when he said, “I think she was talking about today. I’d like to take a moment to finish something my mother told me one day I’d be able to do. My name is Keith David Harrell.” The story finished right there in front of that audience on that day. That audience essentially became the Kindergarten class but 40 years later. That audience became the ones to witness Keith’s triumph over his obstacle and they experienced that triumph with him.
Once I realized what he did, I knew it was time for me to tell my “turning point” story that I had hesitated to share in my first 10 years of speaking. When you have an event that dramatically and instantly alters the course of your life, it can be a challenge to make sure the audience “gets” how much it means to you. But, using this “Make your story end today” tool, my story came alive.
Listen to this story and see if you can see how it ends today rather than years ago or months ago. See if you can figure out how the audience actually becomes a part of my journey rather than just listening to what happened to me way back when.
Note: This story is 6 minutes long (2-3 minutes longer than most of my stories). Please don’t read on until you finish listening to the story. Click the Play button below to listen.
How did my story end today? It was the moment I said, “I wasn’t supposed to find her…I was supposed to find you…just in case you need a sign” Many of my audiences begin clapping right then and there and “feel” that they are a part of my journey. And guess what? They are! I believe what I say with 100% conviction. And then the final line comes as a call-back to what the lady said to me. “Good luck living your dreams.” I’ve had many people over the past few years say to me afterwards, “I believe you are a sign for me today.”
I do not recommend using this tool more than once per speech. In other words, only use it with one story. Chances are it might end up being your closing story. That’s a great time to use it because it brings emotion into the room and ends your speech on a high.
Think about one story that you either already tell or plan to tell and see if you can find a way to make that story end today.
21 Responses to “The One Storytelling Secret I Never Shared…until Now”
Leave a Reply
Below are two short coaching videos with “delivery” tools you can use to dramatically improve even your very next speech:
1. Video: Don’t sell it, tell it
Having your audience connect to the emotions in your story is critical, and you can do that over and over again by letting your delivery and actions sell people on what you are feeling in each scene. Here’s a before and after example.
What scene, if any, in your story do you need to sell better in terms of the actions and emotions?
2. Video: Walking the Timeline (and calling back)
There are several uses for the timeline but they must all be done with subtlety. Here is an example of how you can use the stage effectively
How have you used the timeline in your stories? What have you called back to visually and verbally to deepen the impact?
2 Responses to “Two Delivery Videos to Add Impact to Your Speeches”
Leave a Reply
There are obvious mistakes some speakers make that destroy their stories. However, I’ve found that most speakers have pretty good stories that would be great if they eliminated some of the following little-known mistakes speakers make. After you listen to the following quick story, you’ll see 4 of those mistakes.
1. They don’t milk the moment
After I gave my assistant’s line, “It’s because you’re black,” what happened? My audience started to laugh. So what did I do? I milked the laughter. Instead of simply going to the next line in my story, I stayed in that moment and looked at my hands and then felt the skin on my face while looking around as if to ask, “Wow, I’m black?” My audience laughed more.
Whenever you milk the moment, rather than rushing to your next line, you have the opportunity to get more laughter or, in many instances, create more suspense or tension. The key is that you cannot rush and resonate. Take your time, feed off the audience’s reactions, and create an experience rather than a speech. That’s milking the moment.
2. They make themselves the Guru
Believe it or not, you are not the one who taught you what you know. We did not fall off the Encyclopedia truck with all of life’s answers. As a speaker, it’s important to dig back into your past and discover who helped you see things the way you do now. Give that person the credit. That person is what I call the Guru.
If it’s a group of people, pick one person (Dr. C) and give him or her credit. Why just one person? Because a person relates to a person better than a group. Plus, an audience can picture Dr. C. and hear him saying, “You’re always too something to someone.” If it’s a book you read, give the author the credit. Just make sure you are not the Guru of your own story. This keeps us similar to our audience rather than special.
3. They don’t make the message universal
At first glance you might think my message is about being black or about race in general. However, it’s not. It’s a universal message about always being too something to someone. That’s why you could hear the audible hum when I first said Dr. C’s phrase. No matter who they were in my audience, they could relate.
I even ask my audiences, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt too something to someone.” Every hand goes up. Then I ask, “What was it?” I’ve heard answers like…
“I’ve felt too fat”
So when it comes to the message about being “too good for it to matter (which I say later in the speech),” it’s something everyone can use. It’s universal.
