The speaker was a young man who was illustrating his motivational speech with a story about his father. Because of his dad’s height he was able to reach up and save a toddler from a dangerous situation. The story fitted neatly into the theme of ‘use all of your attributes’.
The speaker was disappointed when he did not win the contest. “Why didn’t I win?” he asked. “My content was good, my voice was strong and I used the whole speaking area.”
He lost because he did not connect fully with the audience. He missed opportunities to bring his story to life and to make it feel important to his audience. He could have brought them closer so they felt the story rather than just hearing it.
He started the story be saying “My father was a tall man.” This is good insofar as it is relevant to the story. To have said ‘My dad was a rich man.’ would have been irrelevant here.
He could have said ‘My dad was six foot three inches tall’. This is better because it is more precise. But it could be better yet. Knowing a person’s height does not bring us close to them. Suppose he had said ‘He’s six foot three in his thick woolen work socks’. Now we’re closer to him. He could follow up with, ‘He was on his way to his job at the mill at six o’clock one winter morning when he saw…’
Now we feel for the man that cold morning. The speaker can add to the feeling by making a shivering gesture (which gives him something to do with his hands).
If all he says is ‘He was tall’ or ‘He was six foot three” then the speaker has left himself out on a limb. He needs to add something. ‘He was tall and he walked with a limp.’ Is that relevant?
‘He was tall and he worked in the mill.’ That’s relevant but something of a non sequitur and not very interesting.
As the hero of this story the dad needs to come alive to the audience. Telling the facts is nowhere near enough, they have to feel for him. ‘My dad had worked at the mill for many years’ becomes ‘My dad had got up at five o’clock every morning since he left school to make sure the saws were sharp and there were no power glitches so that the day shift could get right to work.’
Now you have a working man who takes his responsibilities seriously. He’s someone others can connect to. They can feel slightly invested in him.
Saying that he is tall, or six foot three, tells only fact – it does not reveal personhood. The audience wonders ‘Who is the person behind this fact?’ The words you choose should reveal the person behind the fact. You can take this any way you want that will serve your story and reveal the person and perhaps his relationships.
“My dad was six foot three. He towers over my mom but there’s never any doubt about who rules the household. He takes his shoes off, he mows the lawn, he walks our dog, as directed by her.”
“My dad is way taller than I am but you wouldn’t know it because he hunches his shoulders so much. I think it’s because my grandpa used to give him a bad time about being tall – no-one else in the family was tall – and it still bothers him.”
You can use a simple descriptor to build character for your speech story. Don’t pass up the opportunity to reveal the person beneath the description.