July 27, 2010

How to Choose the Point of Your Story – Your Responses

In last month’s edition of the Story Theater Newsletter, I told the story of coming home from a booking in Indianapolis, and experiencing a flight delay. If you haven’t had a chance to read the story, you might want to read the June Story Theater Newsletter before you read this article. If you didn’t receive the June Newsletter, email Deborah and she’ll forward it to you.

Below is a short synopsis of the story:
The delay coming home was due to bad weather in Chicago. That led to the cancellation of my flight, and of most United Airlines flights connecting through O’ Hare airport. As the agents at the ticket counter did their best to rebook their customers, some of whom were less than cooperative, I overheard the supervisor say to another agent that she hadn’t eaten all day. When it was my turn, the supervisor was polite and professional, but it was obvious that she was too exhausted to muster up even a hint of a smile. She looked at me and said, “How can I help you today?”

After she had finished rebooking me on a flight home on the next day, I reached into my shoulder bag and pulled out a Power Bar. I asked her if she’d like to have it. Her face lit up with the most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen. “Yes, yes!” she said as she did a little dance. “Thank you so much. You made my day.”

As I’m recounting this story to you, I can still see her smile. My small act of kindness…and nourishment …made a difference for both of us.

At that point, rather than giving you the point of the story, I asked you to tell me what you thought the point of the story was, using a Phrase That Pays. Here are my exact instructions:
Once you’ve narrowed down what you think the lesson is, challenge yourself to translate the lesson into a Phrase That Pays. Turn the lesson or the point of the story into a call to action. Start the Phrase That Pays with a verb, and use six words or less.

The first part of this exercise is to learn how to choose the point for a story. While there may be many points or lessons that come from an experience, in my Story Theater methodology, I suggest that when you tell a story, you choose only ONE point.

The other part of the exercise is to make your point or lesson concise and memorable by using a Phrase That Pays. A Phrase That Pays is like mental “Velcro” – it helps make the point “stick”. If you want people to actually do something differently because of your presentation, the points of your stories need to be sticky. They need to be easy to remember, like jingles or the chorus of a song.

Thank you to all of you who responded with suggestions for the Phrase That Pays for my story. We received responses from all over the world, including Canada, Japan, Germany, Singapore, England, Switzerland and Montana! I’ve included many of your responses in this Newsletter.

A Phrase That Pays (PTP) always starts with a “command” verb, which makes it a call to action. You don’t always have to use a Phrase That Pays when you make a point, but creating a Phrase That Pays for this story was the assignment in the June Newsletter.

Let’s take a look at your responses and see which ones work as a Phrase That Pays.

First, we had several responses that played with the Power Bar idea:

  • Share the Power
  • Empathizing: life’s real power bar
  • Give out power bars in life
  • Give up the power bar

It’s great when a Phrase That Pays uses words that are in the story already. It helps make the message stick. In reality, I gave the supervisor a Luna Bar. I changed it to a Power Bar because that gave me an opportunity to work with the concept of power. Of these PTPs, Share the Power is the simplest and most concise. Thanks to Pat Katz, of PauseWorks, for this submission. If you want to get real sticky with the Power Bar idea, consider this modification: Share the Power – Raise the Bar.

We also received a number of responses that focused on “my small act of kindness”:

  • Rekindle your karma with kindness
  • Knowing that I win with kindness gives me new life and a spiritual hug
  • Kindness Actions Soothe Frazzled Nerves Calming Chaos
  • Focus on kindness, no matter what
  • Shifting energy with the power of kindness (combines both power and kindness)

The wordsmith in me loved the Rekindle Your Karma one because it’s very sticky and memorable. It uses a lot of hard consonants, which make a Phrase That Pays really pop. Thanks to Judy Marcus, The Memory Lady, for that submission.

The second one, Knowing that I win with kindness gives me new life and a spiritual hug, is on the right track but needs editing. It is too long and doesn’t tell me what to do; it doesn’t have a call to action. Also, it’s focused on the benefit to the storyteller, rather than the call to action for the listener. If we change it to, Win with Kindness, that’s all that is needed to make the point, and turn it into a call to action for everyone who hears the story.