Whether you’ve climbed a mountain, run across America, or experienced something most of us have not, it’s critical to make your message universal so that we can relate. Even when you share your own specific experience, they (your audience members) can and should leave with a universal message.
4. They don’t shift the energy
When I get to the end of the story and begin to make my point, it’s not enough to shift from an I-focused story to a you-focused message. I must also shift from the energy of the story to the energy of the point.
The energy is different for each. For example, I take a breath and bring it down before I say, “I had a professor named Dr. C. who always used to say, ‘You’re always too something to someone.’” Later on (not included on the audio here) I bring it down even more when I say, “Since you’re always too something to someone, what’s the solution? How can you move forward? [long pause] Be too good…for it to matter.”
The key to the shift in energy is this; if your story is fast and loud, make your point slow and low. If you’re story is low and slow, you might consider making your point in a faster and more energetic way. Why? Contrast keeps the connection.
A story is not about the next line. It’s really about what happens in-between the lines. Don’t rush; resonate.
What moment(s) do you milk in your story?
What universal message do you have?
Who is the Guru?
22 Responses to “4 Little-Known Mistakes Speakers Make with their Stories”
Leave a Reply
There are various F-words in speaking that can help you connect with your audience and make them laugh. Listen to the following audio to pick up the first F-word
The quickest way to connect with your audience is to share your failures. Why? Because everyone has failed at something and sharing your failure gets them to relate to you. Plus, so many speakers usually talk about success after success after success which makes the audience feel they are egotistical and special. You don’t want to come across as special. You want to come across as similar…similar to your audience.
Think of some of your greatest failures and consider sharing them.
Dictionary.com defines a flaw as “a feature that mars the perfection of something.” When you share something about you that is less than perfect, this help you relate because most people don’t feel they are perfect either. Do you see a pattern here? Whenever you can tap into what most people feel about themselves, you will connect deeper with them.
One flaw I have shared over the past 15 years of speaking is that, when I was around 10 years old, I spoke with a lisp that was so bad that a father of one of my friends referred to me as “Daffy Duck.” People in my audience might not have had a speech impediment but they’ve surely had a flaw pointed out by someone before so this helps them relate to me.
My friend and fellow speaker, Darren LaCroix, actually shows his audience a video of his first time on stage back when he was pursuing comedy as a career. It’s an unforgettable video in which he bombed. Darren’s willingness to share this makes his audience feel, “Well if he turned himself from that into the World Champion of Public Speaking, there’s a chance for me to succeed too.” The other effect it has is that it gets the audience to root for him as he shares some of his successes too.
Can you remember the first time you attempted something? What’s the story behind that?
When I delivered that gentleman’s line, “Us fat guys gotta stick together!” you could hear the audience respond with a mix of heavy laughter and a few “Oh no’s!” The reason they felt they could laugh at an insulting line like that is because I gave them permission to laugh. How? With my face. If I hadn’t smiled and laughed a bit myself, many of my audience members would have tried to suppress their laugh out of courtesy. Can you imagine what my audience would do if I gave a hurt expression after that line?
However, because I gave them permission to laugh with my face (i.e. smiling and laughing myself), they went from suppression to expression. Never underestimate the power that your face has in giving your audience permission to laugh.
In addition to connecting deeper with your audience, there is one final result you are likely to discover as you share your failures, flaws, firsts, and your facial expressions. You’ll find the funny. That’s right. You’ll uncover more and more humor in your stories and speeches. Why? Because failures, flaws, and firsts are funny when they’re not happening to you (the audience) and your face allows your audience to laugh.
What failures, flaws, or firsts have you shared with your audience and what kind of connection did you feel as a result?
13 Responses to “F-words in Speaking Will Help You Connect”
Leave a Reply
Crescendos are so important because they are defining moments that bring the audience’s energy to its highest point. Without them, your audience can easily be deflated.
What’s a crescendo?
Dictionary.com defines crescendo as “a steady increase in force or intensity” and “the climactic point or moment in such an increase; peak.”
I look at it as the highest peak of intensity or force with your story. However, to have a crescendo, you must build to it gradually. That means you can’t jump to it too quickly and you can’t take too long to get there. There needs to be a gradual increase in excitement, intensity, or force so that it seems quite natural once you hit the peak.
Listen to the following example of my 2-minute car story in which I gradually reach a crescendo.
What was the highest peak of force and intensity? Right, when I yelled, “Where do I sign?!” That was the crescendo, but that’s not enough. You can’t stop there.
