A million ways to tell our story

Today, we’ve got a million ways to tell our story. We can tell it on video, audio, or write it down. We can publish it on YouTube, LinkedIn, or Instagram. We can record podcasts or chat live on Clubhouse. We can tweet with 240 characters or write long-from blog posts. We can call on the phone, meet in person or give a speech.

Yet, no matter how we choose to tell our story, one thing always comes first: Making a connection with our audience.

This is not about technology, nor about the format. It’s about empathy, clarity, and caring for our cause. It’s about understanding what matters to our audience and finding the words that make them see.

The beauty of it is this: When we get this right, our story becomes independent of the platform, the format, and the technology. When we get the story right, we’ll be able to tell it on any platform, using the format that fits us best with the technology that we have.

Living a life worth telling

“Great stories happen to people who tell them.” – Ira Glass

Yeah, you might not have climbed the Mount Everest. And you might not have travelled 50 countries in 100 days.

But almost certainly you changed someone’s life. Or even just your own.

Let us hear how it happened. Tell us what changed for you. And why?

That’s really all it takes to tell a great story. It’s just not true that we’ve got to wait for something spectacular to happen to us before we can tell a great story. Quite the opposite. It’s that we need to open our eyes so that we can see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

The biggest difference between great storytellers and those who think they have no story to tell is not that the former have a more spectacular life. Sure, some do, but most don’t. It’s that the former just tell us about the things they see when they open their eyes while others keep their mouth shut … unsure whether what they see would be worth telling others about.

You know what? If you don’t tell us about it, we won’t know.

All the stories that have never been told are all the stories that will never impact anyone’s life.

It’s best to start right away. Share with us something that happened to you yesterday.

We need a hero but it’s not you

… and that’s good news!

Here’s why: Trying to play the hero is one of the major causes why people feel uncomfortable on a stage (and in front of a camera).

When people try to give the impression of being the hero, they tend to be focussed on themselves. What’s worse, it exposes them to the judgement of their audience: “Will I live up to their standard?” It puts a weight on every single action and every single word. All eyes are on them.

The sad part is that that’s not even what the audience came for. They are not looking for a hero because they already got one: themselves. Every single person in the audience cares much more about themselves and their own problems than they do for the speaker and her hero problem.

At the same time, that’s an easy solution for a speaker’s hero problem: Step down from the podium of the hero and grant it to your audience. It makes your life much easier because if you show up as the guide who lights their audience a path, you’re in a completely different situation. Now, your job isn’t to make yourself shine in the brightest light. To be the perfect star of the show.

Your job as a guide is to offer your help, your expertise, your opinion, …

By giving your speech you’re giving your audience a gift. One that they are free to take to solve their hero problem.

If you’re doing this from a posture of generosity (rather than as a trick to get the deal), it’s highly unlikely that they will be harsh to you. Generosity is seldom the source of frustration for our audience. What a difference to the people who try to steal the role of the hero from their audience …

These fascinating communicators who have their audience glued to their lips

Some people believe that tension is something you have to create artificially. Something that needs to be added to your story. Something that only Hollywood has really mastered and that they certainly don’t think about when it comes to telling customers about their topic.

And yet there are these fascinating communicators who have their audience glued to their lips after just a few sentences. How do they do this? They can’t possibly have the only exciting topic there is, or can they?

No, certainly not. But they understand a crucial factor of tension: relevance. What they say is relevant to their audience and they say it in a way that the audience can relate to.

Just like Hollywood does.

Hollywood understands that the key element to excitement is relevance. All the ingredients that we think of when we think of increasing tension in a movie depend on it. Action in a movie is boring as long as we don’t care for the people involved in the action. An elaborate soundtrack is just nice music as long as we don’t care for the people.

Movies create tension when we relate to the characters in the story. Everything else is just there to enable and amplify that. Great acting makes it easier to relate to the character. Great soundtracks focus our attention on key moments and set the mood.

The same is true for our own story. The key ingredient to create tension is relevance. If our story matters to our audience’s lives, then we can tell it in an exciting way. If it solves a problem that our audience has, or if it fulfils a desire they have, then they will want to know how. If it’s relevant, they will want to know more … and that, by the way, is the definition of suspense: wanting to know what happens next.

