August 12, 2009

How to End Your Story by Finishing Strong

What’s the point? I ask that question of every private coaching client. The response is usually three or four sentences long.

The answer to the question, “What’s the point?” needs to be concise and simple, not a lengthy explanation. Can you state the point of your story in five or six words?

Sharpen the Point and Make it Stick

Think of a spear that has a sharp point on the end. If you throw it at the ground, the sharp point will pierce the dirt and make the spear stick. If the end of the spear is round or dull, it will bounce off the ground. It won’t stick. The same is true with the point of your story.

In this storytelling article, I want to focus on sharpening the point of your stories.

An integral part of my Story Theater Method is the Nine Steps of Story Structure. You can use these nine steps to craft any story and make it easier to follow and more effective at making a point. The last three steps are designed to ensure that your point is memorable – that it sticks in the minds of your listeners.

The reason we use storytelling in a business context is to affect behavioral change. Stories are teaching tools. When stories are strategically and correctly crafted, using my storytelling technology, the lesson of the story has a profound effect on the listener and causes them to think or act differently. Without this end result, what’s the point of telling a story? What’s the point of training at all if people don’t use what they learn to be more productive and more profitable for the organization providing the training?

Stick The Landing

Steps 7, 8 and 9 of the Nine Steps are:

  • Make the Point
  • Ask the Question
  • Repeat the Point

These three steps are called “Stick the Landing.” The term comes from gymnastics. Imagine a tiny 14-year old, 14-pound female gymnast who jumps up on the pommel horse and goes flying though the air and doing amazing twists and gyrations at warp speed.  When she has completed her mid-air routine, she’s supposed to land in one spot – not wiggle or waver at all – and then, stand tall with her arms raised overhead, sporting a huge, sparkling smile. That finale is called “sticking the landing”.

If a gymnast sticks the landing and doesn’t take additional steps on the mat, he or she gets a high score. Even though they performed eight complex gyrations in the air, if they don’t stick the landing, it costs them points off of their score. It’s the same with your story. If your point is not sharp and concise, it will cost you. If people don’t remember your point, they don’t act on it. Nothing changes. It might cost you in productivity; it might cost you in profit.  It might cost them in failing to make the changes needed for a better life.

Mental Velcro

In a previous newsletter article entitled “Mental Velcro”, I discussed using the Phrase That Pays to brand your message with a short statement like “Walk Your Talk” or “Lead By Example”. These short, verb-oriented phrases instruct your listener on what you want them to do. There is a big difference, however, between lecturing people on what to do and giving them an experience through a brilliantly crafted story that moves them to accept your invitation or challenge of what they can do.

In a recent coaching conversation with a client who was ready to make the move from a leadership position in a large corporation to professional speaking and training, I asked him what his core message was.  (For more information on the Core Message, see the Dynamite Speech System). He had no idea. I asked him what lessons he wanted to teach or what points he wanted to make. This got him talking for about five minutes, but I still didn’t know exactly what he wanted me to learn from him.

Then I asked him to identify the problem that he wanted to address, and he listed five. I asked him to pick one. He settled on the problem of rejection getting a person down and making them want to quit. He told me about his experience making sales calls and how, over time, he learned to handle the rejection and simply get back in his car and drive to the next appointment, rather than blowing off the rest of the day.

Get Back in the Car

I asked him if the metaphorical lesson he wanted to teach was to get back in the car. That phrase is verb-oriented so it worked fine as a call to action. He liked the phrase, but felt that the car part was too literal and limiting, because many salespeople sell on the phone or one-on-one in a business setting.

As we continued our coaching call, I asked him to let his mind wander to similar experiences that had nothing to do with selling. I asked him what he did for fun or pleasure – what kind of adventures he’d been on.

What came to mind for him was an experience when he was 13 years old at Boy Scout summer camp. They went horseback riding and his horse started to trot when he wasn’t expecting it, and he fell off. When he landed, he broke his arm. From that time on, he was afraid of horses.

The following summer at camp, he tried to get out of it when the group went horseback riding. And even though all of the other kids were giving him a hard time about it, he refused to try again. So while all of the other scouts went riding, he had to sit in the campsite by himself. As he was sitting there feeling sorry for himself, his scoutmaster sat down next time him for a chat.

You guessed it. His scoutmaster counseled him on all of the times he’d been faced with challenges in his life and how there were always going to be big scary horses that would throw him to the ground. “The true test of courage,” his scoutmaster said, “is to get back on the horse and confront your fear.”

Get Back on the Horse or Confront Your Fear

He decided that the horseback-riding story had a broader metaphorical appeal. He also felt that the point about getting back on the horse and confronting your fear was stronger than getting back in the car. So again I asked him to pick one. “If you want to sharpen your point and make it stick, you have to pick one,” I said. “Choose one or the other.”

Get back on the horse is a clear and concise point. Confront your fear is a clear and concise point. Both are valid. Both work. The story is stronger however, and the point more memorable, if he only uses one point, rather than both. In the story, he is afraid of horses, so fear is evident. Not getting back on the horse means that fear wins. Getting back on the horse is the metaphorical action that implies confronting the fear. And it is more memorable and unique to that particular story.

He chose Get Back on the Horse.

Now, let’s stick the landing. Here’s how to do it.

Step 7: What I learned from that summer camp experience was… get back on the horse.

Step 8: How about you? Have you ever had something happen to you that hurt, physically or psychologically? And because of that one experience, you’ve been afraid to ever feel that pain again, and it’s costing you. It’s preventing you from moving forward, from experiencing life to it’s fullest?

Step 9: My challenge for you is…get back on the horse.

In Step 7 you share what YOU learned.

In Step 8 you formally transfer the lesson to THEM with a “How About You” type question.

In Step 9 you challenge THEM to implement the lesson.

Most stories start strong and then lose focus at the end. When you Stick the Landing, you’ll finish strong.

To study Doug Stevenson’s  Story Theater Method, purchase his book and audio Six Pack or study with him in person by attending a 4 person Story Theater Retreat in Colorado Springs. If you’re interested in hiring Doug to present a keynote or workshop for your company or association, call Deborah Merriman at 719-573-6195 or visit www.storytelling-in-business.com.

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