May 1, 2013

Slow Down When You Speak by Doug Stevenson

I hear it time and again from my clients:  What is the magic formula for creating an emotional connection with an audience? Some know that storytelling can be the answer, but is simply telling a story enough?

When stories are properly constructed and performed, they do contain the key elements needed to create an emotional connection, but it’s the speaker / storyteller who makes the emotional connection. If you are a bad, or even an average, storyteller, and you don’t know how to present your story with inflection, tempo and emotion, your story will fall as flat as a boring PowerPoint slide. The most powerful thing you can do to make your stories more effective is to slow down. Many presenters speed through the most painful or emotional moments in their stories because they are uncomfortable.  When they speed through those powerful moments, their story loses its impact. The potential to connect with people emotionally is lost.

Think about a movie that you’ve seen lately. Visualize a scene from that movie. The scene you’re probably recalling is an emotional one. More than likely the scene that came to mind contains moments of reflection, reaction and conflict. It probably contains anger, passion, sadness, fear, or some other strong emotion.  These moments are often performed without words.

Actors take their time. They fill the spaces between the lines with emotion. A lot of acting is reacting. During silent reactions, the actors think thoughts and feel feelings. In order to do this, they have to slow down. They have to feel the emotion of the moment.

Pick one of your stories to work on with me as you read this article. Take a moment to visualize the time and place that your story took place. Do that now.

Now visualize the moment in your story where you encountered an obstacle or challenge. It’s the moment when something that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened. I call it “Encountering the Obstacle”. This is Step Four in my Nine Steps of Story Structure.

Go ahead and recall that moment. Close your eyes and see yourself reacting.

Now pretend that you’re telling that story in front of an audience. If your goal is to make an emotional connection with your audience, this is the moment where you do it. Rather than communicating that moment verbally by explaining your reaction, show it. Simply take a moment to re-live it. While this may feel uncomfortable for you at first, it’s what your audience is used to, and actually craving, at that moment in a story.

They want to feel what you felt; they want to see how you reacted. If you take just a few seconds to re-live that experience, to portray the moment rather than talk about it, the emotion that you felt at that moment will come back. It won’t come back as strong as it did at the time it originally happened, but it will come back strongly enough to create an emotional trigger for you and your audience.

Moments like that take time to portray. They are silent moments filled with emotion. They don’t have to be big moments; they just have to be honest and congruent to the moment being portrayed. The key here is: you’ve got to slow down and feel the emotion of the moment.

Now, let’s take this concept of slowing down beyond your stories, and apply it to your entire speech or presentation. From the first word out of your mouth to the end, slow down. What’s your hurry? Do you think if you go fast you won’t forget anything? That’s an illusion!

I once had a woman come up to me at the end of a speech. She said she loved my energy and enthusiasm, but she wished I would have slowed down a bit. She said she felt like she missed some of my content because while I was speeding off to my next idea, she was still pondering my last idea.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that I presented too fast. I knew I was going too fast because I kept stumbling and fumbling on my words. When I did slow down, I didn’t stumble on my words.

I learned to slow down, and the shift to a slower pace had a dramatic effect, not only for me, but also for the emotional connection I could create with my audience. I realized that I often packed too much content into my presentations, which made me talk real fast to get it all in. So, I cut out a third of my material to give myself, and my audience, room to breathe.

This also gave me time to think during my speech. I can still remember the first time I was speaking to a large keynote audience, and I allowed myself to stop talking for a few seconds.  I paused to decide where I wanted to go next.  I don’t think I had ever done that so comfortably before.  I knew that something profound has just happened.

I was calm. There was no panic. I was just having a conversation with my audience instead of giving a speech. I wasn’t performing or doing some kind of “schtick”. I was thinking and feeling and doing all of my content, and there was absolutely no stress.

What triggered this shift for me was simply slowing down. The next time you’re giving a speech or presentation, try it. Slow down. Let yourself stop talking.

When you slow down, in your stories and in your whole presentation, you are able to make an emotional connection with yourself, and an emotional connection with your audience.  Slow down!

Doug Stevenson is president of Story Theater International, a speaking, training and consulting organization based in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the author of Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method (previously titled: Never Be Boring Again – Make Your Business Presentations Capture Attention, Inspire Action, and Produce Results) and is the creator of The Story Theater Method for strategic storytelling in business, and the How to Write and Deliver a Dynamite Speech System. He can be reached at 1-719-573-6195.  Find out more, and sign up for the free Next Level Storytelling Newsletter at

Copyright, Doug Stevenson, 2013. All Rights Reserved. Printed in the United States of America. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

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