You have a personal story to share, but how do you make it through without crying? Can you keep the raw impact of your story without sounding over-rehearsed? And can you be sure your story is not overshadowing the overall message of your talk?
A well-organized story goes through the three stages of development as it is shared out loud in the world; moving from a raw, new creation, into a sort of adolescence as it is repeatedly told in new ways and different identities, and finally to maturity, where the story has established milestones, a known purpose, and a powerful message.
Stage one: Birth
Many of my clients have had a life-changing event that then becomes the spark, the drive, the purpose behind what they are doing and creating in the world. If this life-changing event was an emotional one, then the first time they tell their story, they re-live this intense emotional experience.
I think of this stage as the birth of a story. Just like biological birth, it can be messy, emotional, soggy, and overwhelming. That’s ok! I’ve seen speakers share their raw stories for the first time through a mess of tears and emotion and afterward, they hardly remember what they said. This is a very powerful experience for both the speaker and the audience.
A well-seasoned speaker who has an idea to share, a purpose to fill, a gift to give to the audience that they can apply to their own life, needs to move beyond this initial raw stage of storytelling. Otherwise the audience just remembers the events that happened to the speaker, and the audience misses the opportunity to walk away with an idea that applies to their own life.
Understandably, new speakers want to capture the raw emotional power of newly born stories. I’ve even heard speakers say, “I don’t want to tell this too many times since I want to keep it fresh.” But in the raw first telling of a story, the speaker was so caught up in re-experiencing the events that there wasn’t space to hold calm, pre-frontal cortex ideas like, “How am I structuring this? Is my audience following? Have I made the point I wanted to?”
After this initial gush of a story being told for the first time, it is time to enter the second stage of development: exploring being told over and over.
Stage two: Adolescence
As a story is told and retold, it seems to be navigating the world, trying on new identities, observing how people react and interact with it, just like a teenager. Can the story be humorous? Inspiring? Shocking? Does it have a number of takeaways to choose from? Are there newly remembered sensory details that take the audience’s breath away?
Perhaps some of the emotional “zing” can be missing in this stage since the speaker is focused on the telling of the story itself and how the audience reacts. Or perhaps the emotions are all there, but unpredictable and volatile just like many of us were as teenagers - a swing between aloof and high drama.
There can be a distance from the immediate connecting memory of the original events of the story. This can feel like a relief, or perhaps unnerving to have lost an edge that was once there. Or possibly new details of the story are unearthed in the middle of the telling and the raw emotions are exposed all over again.
Stage Three: Maturity
It is now time for the story to move into its third and final stage of development: maturity. After being told over and over, the storyteller is familiar with the milestones that the audience needs to hear in order for the story to make sense. The speaker feels at least an emotional understanding, if not a mastery of the emotional ups and downs of the story.
The biggest step into the maturity of a story is now the story is a tool for the public speaker. The main purpose of the story isn’t just to air it into the world for an audience to see, but for the story to be shaped especially for that audience. What can the audience learn/see/understand about their own world in a new way? What is the gift in the story that is meant just for this audience? What is the purpose of telling the story?
This is an exciting stage for the story to reach since the emotional power can return and the fear of public speaking the story wanes. As the speaker has become comfortable with the details of the story, they can turn their attention toward their purpose, and have it fuel their speaking. By keeping in mind their purpose, their desire for the audience, the change they wish to see...they have a new energy and boost. It reconnects the speaker to the emotional experience. They know the story, it’s ups and downs, its flow and details; they can lean into this like the floor under a dancer and focus on the current moment of how the presentation of their story today to this audience now.
Want to see an example? My client, Liz Langston, practiced her talk hundreds of times over the few months before she delivered it. Indeed, her story initially was shared with tears, emotion, and raw power, but she knew it needed more refining to reach her audience the way she wanted it to. As she practiced and re-practiced her story, the point/purpose/takeaway shifted until it landed on the message she truly wanted to share. HERE, you can see it in its final, developed, practiced, powerful, connected maturity. The story no longer overwhelms her, yet she is connected to it's core emotion. It is a well-honed tool to reach and teach her audience about themselves.
Do you have a story to tell? What stage is it in? Where would you like it to be? Let's chat about it!