What happens after the Crescendo?
What happens after the crescendo is just as important as the crescendo itself. The key is to bring down the force and intensity (gradually or immediately) afterwards and shift your energy in a way that says, “Okay, let’s get back to our conversation.”
After I yelled, “Where do I sign?” I gradually brought the level of force down and eventually became conversational again when I said, “Don’t sell the product, service, idea, or yourself; always sell the result.” In truth, I could have shifted the energy even more and dropped my voice to a low and slow level when I said that line. Why? Because even though you gradually reach your crescendo, you do not have to be gradual on the way back down. In fact, the immediate contrast can often pull your audience in deeper.
I chose to go down gradually because I still had some humor lines (i.e. “And he lied!” and “Just me and my payment”) on the way back to the conversation.
A Crescendo in 3 Steps
Step 1: Build up your level of force and intensity gradually
Step 2: Have the defining moment and reach the highest peak of force and intensity
Step 3: Shift your energy (gradually or immediately) and bring yourself back to a conversational level
Do you have a story that builds into a definite crescendo? What do you do afterwards? What kind of energy shift do you make?
9 Responses to “The Crescendo: An Underutilized Tool for Speakers”
Leave a Reply
How would you like to make a deeper connection with your audience than you’ve ever felt before?
I spoke recently to an audience of 4000 people and later received an e-mail from one of the attendees who wrote, “I know there was a lot of people there today but I felt like you were speaking just to me.”
The Hallway Test
If you listen to this 7-minute live segment from one of my workshops, follow the suggestion, and implement it throughout your entire speech, you can have each audience member feel like you are speaking directly to him or her. Now that’s a connection! Click the audio below:
Have you been speaking to one but looking to all?
17 Responses to “Use The Hallway Test for a Deeper Audience Connection”
Leave a Reply
One of the questions people ask me is, “Do our stories always have to be true?”
If you’re delivering a story that happened to you or that you are representing as true, then it should definitely be true. However, it should contain what my friend and fellow speaker, Darren LaCroix, calls “The emotional truth.”
The emotional truth means you stay true to the essence of what happened in your story even if you might alter a few facts to make it more interesting, clear, and digestible for your audience.
For example, take my story that you’ve probably heard before. Listen to a section of it now and then come with me behind the curtain to see how I changed certain facts to make the story shorter and clearer (which is almost always my goal). This clip is 2 minutes and 19 seconds in length.
Let’s take a look at what really happened in my life and what I decided to share with you in the story.
First, your heard that conversation I had with my Vice-President when he kept offering me more money, right? Well, guess what? That conversation actually took place over a 4-day period. Each day I came in and turned down his offer and then he made a counter offer to keep me on board.
However, if I were to present the story in that way and keep coming back day after day, it would get tiring and boring for my audience. So what did I do? I condensed it to connect with my audience. I put all 4 days into one conversation with my VP. Was it true? Sure. What happened really happened. I just took out the extra days to make it shorter and clearer for my audience. So what is the takeaway for you?
Think about condensing time or several scenes into one scene.
Also, here’s what else really happened that I left out. Michael J. Fox. What? That’s right, I left out Michael J. Fox. You see, when I went to meet with my Vice-President, he kept using Michael J. Fox as an example for why I should stay on board with the company.
He’d say, “Craig, why don’t you do both…be a speaker AND stay with the company? After all, when Michael J. Fox started doing the Back to the Future movies, he didn’t leave his Family Ties sitcom. He did both. You can too. You can be Michael J. Fox!”
Then, in a last ditch effort, he said to me, “Heck, if you’re so bent on speaking, we can put you on a tour to speak about our company. We’d get you a van and you can go around and speak!” Finally, he even offered me a Director’s position where I’d be leading the entire sales team.
Well guess what? None of that needed to be in the conversation I shared with you because it would have done more harm than help.
Not everything that happens out there needs to find its way in here (in your speech).
So the takeaway is only use what’s necessary to drive home your point. I didn’t need all of that. When I write the book on my journey, I’ll include Michael J. Fox but not in my speech. Still, the emotional truth of what happened is included in my story. Condense to connect. I took all that happened and condensed the time and events into one quick but meaningful conversation. Condense to connect.
Now let’s look at the other conversation in my story, the one with my wife. Let me ask you a question. Do you think my wife had anything else to say to me about this decision I needed to make? Of course she did. We talked for days about this! But I took everything she said and boiled it down to the one line she said that hit me straight and hard. “Your dream is not for sale.” It’s the truth condensed.
