August 26, 2010

Make the Body of Your Story More Powerful

When I talk about “the body of your story”, I’m not talking about the middle of your story. I’m not talking about the part between your powerful opening and the point at end.

The “body” of your story is the physical aspect of your story – your body language, movement, gestures and reenactments. It’s how you show rather than tell. It’s how you influence rather than inform.

Do You Influence, or Just Inform?

Most speakers inform their listeners; they just convey information. That approach may or may not work based on the personality of the speaker. Some people can make reading the phone book interesting while others simply sound like they’re reading the phone book.

The ability to influence another person, however, is very complex. It requires a different set of communication skills. This different set includes verbal language skills, but also includes a lot more.

I’ve coached over 1,000 people. Many of them comment on my coaching style – how I bring out the best in each person and enhance rather than inhibit their individual and unique expression. Much of what I learned about coaching came from watching my first acting teacher, Ted Liss.

Ted Liss brought out the best in me. With his enthusiastic, supportive and demanding coaching, I was able to become an excellent character actor. I studied with him once a week for 2 ½ years. When he wasn’t coaching me directly, I watched him coach others. What I didn’t realize at the time was that by observing how he worked with people, spoke to them, encouraged them and challenged them, I was experiencing and learning how to be a great coach.

We never had one conversation about teaching or coaching. I learned by watching, experiencing and by being in his presence. I learned from his face, his body language, his vocal tone and his emotional intensity. Ted has long since passed, but his coaching technique lives on through me.

People Learn by Mirroring

When you watch someone you admire doing something well, you tend to emulate it. It doesn’t matter what the activity or skill is; you mirror it. You don’t necessarily do it consciously, but at some level, you decide to do it the way you saw it modeled.

Seeing is Just Like Doing

In storytelling for business, when you show rather than tell, you trigger what are called “mirror neurons” in your listener’s brain. The mirror neurons cause them to experience what you are experiencing as if it’s happening to them. That’s why you cry during the most emotional moments in a movie.  That’s also why you cringe when you see someone get hurt. The scientists who have discovered and explored how mirror neurons work have drawn the conclusion that “seeing it is just like doing it.” In Story Theater, I call it an empathetic response.  As Ted Liss coached his acting students, I was doing it, too, right along with him. He triggered my mirror neurons in such a way that I learned how to coach others by observing him.

Exponentially Increase Your Influencing Power by Learning How to Trigger Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons are the scientific answer as to why The Story Theater Method for storytelling in business works better to influence people than traditional narrative storytelling. If it’s essential in your job to influence or persuade others to do what you want them to do, you need this critical skill. If you are in sales, you need this skill. If you are a leader, you need this skill. If you own a business, you need this skill. If you are a speaker or trainer, you need this skill.

Here are two examples of making the body of your story more powerful so that it triggers mirror neurons.

Eric, one of my recent coaching clients, tells a story about Salsa Dancing. In one scene he goes to a club with his new Salsa skills with the intention of getting out there on the dance floor. But when he dances with his first partner, he’s watching his feet and counting the steps in his head.  He is hesitant and is just going through the motions, rather than dancing.  As a result, his partner doesn’t want another dance. Later, he realizes what he has been doing, and decides to let loose, feel the music, and really dance. This time, he dances Salsa the way it’s meant to be danced – no counting steps or looking at his feet.

When he first told me this story, he described the hesitant dancing and then the full out dancing. He informed me, but didn’t influence me. I asked him to actually DO it both ways – to show me not tell me. When he acted out going through the motions and counting his steps (an In Moment), I felt his awkwardness. My face got tight as I counted steps and my shoulders tensed. My mirror neurons were triggered and I felt like it was ME being hesitant. Then, when he let loose and danced full out, I felt exhilarated, as if I was dancing full out.

Body Is Language

This isn’t just theory. Using acting skills while speaking or telling a story isn’t simply an interesting option. It’s an essential influencing skill. When you show (reenact act out or recreate) the most powerful activities or actions in your story, your listener feels and experiences what you want them to experience. If you want them to learn a new behavior, you can shorten the learning curve and save thousands of dollars in your training budget by learning how to tell a story this way more effectively.

Another student, Alicia, tells a story of when she was mugged. Instead of giving in to the mugger, she fought back. She “mugged the mugger”. It was interesting when she described it. It was POWERFUL when she acted out fighting back. I felt like I was fighting back. She got me. She triggered my mirror neurons.

Make Them Feel Pain and Then Relieve It

It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to sell: a product, service or idea. It’s always about making your listener feel pain and then relieving that pain with your product, service or idea. If you don’t know how to make them feel the pain of not having your product, service or idea, they probably won’t buy. I’m not talking about physical pain, of course.  I’m talking about creating a need that is so immediate and important, that it causes pain. The pain may be lost profits, slumping sales, low employee morale, ineffectiveness, or any number of issues.

I Teach People How to Get Results

I’m not hired to teach people how to tell stories. I’m hired to teach salespeople to sell more, leaders to lead more effectively and speakers and trainers to influence people to change their behavior. Stories are the vehicle I use to get results. If you feel that your presentations are boring, it’s because they don’t trigger a mirror neuron response. If you want to be more engaging and effective, The Story Theater Method will get you there.

The Body of Your Story

The body of your story is your body. It’s how you use your body to communicate experience and emotion. When you show rather than tell, you trigger mirror neurons and people feel what you felt. That often means that they feel the pain or discomfort or anxiety that you felt at the moment of crisis in your story. Your body language, facial expressions, vocal tone and emotional states send messages to your listener’s limbic system, causing them to feel empathy. If they don’t empathize with you, they aren’t moved. If they aren’t moved, they may write you off as someone who has interesting information, or worse, just an interesting theory.

You probably use your body effectively all day long. But when you give a presentation, you may pull back and tone down your body language. You don’t need to be an actor to use your body effectively; you simply need to learn how to tell stories using my Story Theater Method!

Ted Liss Taught Me How To Coach

I left Chicago in 1972 and hitchhiked to Hollywood. I never saw Ted Liss again. I coached my first Story Theater student in 1996. The lessons I learned from observing him had incubated for 24 years. When I coached my first student, I instinctively did what I had watched Ted do hundreds of times. The way I physically approached my students, my vocal tone, and my emotional cheerleading were all things that I learned from Ted.  Lessons learned through observation stick.

Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Body

If you talk, people listen. When you move, they pay attention. When you know how to tell a story well, they become engaged. When you master Story Theater, you influence people to change their behavior. You can no longer afford to be average. The time is now to step it up.

I Am Definitely Trying to Sell You Something

You have the ability to be an amazing speaker, storyteller and leader. You can make a difference in your organization. You can improve morale, increase sales and influence action. The skills that I teach are very effective. They are not safe skills. They are bold skills that challenge people to break through to their brilliance.

I want to work with you. I want to help you feel more powerful. Now is the time to pursue your brilliance. While the rest of the world is trying to figure out where it wants to go next, you can be spending this time growing your skills. Just because budgets are tight and the economy is uncertain, it doesn’t mean that the need for motivation and skill training has gone away.

Call me. Let’s talk about a brighter future. Let’s talk about making the body of your story more powerful and more effective in influencing people.

To watch a video about how Mirror Neurons work, click this link:

After you watch the video, call my office and let’s discuss how I can customize a program for your organization or sign you up for a Story Theater Retreat in Colorado Springs or Europe.

Call 719-573-6195 and speak to Deborah or go to

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