January 10, 2012

Corporate Storytelling – Eloquence and Language

I grew up with a father who was in love with words. His reverence for language, pronunciation and proper diction was an annoyance to me as a child, but a gift to me as an adult.

I remember the way he would read aloud a passage from a book or a poem. He had a natural gift for rhythm and tempo. It was as if he were tasting the words. Some words seemed so delicious to him that he’d linger on them as if tasting a fine Cabernet Sauvignon.

Others must have been bitter to his taste because he spit them out like sour grapes.

He made the words come alive with feeling. His delivery of a word or phrase seemed so congruent with it’s meaning, that you didn’t notice how well it was delivered, you just appreciated the experience of the words. If he were to say, “in the stillness of the night you could hear the wind caressing the trees,” you could feel the stillness from the sound of his voice. You could sense the wind’s caress from his slow and gentle tempo.

Without knowing it, I absorbed my father’s gift for language. In school, I couldn’t wait to be called upon to read aloud in class. With my father’s tutelage, I knew I had an advantage. English was my favorite class.

Now, as I work with adults on their presentations, stories and delivery, I realize how profound a gift my father gave to me. I listen as my students race through their content as if the next word or the next sentence were the important one, never the one they’re saying. When I coach them to make the delivery of the words congruent with the words themselves, they often struggle. Many have no instinct, no reverence for the words. They don’t hear the music in their prose.

Perhaps it is our culture of fast food, multi-tasking and “get to the point” attitudes that has made us mute to the music of language.

Speaking, and especially storytelling, isn’t just about words; it’s about meaning. It’s not about content; it’s about communication. I sometimes get the feeling that people think if they slather a bunch of words on the page and then read them quickly, (usually because they are cramming too much into the presentation), that they have communicated their message. It’s as if all words and phrases have equal meaning.

If you’d like to avoid the speed trap of generic speaking and not get ticketed for running through the stop signs in your speech, follow these seven tips:

1. Write language that evokes imagery and emotion.*

2. Highlight words and phrases that you can deliver with meaning.

3. Slow down. Taste the words.

4. Make your delivery congruent with what you are saying.

5. Where the context of your illustration is anxiety or tension, speed up.

6. Where the context of your illustration is shock or confusion, slow down.

7. Develop a reverence for words by reading aloud. Practice with your children.

* I’m not suggesting that you write your speech like a flowering fountain that spills forth upon the verdant earth, effusive with mist that wafts about in swirls and wisps – your senior year poetry teacher might be impressed, but your audience won’t. Write naturally, as you speak, but choose words that are descriptive and paint the picture you want them to see and feel.

Like most of us, I had no idea my father was giving me a gift that would inform and transform my life. He gave me the gift of eloquence. And now, as a professional speaker and trainer, I am paid handsomely to speak. I don’t get paid to talk. I am rewarded for my ability to use words and stories to create meaning.

How about you? Are you truly communicating when you speak, or are you rushing past the words like a river cascading down the mountain on its race to the sea? Are you choosing your words or just talking? Think about the best communicators you know.  Do they use their voice as an instrument to create mood and atmosphere? Do they provide inflection that evokes emotion?

You are capable of becoming a brilliant communicator. It may take a shift in consciousness to get there, but the rewards are worth it.

Slow down. Read out loud. Taste the words.

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Doug Stevenson, president of Story Theater International, is a storytelling in business speaker, trainer, coach and story strategist. He is the creator of The Story Theater Method and the author of the book, Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method. He lives in Tucson, AZ.

Twitter@DougStoryCoach

His speaking, training and executive coaching clients include Microsoft, Google, Coca Cola, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, Bristol Myers Squibb, Wells Fargo, US Bank, Amgen, Volkswagen, Century 21, The Department of Defense, The National Education Association and many more.

His 10 CD – How to Write and Deliver a Dynamite Speech audio learning system is a workshop in a box. It contains an 80-page follow along workbook. Learn more at: www.dynamitespeech.com

Doug can be reached at 1-719-310-8586. Sign-up for the free Story Theater newsletter at:  www.storytelling-in-business.com.

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