The power of passion and narrative

We were at three events this week, watching four people who depend heavily on their speaking skills to engage, motivate and drive change. First up was that remarkable HIV/AIDS campaigner Stephen Lewis, heading a fund-raiser in Halifax, Nova Scotia.Drawing on his breathtaking command of language, he used humility, humour, anger and passion to captivate and arouse his audience. Using very few notes, he swooped and soared through a keynote that carried the audience with him every inch of the way.

Next day, a sharp contrast of styles at the same event. First, the premier of Nova Scotia clinging to his script like a lifeline, reading to an audience trying hard to engage with him. Moments later Acadia University president Ray Ivany – no notes, but totally fluent, strong on story and compelling in his call to action (“identify your stories and go out and tell them as you promote your businesses and your province”).

The fourth contrast in styles came a day later, from Bill Strickland. He’s the driving force behind a highly successful programme in inner-city Pittsburgh, unleashing the creative talent of marginalized youth and young adults. His model for a way of engaging and motivating people who struggle in the traditional education system has been copied in other US cities. Now he’s exporting the idea to Canada.

His keynote was built around slides of his centre in Pittsburgh (“we have fresh flowers every day, art on the walls, beautiful furniture and it doesn’t get trashed. Four blocks away the school has steel doors and metal detectors. Genetics don’t change in four blocks. Same kids – different way of treating them”).Does any one of these speakers have the secret? No. But three harnessed the power of story to their own passion for the cause – and were rewarded with audiences leaning forward for more. They were comfortable, credible, compelling and authentic.

It’s hard to do that if you are a slave to your script.

Leave a comment