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Posts Tagged ‘feelings’

“What were you thinking!!?”

The teenager had been to a party and had driven home drunk. He had driven his dad’s car off the road. Luckily none of the four kids inside were badly hurt. Picking him up at the hospital the dad exploded,

What were you thinking!?”

Truth be told the kid had been using adrenaline instead of brain cells. Thinking was just not happening. Now he was struggling, still half drunk, to remember the point at which it all went pear-shaped.

He had intended not to drink (much). He had intended to walk home if he felt he was drunk (even though he was not going to drink). But the feeling of fun and excitement had overtaken him and even the best of thoughts (Maybe just one drink) had not been strong enough to make a difference.

He hadn’t felt drunk, he had felt relaxed. He had just felt happy and on top of the world. He felt perfectly capable of driving home. He had felt, he had not thought…

His dad meanwhile – what was he thinking?

He struggled between worry and relief and anger and self-reproach. His innermost thoughts were, in fact an expression of feelings.

“I should have driven him myself.

Oh, thank God.

I should have taught him better.

Thank God he’s OK

I’m going to give him a piece of my mind when we get home.

He’s never going to drive my car again.

Thank God.

He’ll pay for every cent of the damages.

What if he had killed himself and his friends?

Oh thank God. Thank God he’s okay. Thank God.”

You feel for these two, the teenager and that dad but what were you thinking?

Actually, there is no thinking at all. It’s all emotion.

There’s no reasoning, no careful consideration. Just feelings. That’s where people spend most of the time – in their feelings.

So that’s where you need to go if you’re trying to reach people. If you have a message to get across, don’t worry about what they’re thinking.  Focus on what the audience or your readers are feeling.

Access their feelings of the moment. Make them feel different and deeper emotions. You’ll get your message across more effectively.

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I attended an Area humorous speech contest yesterday. The woman from my club won. Yay!

Her speech was so much better the second time around. I knew she had found an expert in humorous speeches and got advice and coaching. It really paid off for her.

So my first tip is – if you want to move on get advice and coaching from someone who wins humorous speech contests. Listen to them and work at what they say. Most people love to help a newer speaker. We’re all in this to improve and to help and support each other.

But while I was pulling for ‘my’ club’s contestant, I also began to pull for the young man who came in second.

He had what was basically a good speech. It relied a lot on him getting phone calls from really batty people wanting to tell him about sasquatches and other imaginary creatures. The concept was funny. The batty people and their ideas were even funnier.

But….he didn’t milk all the juice out of the batty ideas. He made a few dabs at the telephone hand gesture, but he didn’t hold it and ‘talk into the phone’. He could even have had a phone as a prop. And what an opportunity to do a Bob Newhart type phone conversation, with him responding to unspoken comments and questions.

It came down to the old saying  ‘Show, don’t tell’. He told us what odd things he heard in these phone conversations. He didn’t show us the incredulity and disbelief on his face as someone tried to persuade him that sasquatches were in league with aliens.

We never got his feeling of  ‘OMG! Now I’ve heard everything!’ We didn’t get feelings at all, just the recounting of facts. Imagine what Bob Newhart could do with batty ideas like that.

It was still a funny speech, but showing it would have got him first place and a berth in the Division finals. Telling it – well, he’s new. It was good practice.

Next time.

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Recently at a Toastmasters meeting I told a story about a woman whose job it was to deal with the public in a government office. This woman had an uncaring, coarse, snide attitude.

In order to tell the tale well I had to roughen up my voice. Now my voice normally is quite soft.  (I know this because of all the evaluations I’ve had that say “Try to speak a little louder.”)  This particular story lost much of its power when I practiced it in my normal voice. It didn’t come across at all vividly. So I had to build into my rehearsing a way of deepening and coarsening my voice.

It was a painful process and my throat took the brunt of it. To carry it a step further I loosened up my speech patterns so ‘going to’ became ‘gonna’ and ‘want to’ became ‘wanna’. Knowing my audience I allowed myself to say “What the hell” instead of “What the heck”. That’s a bit chancy. It worked for the particular audience but it isn’t recommended generally.

This is not the same as acting, but it has some similarities. I am allowing my voice and the way I vocally express my words to carry a generous share of the message. If I normally spoke sloppily and used profanity when I made a speech the audience would judge me accordingly. In this particular case I’m hoping the audience will judge the character I’m portraying, and not me.

If, in your story, you have two people conversing you can use  your vocal variety as a means of showing the audience which one is speaking now. It means you don’t have to use tags like ‘he said’ or ‘she asked’ yet the identity of the speaker is still clear to the audience.

When you write or remember your story try to feel the emotion behind the words people say. If it was you speaking, try to remember how you felt at that moment. If it was someone else you’ll have to use your imagination to plumb the feeling. Those emotions and feelings will guide your choice of voice and expression.

Take time to use your voice to strengthen and enrich your story.

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“The man was tall and slim and walked with a limp. He had been hit by a car when he was a teenager and the orthopedic specialist had said that the bones in that leg would always be shorter than those in the other leg.” 45 words

“John limped to his car. As always, he tried to walk without limping but on wet days the ache in his bones made it almost impossible. Some days, despite his height and strength, he felt like an old man.”  39 words

I wrote the two paragraphs above to demonstrate two ways of describing a single character. The first gives you the man’s back story – how he came to have his limp. It shows you the facts behind the description.

The second description puts a name to the man and this in itself draws you closer to the story. The facts you read (his name, he has a car, tall, strong) are all about right now, not the past. More importantly, that bit of description lets you go right into his feelings and emotions. You are not just observing him from several feet away, you are within him, experiencing his emotions. You can’t get much closer than that in less than 40 words.

The closer the reader or listener gets to the story, the more strongly they feel it and become involved with it. Let’s try another description:

“She walked down the street to the church wearing a pink flowered dress and a lacy white scarf. She was carrying her mother’s pink purse. Her blond hair shone in the sunlight and her blue eyes sparkled. On her feet she wore 4″ stiletto heels.” 45 words

“Claire took almost an hour to dress, finally choosing the pink dress that seemed appropriate for church. She washed her hair, tried to flatten her curls and dug out an old pink handbag of her mothers. The 4″ stiletto heels she couldn’t resist.” 43 words

Again, putting a name to the person brings us closer right away. The first description seems to me to be flat – the person is a cardboard cut-out. The blond hair and blue eyes are a cliche and where else would she wear four inch heels but on her feet? You get no feeling for her or about her.

In the second description Claire isn’t in the street, but you know she is going to church. You can see her nervously choosing clothes she hopes are right. For what? You begin to wonder about this person. Why does she think all that pink is appropriate? Why use her mother’s purse? Why is she flattening her curls? Why has it taken her so long?

The second description gives us almost the same facts as the first, but it has also drawn us into the story. We are asking questions, wanting to know more. What comes next?

Only the story teller knows the answer. That is the magic of story telling.

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