One of the most important ingredients of a good Phrase That Pays is that it’s musical and rhythmic. We had several very musical submissions, as well as some that incorporated rhyme. Here are some that lend themselves to a rhythmic delivery:

  • Give a little. Give a lot.
  • Give it and you’ll get it
  • Love the one you’re with
  • Open your eyes and look
  • Dare to be aware, then care and share

Say any of the above PTPs out loud several times, and find the rhythm as you say them. For every PTP you are considering, rearrange the words several ways to find the music and rhythm in it. Practice saying it with different cadence and rhythm, and once you like what you’ve come up with, commit to saying it with the same music every time.

Alliteration is the repetition of the same letter in the phrase. It helps a PTP to be memorable. Here are some submissions that incorporated alliteration, and are also quite musical.

  • Contribute some compassion
  • Turn an obstacle into an opportunity
  • Rekindle your karma with kindness

Now let’s look at a few PTP submissions that can easily be improved by making them more concise and by changing the form of the verb to a “command”, or call to action. Here’s one to consider: Being aware of your surroundings pays. If we change “Being” to “Be,” we can create the PTP: Be Aware of Your Surroundings. If your story is about customer service or leadership, you can shift the emphasis from your “surroundings” to “people”. Be Aware of Your People, or Be Aware of People in Need.

Similarly, Paying Attention to People Pays can be more powerful if we change it to: Pay Attention to People’s Needs. Again, the first is focused on the benefit of paying attention, and the revised one is a call to action that tells the listener what you want them to do. Unfortunately, people listening to a story don’t always make the logical leap from the benefit to the action. For some people, you need to spell it out and tell them what to do. Also, a call to action is more likely to stick than a concept about a benefit.

Here are some other submissions that will make you smile. See if you can improve them by applying the information I’ve provided in this article.

  • Fill their tank when running on empty
  • What’s in your pocket?
  • Make it a great day
  • It’s all about the relationship. It’s ALWAYS about the relationship.
  • Discover how to change an outcome
  • Making her day made my day
  • Helping others bestows rewards to you
  • Reach out and make a difference
  • Transform problems into possibilities with empathy
  • Be calm. Be present. Be effective.
  • Imagine a caring future
  • Put yourself in their place
  • Feed the tired heart
  • We are only as important as we make others feel
  • Nourish others to nourish ourselves
  • Help others when you are helpless
  • Simple gestures = big impact
  • Go ahead. Make someone’s day

When choosing the point of your story, first focus on what your objective is in telling the story. If it’s a story about leadership, the point may be very different than if it’s a story about customer service or sales. Since I speak mostly to leadership groups, the point that I chose to make with that story is: Feed The Need. I’m not saying that this is the best PTP ever for that story, but if it works for these reasons:

  1. It’s a metaphorical point that challenges leaders to be aware of the problem areas and issues that are keeping people from giving their best.
  2. It challenges leaders to identify the needs in the organization and then, much like giving a Power Bar to a hungry ticket agent, to solve that need.
  3. It is short and sweet, incorporates rhyme, and can be delivered with music.

Thanks again to all of you who sent in your Phrase That Pays. It was great to hear from new and old friends from all over the world.

If you’re inspired by this process, but perhaps frustrated because you struggle to improve your stories on your own, consider attending a Story Theater Retreat in Colorado Springs, or contacting me for private coaching.

Also, if you are in charge of scheduling speakers for your YPO, YEO, ASTD, ICF or NSA meetings, be sure to contact us. I may be doing a keynote or training in your area and could come in a day early or stay a day longer to speak at your meeting.

Until next time, your storytelling-in-business coach,

Doug Stevenson

for more information about Doug’s workshops, keynotes and coaching go to www.storytelling-in-business.com or call Deborah Merriman at 719-573-6195

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