So, if you want your audience glued to your lips, ask yourself this: Why is it relevant to them? Why would they want to know more?

Thou shalt not bore thy audience

You shouldn’t. But as a goal, that’s unambitious. And misleading.

Not being boring is relatively easy (though not necessarily cheap).

Make a speech during a rollercoaster ride and it won’t be boring.

Only that it’s not the point.

The point is to change minds. And have your message stick rather than the rollercoaster ride.

When we hear a speech that’s super exciting, it’s tempting to think that this is because of some talent of the communicator to make it exciting, or because the marketing was so great.

What’s easily overlooked is that it’s the other way around. Stories that touch us deeply are never boring – while stories that aren’t boring can still leave us largely unaffected. A story that challenges my thinking can’t be boring – while stories that aren’t boring can still be irrelevant.

Great communicators start with relevance. That’s what creates resonance. And when something resonates it’s not boring.

Not being boring is a consequence rather than a prerequisite of telling a meaningful story. (And telling it on a rollercoaster will only make it more exciting … if that’s your thing.)

Just sayin’

If you could just let go of the judgement of others and tell your story just like you feel it, what would you say?

If you could just say what you mean without worrying whether that sounds cool or clever, what would you say?

If you could just skip the superficial and get right to the heart of the matter, what would you say?

Why don’t you?

History vs. Story

It’s spelled “story” – without the “hi” at the beginning. Still, many people approach telling stories as recounting historical events. In a chronological order. Even if their audience couldn’t care less about how it all began.

It’s much more interesting to ask yourself what gets your audience most excited. What’s most surprising to them? Or most interesting. And then work from there. Once you tell them, what do they want to know next? And next. And so on.

For example, sometimes it’s more interesting to work backwards by asking “How was that possible?” or “What led to this?” Just like some of the most exciting detective stories start with knowing who the murderer was but leave the audience dying to learn why she did it.

The guiding star is our audience’s curiosity. What are they dying to know? More often than not this is different from the chronological order of events.

Don’t make your story a history lesson, make it an interesting story!

New podcast: Leaders Light The Path

I’ve started a new podcast called “Leaders Light The Path”. It’s two minutes, twice a week that get you the influence and impact you deserve.

It’s a podcast about a more human way of communicating. One that skips the superficial and instead is grounded in work that matters. It’s in stark contrast to the default mode of the selfish communicators who care more for themselves than anything.

But if your work really changes things for the better, then it’s by definition not about you but about your audience. And because it is, you don’t need to persuade because they will be dying to know more. Instead make them see by telling true stories, saying words you truly believe in about the things you truly believe in.

This is what great leaders do. By making their audience see, by lighting them the path, they incite action and create movements.

I believe that this is in reach for you. If you truly believe in what you do. If what you do truly changes things for the better. Then, all you need to do is tell the truth. Make your audience see by lighting them the path.

If that’s important to you, please subscribe to this podcast and share it with a friend.

We tell stories on behalf of our audience

The power of stories is that it’s us who re-live the life of the story’s hero.

That’s true even in a business context. A story is a great story when it makes us feel: “That’s me! That’s exactly what I struggle with.”

A good story provide us with a new perspective on our own lives. It lets us imagine actions that we wouldn’t take without the story. It lets us feel feelings that we wouldn’t feel without the story. It lets us visualise outcomes that we would consider out of reach without the story.

Great stories lead to action.

And that’s why we tell stories on behalf of our audience.

A short story

Think of a room somewhere in a house. Maybe there’s a sofa inside. Someone’s reading a book.

What do you see?
How does her hair look like?
How old is she?
What’s her name?
What book does she read?
Does she look over as you enter the room?
What does she say?
How do you reply?
What time of day is it?

I just don’t buy that you don’t know how to tell a good story. Because you just started a good story. Everything you see now is coming right out of you. It’s not my story. It’s yours. Go on. What happens next?

Sure, there’s a lot of literature on how to tell stories. But all those rules are secondary. First comes imagination. And imagination you have.

You have all you need to tell a story when you have a life.

Spread the Word

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz

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