It’s the painful bits that engage audiences

When it comes to storytelling, Willa Cather’s quote says it all: ‘Success is never so interesting as struggle’. We’d just finished a day and a half storytelling workshop in Halifax for the Atlantic chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers.

As a thank you gift the group gave us a beautiful card made by one of the members, and a book of 100 inspirational quotations. My colleague Halina St James accepted the gifts, opened the book at random – and there was the quote by Ms Cather, a prolific author and Pulitzer prize winner for her World War I novel One of Ours.

Much of the workshop had been spent discussing how story telling is not so much about the destination as it is about the journey. What engages us about any story – and that includes a sales pitch, a call to action or a personal introduction – is not the end, but the struggle to achieve the end.

It’s not the victory, it’s the battle to get to the line first; it’s not the prize, it’s the overcoming of obstacles to secure the prize.

Here are a few extracts from the workshop:

Trouble is good

We need a hero – a character. That hero is on a quest – wants something… to sell a product, to raise money, to be of service, to get their life back on track. There need to be challenges, obstacles… if it’s easy, it’s probably not interesting… what’s more compelling – you telling people your product is amazing… or showing them how hard you worked to make it better than anything else? Do you want to tell people how good you are (predictable) or tell a story about someone who overcame their skepticism, used your product and changed their life. So you need to find the trouble along the way…

We love the low point

The low point is what we care about.. not just ‘cos we like other people’s misery… it’s because we root for people in trouble and want to see how they climb out of the hole circumstance has placed them.

Making a connection

The problem with many pitches is they are all about the person making the pitch. They need to be about the person receiving the pitch. The person receiving the pitch isn’t motivated by hearing about your dream… they want to know how your dream will intersect with their dream… how does what you are offering help them? Do your research about the audience – find out what they want to hear – the trigger to get their buy-in – and find the story that makes that connection.