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Women in Leadership

Telling Stories

Kurt Mortensen asked:

Paint the picture for your audience. The more you can create the setting-the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings-the more your audience will be drawn in. Remember, you want the experience to become their experience-something they can readily identify with. As a persuader, you’ve got to take them there.

As you prepare yourself, keep in mind all the ways in which you can really produce a mental and emotional imprint. You want your prospects to see your story in their minds’ eyes, playing out like a movie. You want them to really take the story home, to have a place in their hearts for years to come. When you reach their hearts and involve their minds, you will be persuasive.

After stepping back to allow the big picture to sink in, you’re ready to begin crafting your story. In this first phase, it is important to walk yourself through all the basic questions: Who is my audience? What do I want them to take away from this experience? No matter how basic the questions may be, don’t shortchange yourself from having a good brainstorm. You’d be amazed at the brilliant ideas that come once a chain of thoughts is set into motion-ideas that would not have come if you hadn’t broken from the routine and allowed yourself a good time-out. In order to get the ball rolling, it may be helpful to consider the questions at the end of this chapter.

We’ve already spoken about the great importance of engaging your audience as much as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to provide them with generous details. That is, make your story as vivid as possible. In the courtroom, lawyers make their stories so rich in sensory detail that the jury literally sees, hears and feels the event. The more concrete and specific your descriptive details, the more persuasive your story selling will be. Using specific details pulls your listeners into the story and makes the story seem real to them. Here’s another twist on introducing as much detail as possible: Consider the different ways in which you can capture your audience’s senses. Get them to see, hear, feel and even taste and smell the elements of your story. The more involved your prospects feel, the more they will take the message home.

When you tell a story, your body and your voice become the stage, the actors, the costumes, the music and the props. For this reason, it is really important to take apart every element that contributes to the presentation as a whole and analyze it. The most obvious piece of story-selling equipment is your voice. It is the most direct and apparent mode of communication. I’d like to talk about using the right words, as well as how to use them. The right words are captivating; the wrong words are devastating. Effective words make things come to life, create energy and are more persuasive. Contrarily, ineffective words dull and alienate. Numerous studies have shown that a common trait successful men and women share is their skilled use of language. Speakers who possess greater verbal skills are seen as more credible, competent and convincing. Speakers who hesitate, use the wrong words or lack fluency have less credibility and come across as weak and ineffective.

How we say the words we choose is just about as important as the words themselves. Our voice is a powerful instrument that can either motivate the troops or lull them to sleep. The next time you watch the news, notice how the anchors use their voices. News anchors are often trained to inflect their voices downward at the ends of sentences because doing so suggests confidence and authority. On the other hand, upward inflections tend to imply lack of confidence or doubt. One research study showed that judges communicate their bias and attitudes via their tone of voice. Juries in California were twice as likely to convict trial defendants when the judges already knew the defendants had prior convictions. In spite of the law prohibiting judges from disclosing such information, jurors still detected the judge’s leanings based on her/his voice’s lack of warmth, patience and tolerance.

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