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Posts Tagged ‘listen’

I’m always interested in listening to other speakers and noticing how they use stories to emphasize the points they want to make.

There’s a lot to be learned from experts but you can learn from everyone – even the newest speakers. Once in a while someone will tell a story that reaches out and grabs you, won’t let you go, sticks in your memory.

As soon as  this story reaches out and grabs you, ask (silently) ‘Why?’ What did the speaker say or do to intensify your focus? It’s hard to analyze when your imagination has been grabbed by the throat but try it as soon as your thoughts are free to roam again.

  • Transition. How did the speaker transition into the story? How did he make that smooth and compelling?
  • Word Choice. What were the words that linked to your own experience and pulled you in? did some words have an emotional pull for you – mother, traffic, baby, friend.  Words like these will take hold of almost everyone in the room.
  • Character. Who is the story about, and what has the speaker said to make you identify with this person. If you were presenting this story to this audience, would you have added anything or changed anything?
  • Tension Did you feel tension as the person in the story faced difficulties? How did the speaker create that tension? You noticed how he started with small difficulties and progressed to bigger, almost impossible ones. He showed you strengths and weaknesses that came into play.
  • Conclusion At the end of the story did you feel that tension relax. What words did the speaker use to make you feel the satisfaction of “Phew! Thank goodness everything turned out all right.”?
  • Story Objective  How did the speaker move on to fold the story into the theme and purpose of his speech? Analyze that transition and see what made it smooth, how the speaker brought your train of thought back to the main track.

If you analyze these points for an inexperienced speaker you will realize how you might have done it better. Great! You’ve studied the point and you’ve learned something. You’ll have that learning to incorporate in your next speeches.

If you’re listening to a very experienced speaker you might find it harder to pick the elements apart and analyze them. At least notice the transitions. How does he get himself smoothly into and out of the story? What elements of the story reinforce the point he is making?

To become a better story teller, listen to other people tell stories.

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The Gift of Listening

I remember as a child that when all the extended family got together for celebrations such as Christmas I could always rely on one or two of the older people to start telling stories. Then my mother, or perhaps my uncle would, quite politely, intervene  “Grandpa (or Great Uncle John) why don’t you have a look at this new book/help me with the potatoes/take a little nap?” and that would be the end of the story. Conversation resumed around me and I hardly ever found out how the story ended.

I made one of those resolutions that every child makes – “When I grow up I will never….” and in this case it ended, “I will never stop grandpa telling stories.” This is one of the few resolutions I actually kept – not just for grandpa and Great Uncle John but for anyone who wanted to tell me a story that was important in their life.

Grandpa and Great Uncle John are long dead of course but in every family gathering there are older people with stories to tell. You can give them no better gift than listening. Really listening. Listening as if there is an exam to follow. Asking a few questions for clarification.

So you heard the same story last Christmas and the Christmas before. Don’t just ignore it, ask questions that will elicit another story. Grandmas and grandpas and great uncles will not be around for ever. Catch their stories now.

I’m using the word ‘Christmas’ because that’s my frame of reference for a big family party. Maybe your parties are for  birthdays, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year. The name of the occasion doesn’t matter. What matters is that you honour the elders of your family by hearing and understanding their stories.

Their history is your history too. Their stories are their gift of that history to you. Don’t miss the opportunity.

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