If I told the story with all the other statements she made to me, chances are the “Your dream is not for sale” line would get lost in the mix. Instead, people are constantly referring to that line as they move on with their life’s decisions. I condensed to connect.
And here’s another question I have for you. Do you think anyone else had anything to say about my decision? Of course! I had a speaker friend of mine giving me all kinds of advice. I had co-workers telling me what I should and shouldn’t do.
But here’s where the emotional truth comes in. If you start having too many characters and too many days back and forth and too many conversations with too many statements, you will lose your audience too many times. So I took all of those people and condensed them into one conversation with my wife. Condense to connect.
So how can you benefit from my experience of putting this story together? Realize that you can…
Condense time – so you get to the conflict and the message quicker
Condense events – so you do not lose your audience in the details
Condense conversations – so the lines of dialogue you want to be remembered will be
Condense groups – so you will not have too many characters that get in the way of your message
When you condense your story and keep the emotional truth, you get a connection with your audience that you won’t get by telling the entire story.
So stick with the emotional truth and condense to connect.
In what ways have you condensed your story to connect?
24 Responses to “A Must-Have Storytelling Secret for Speakers”
Leave a Reply
If you’ve been following my lessons for any length of time, you probably know I am a huge advocate of using dialogue to uncover the humor in your stories and speeches.
However, there are also other ways to bring forth the humor. If you use these additional ways, you will not only make them laugh, but you’ll also deepen your connection.
Here are 4 seldom used ways to uncover humor in your speeches.
Way #1 – The Look Before, During, and/or After the Line
It’s often not the line of dialogue that makes the story funny. It’s the expression you give before, during, and/or after the line that makes them laugh. For example, listen to a 1-minute section of my car story I gave recently in Chicago.
After the car salesman said, “You’re going to look good in that one,” what facial expression do you think I gave that made my audience laugh?
After the line, I looked up as if to say, “Oh yeah?! Awesome!” It’s not the line but the look after the line that made it work. How do I know this? Because I used to just give the line by itself and I would only get a tiny bit of laughter. The look leads to the laugh.
Way #2 – The Tag-on
Think back to the 1-minute segment you just heard. I had delivered that story for years without using the tag-on line of “I was lonely in that car…just me and my payment.” That payment line only came in the past few speeches. So even if you’ve given a story for years, still look for possible tag-on lines to bring forth more humor.
Another example from that story involves what I said after the line, “Young and single and looking to mingle.” I looked at a young guy in the audience and said, “Feel free to use that one.” That was a tag-on line as well and it uncovered more humor. Tag-on lines are great because they extend the initial laugh and create more fun for the audience. Those two tag-on lines gave my audience 7 laughs rather than 5 laughs in that one-minute section of the story.
Way #3 – Responding to their Reactions
Recently I spoke to Texas A&M University. The look one of the students gave me during one of my stories brought me to a realization that I used to uncover humor. Listen to this 20-second clip for yourself.
As a speaker, when you constantly watch your watchers and listen to your listeners, you will easily find little (and sometimes big) laughs here and there.
Way #4 – Planned Impromptu Moments
Many speakers think interaction has to be spontaneous. Part of it is, but part of it does not have to be. For example, when you bring someone up on stage, you can leave part of what’s said to chance and part of what’s said to planning. Listen to the following 40-second clip:
These were the three lines I knew I’d say to whoever volunteered.
- When she said her name, I said, “That’s correct.”
- When she finished her attempt I said, “Let me stop you before you go into your own keynote.”
- Also, after her first attempt I said, “It was very good; it was wrong…”
Those are three lines I use all of the time. That’s the planning part. However, I usually can uncover more humorous moments that are truly spontaneous and unexpected. So can you.
How did I know those lines would uncover humor? History.
What gets recorded gets rewarded. Keep recording your speeches and make sure you go back and listen to them. This history will help you uncover more humor for your speaking future.
Humor turns a speech into an experience for your audience. Hopefully you will give at least one of the ways above a try very soon.
If you have additional ways to uncover humor, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear them.
2 Responses to “4 Seldom Used Ways to Uncover Humor in Your Speech”
Leave a Reply
If you want to thrive in speaking and continue to get opportunity after opportunity, that’s as easy as ABC. ABC stands for…
Always Be Creating”
Resting on your old material will eventually make your speeches go stale. Creating new, fresh material is a pathway to creating speeches people talk about for years and getting hire time and time again.
