Why Your Stories Can’t Be All About You

Audiences are growing tired of the "my struggle, your lesson" talk
Audiences are growing tired of the “my struggle, your lesson” talk
Image Credit: Kristin Dos Santos

Congratulations – you’ve been asked to give a speech! As you sit down to use the importance of public speaking to pull this speech together, you decide that what this audience needs is one of your rousing “I overcame a mountain of obstacles” speech. Who doesn’t like that? They will be impressed with how successful you have been and will listen to your every word. Or will they? In all honesty, this “I’m so great” type of speech is that same speech that we’ve all been hearing for quite some time now. No matter if it is how someone climbed Mount Everest or how they brought a struggling company back from the grave, we’ve all heard it before. What you need is something different, but what?

The Mentor Story

In many of the stories that speakers tell, the hero of their story has all of the answers. After the car crash, the hero knows how to fix a tourniquet, what direction to go for help, and is able to clearly explain what happened to everyone who needs to hear his story. Or as his company is sinking, he know what steps to take to make sure that it won’t capsize. When the company hits its lowest point, he is already doing the things that will be needed to once again turn it into a big success. These stories sound great, but all too often they just don’t sit well with our audience.

So here’s an interesting question for you. If you broke your arm, who would you want to fix it for you: a doctor who has never broken his arm but who has fixed 100’s of arms or someone who has broken their arm in the past? That’s right, your audience doesn’t need you to have had their exact problem. They just need you to know how to go about fixing it. What they want is a story in which the hero struggles. We all struggle every day. What your audience is looking for is a story about a struggle that they can relate to. The bigger the struggle, the better the story.

When you stand up in front of your next audience and start your speech, what you want to happen is for all of them to be interested in what you’ll be telling them and for them to remain engaged in your speech. However, if you start to tell them the “you as the hero” speech what you’ll discover is that you will start to lose your audience. No, you won’t lose them all. However, you will lose enough of them that all of a sudden you will be talking to a small subset of the people who are sitting in front of you. This is not what you want. You need to tell a different type of story that is going to keep everyone engaged and wanting to hear more from you.

What Goes Into A Mentor Story?

When you start a speech, if you kick things off by telling your audience about the almost impossible struggle that you had to deal with, then you are going to be running the chance that you’ll come across as a very self-absorbed person. However, if instead you start by sharing with them a story about someone else’s struggle which you have either researched or you played the role of a mentor or helper, then you will have hooked your audience. Your goal here is to tell your audience a story that is not about you – it’s about someone like them.

In your story in which you are playing the role of a mentor to the hero, you need to be careful how much you share with them and when you share it. You can’t share too much too soon – they won’t be ready for it. As the mentor, you can’t do what needs to be done, only the hero can. There are three things that you are going to have to convince the hero of in your story: that they are the only one who can do this thing, that if they don’t do it bad things will happen, and that you’ll be with them every step of the way.

Taking the time to share mentor stories with your audience instead of stories in which you play the hero will result in you giving a great speech. You’ll find that your entire audience is engaged in your speech and they all want to hear how the story turns out. Additionally, instead of coming across as being self-serving you will come across as a valuable person to know. A mentor. Long after your speech is over and done with this is what your audience will remember about you.

What All Of This Means For You

As speakers what we want to be able to do is to deliver speeches that will allow us to both capture and hold on to our audience’s attention in order to share with them the benefits of public speaking. One of the ways that we like to go about doing this is by telling stories. We especially like to tell stories in which we are the heroes. Something has gone wrong, we jump in to save the day, and in the end everything is fixed because we made it better. However, it turns out that everyone has been telling these types of stories and now our audiences have started to tune then out when they hear them. Clearly we’re going to have to do something a bit different going forward.

What we need to discover is how to tell a mentor story. The hero story is no longer being well received by our audiences. What your audience is looking for is a story about a struggle that they are facing. You don’t have to have had the same struggle, but you do need to know how to go about solving this problem. Your audience wants to hear the mentor story. When you start your speech you need to tell your audience about someone who was facing an impossible situation. You have either researched this story or you played the role of a mentor to this person. You need to be careful that you don’t share too much information with the hero too quickly – they can’t handle all of that information. When you tell the mentor story you’ll keep the attention of your entire audience and you’ll be able to come across as being a valuable person.

The hero story has run its course. It’s time for us as speakers to start to change things. We need to start telling our audiences mentor stories in which we play a helping role to the hero. This will allow us to not spend so much time talking about how great we are, but rather how valuable we can be. Try this technique the next time you give a speech and watch your audience start to see you as the hero of your next story.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you have to play a role in the story or can you just get away with telling someone else’s story?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Communicator Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Communicator Newsletter are now available. Subscribe now: Click Here!
Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So here’s an interesting question for you. How many times have you been at a large event, more often than not outdoors, such as a convention, a sporting event, an inauguration, a grand opening, or any type of civic event? How do you know what is going to be happening soon? How do you know where you should be going? The answers to both of these questions is generally that the public address (PA) system that has been set up at the event has told you what you needed to know. What you may not have realized is that the person on the other side of that PA system is really giving a speech. The PA system is showing the importance of public speaking. How do they do that?