Why Your Audience Wants Bad Things To Have Happened To Their Presenter

by drjim on January 5, 2009

Presenters Need To Use Their Personal Stories About Facing Challanges To Reach Their Audiences

Presenters Need To Use Their Personal Stories About Facing Challanges To Reach Their Audiences

Today’s audiences are a jaded bunch. In fact, a Gallup Poll shows that just 16% of us have a favorable opinion of business executives. With all of the Wall Street failures and auto maker bailouts that are currently going on, this number will probably keep going down. What’s a presenter to do in order to cut through the fog of cynicism that we are all existing in?

One way that presenters are doing this is by sharing their own stories of adversity. These stories seem to be able to reach out to audiences and somehow make the presenter much more “real” than just another glib business success story.

If this is what your audience wants, what can you do to meet their needs? We all may not have survived a wild bear attack, but we may be able to find other types of material in our lives that will allow us to connect with our audiences:

  • Audiences Love Adversity: The bigger the challenge that you faced, the more they love it. Erik Weihenmayer is a mountain climber who is blind. He over came lots of adversity and ended up climbing Mt. Everest. His story shows his audience how to overcome adversity in their lives.
  • Tales Of Survival Match Today’s Business Environment: Today’s business environment is harsh and unforgiving and surviving is what most of your audience is trying do every day. Trisha Meili
    was assaulted and left for dead in New York’s Central Park. She now speaks to audiences about what she had to go through in order to recover.
  • Find The Metaphor: What your audience is really looking for is hope. They will be interested in your story no matter what you tell them, but it will have a real impact if they can understand that what you went through is similar to what they are currently going through. The fact that you survived (and hopefully thrived) is what is going to give them the courage to keep on trying.
  • Tie Your Story Into Business: A great story will keep your audience on the edge of their seats – but what happens when you stop talking? John Amatt survived a mountain climb 20 years ago that killed three of his climbing teammates. The only way that he survived that disaster and made it to the top of the mountain was to make radical changes to his climbing route and tactics. This story is very well received by business people who are facing major changes in their business environments.
  • Use Humor Where Appropriate: These topics can be pretty heavy – life and death struggles are rarely something that anyone wants to joke about. That being said, if your entire presentation is dark and scary, then your audience will just be happy when it’s all over. Instead, use humor at the start and at the end in order to start and end on a lighter note. You audience will appreciate it and this will allow your message to sink in further.

We have not all faced life threatening situations. However, what your audience is really looking for is a good story that they can relate to. If you look back over your life, I’m sure that you can find points in which you were faced with a challenging situation that looked impossible at the time. Then all you have to do is weave a story that will grab your audience’s attention…

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

kare anderson January 11, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Apt post for me because something happened last week that was so funny – even though it was on my stage in las Vegas … within 3 minutes of my starting my speech five dancers ran across the stage, circled around behind me and began singing “the best is yet to come.”

At first i thought it was a very wry attempt at humor by my meeting planner – yet MPs do NOT thinks that way…

I turned to what appeared to be the lead dancer and asked, rather numbly, “what will be the best” and the crowd laughed thinking I was doing a good job of “acting” surprised.

The program chair rushed on stage, yelling at them…. it took awhile to figure out that they were to be in the next ballroom ….

but that could only happen because the other conference did not have the budget (we later learned) for a same-day rehearsal – or so they explained….
Kare, moving from me to we

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Dr. Jim Anderson January 12, 2009 at 10:12 am

Kare: that’s an amazing story (only in Vegas!) So here’s the big question, although it was not an intended part of your presentation, do you feel that your audience paid more or less attention to what you had to say after this “surprise” happened?

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E.G. Sebastian April 8, 2009 at 8:19 am

Great post!

On the thousands of feedback forms that I collected during the years, I’d say that 60 to 70% mention how much they loved or enjoyed my personal stories (and, gee, do I have stories :) ). So, yes, telling stories that are relevant to the topic are one of the greatest way to get our points across. As some wise guy said it once “They might forget your points, but they’ll always remember your story; and when they remember your story, they’ll remember your main points.”

E.G. Sebastian
Author, Speaker, Leadership Development Coach

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Dr. Jim Anderson April 10, 2009 at 7:37 pm

E.G.: You are correct. Now comes the hard part – once you know that a speech is really “all about the stories”, now you have to figure out how best to tell stories. This is actually much harder than it seems at first glance. Great storytellers find ways to get you to enter their stories as they tell them so that you feel as though they are talking to / about you. I’m still working to get better at doing this!

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