Monday, October 22, 2007

speechwriter secrets: storytelling

How do you tell a story? That's especially important for speakers -- whether you're at a cocktail party, in a meeting, or in front of an auditorium full of listeners. If you're a parent, says speechwriter Jeff Porro, you've already got the technique down. We've asked Jeff to contribute to our "speechwriter secrets" feature, a periodic look at how to improve your public speaking with tips from those who write speeches for the best speakers. Here's his take on storytelling:
- Start with something you know your audience understands. For speeches, that means starting your story with a reference that will mean something to the group you're addressing. Enviros will know about the Endangered Species Act; patient advocates might not, for example.

- Set up a conflict quickly. Stories with conflict draw in kids and audiences, too.

- Stock the story with obvious heroes and villains. In a speech, setting up heroes and villains not only entertains, it also helps to win the audience over to your point of view.

- Don't forget the sticking point. If you're using the speech to make an argument, you need one telling fact or detail that will resonate with the audience, and stick with them. "This research will help 100 million Americans struggling with incurable medical conditions...."Invasive species are destroying a million acres of our national wildlife refuges every year".... Etc.

- A happy ending: You always have one for your kids, of course. It's a little trickier in a call-to-action speech. You want the audience to believe there CAN be a happy ending, but only if they do what you want them to do: lobby for more money for national parks, support a certain kind of cancer research, or even vote for a candidate.


Chris McLaughlin said...

I really enjoy your blog and its useful contents.

However, I have to wonder about the directive to populate a speech with obvious villains and heroes.

Unless the villains are things like poverty, repression, and ignorance, splitting the bad guys from the good guys creates a usually false polarity. The messy stuff and the hard work seems to lie most often in between the pure and impure extremes.

I can imagine Margaret Thatcher taking the black and white, know thy enemy approach. But not Eleanor Roosevelt or Laura Bush.


Denise Graveline said...

Chris makes a good point, which also may reflect another gender difference, as women typically aim for inclusiveness in their speaking, whether public or private, to build rapport. (See the post below on "who talks more, men or women?") I've asked Jeff Porro to comment a bit more about what his advice meant, so we can gain from many perspectives.