Below are 6 Tools for Testing your new Material.
6 Tools for Testing your New Speaking Material
Believe it or not, you can test your material out in a real speech (even one that people have paid to see). But heed the following Tools when you do.
1: Don’t make it the first thing you say
People remember best what they hear first and what they hear last. If you make your new material the first words you say in your speech, you risk starting out in a deep ditch. The best way to integrate new material is to mix it in after some of your proven material. That way you will already have a connection that can withstand a temporary short in the circuit.
2: Test at least Three Times before you Make a Decision
Before you decide to keep or throw away your new material, make sure you test it at least three times. Why? Because each audience is different. Just because it doesn’t work for one audience does not mean it won’t work for a different one. Don’t give up after the first try. You might simply need to change something about the content or the delivery.
For example, I had been telling my KFC story for a few years but I noticed the laughs were not arriving as hard and strong as they used to. Then I figured it out. Listen to how I tell the story now and then you’ll see what I did to make the difference (71 seconds).
When I wasn’t getting the big laughs, I had been taking too long to get to the punch line of “Do you have large thighs?” In fact, after the KFC worker’s line of dialogue that says “Small or large?” I had been narrating by saying “I was confused. I didn’t understand so I just blurted out, ‘Do you have large thighs?’”
Well, I figured out that I didn’t have to say “I was confused…” I could simply show that on my face. As a result, right after I deliver her line, I immediately say “Do you have large thighs?” This brings the laugh back to a high level. This also brings me to my next tool.
3: Test it and tweak it
The ONLY way to know if your new material will work is to test it with your audiences. One of my goals when tweaking is to always see how I can make the material shorter. For example, in the KFC story, it got shorter as I took out that unnecessary narration. As you continue to test it, look for ways to follow this delivery maxim:
Don’t say it if you can show it”
4: Play with your Points
Test your story by letting it make different points. See which of those points connects best with your audiences. Your point might end up being different than you originally thought. For example, here is a new story I started telling recently. I tried several different points until I ended up with the point of “Never stop asking questions.” Take a listen (81 seconds).
When I began telling that story, I tried other points such as “You’re never too old to go for gold” and a couple of others. The “Never too old…” Foundational Phrase can certainly work for some audiences. However, with the life-long learning and professional development-centered organizations I’ve been speaking to, “Never stop asking questions” fits well because I can tie it to learning. Try various points and see what fits.
5: Test it with Friends
Many speakers think they have to wait until they get on stage to test out their material. Well, guess what? Shakespeare was right. “All the world’s a stage.” You can test it anywhere. I particularly like testing my material with friends and family in regular conversation. They are audiences too! No, I don’t say, “Fellow friends and family, I have a story to tell.” But, I might say to my friends, “You won’t believe what my son said the other day…” And then I’ll see how they react to the story.
In fact, my wife and I shared this equestrian story with my kids’ track coaches, my parents, my wife’s parents, and a few friends before I ever took it to the speaking stage. Everyone laughed so I knew I had something worth continuing to test.
6: Take out the Irrelevant Parts
Finally, when you continue to test your story, remove parts of it that are not necessary. For example, here’s the more in-depth story behind the equestrian story.
My wife, son, daughter, and I were in Houston, Texas as my kids were competing in the AAU National Track and Field Championships in August. We were watching the television in the hotel restaurant when we saw the story about the 74-year old equestrian competing in the Olympics. As we watched, my 7-year old son literally said this word for word, “What I want to know is how old is the horse?” My wife and I immediately cracked up laughing and couldn’t stop.
Now let me ask you a question? In the audio above, was anything about Houston in my story? No. Was there anything about my wife and daughter being there with me? No. Did I mention anything about the National Track and Field Championships? No. Why? Because as much as I love my wife and daughter (and I’m pretty fond of Houston too), they’re not relevant to this story. Heck, I even cut my son’s line down to “How old is the horse?!” Knowing what to keep in and what to keep out empowers you to keep your story short.
How do you know what to keep in and what to keep out?
Always remember this:
The phrase determines what stays.”
If your content supports your Foundational Phrase, keep it in. If it doesn’t, keep it out. In this case, nothing about Houston, or my wife, or my daughter helps support the phrase “Never stop asking questions.” But my son’s statement (and my additional research of the equestrian) gives me the content I need to support my phrase. The phrase determines what stays.
ABC = Always Be Creating