Posts Tagged ‘emotion’

So,  you’ve won the club contest, the  Area and the Division. Yay! Congratulations! You done good! You done very good!

So now you have moved on to the District contest. The competition is unbelievably steep. How do you prepare?

You’ve edited the speech at least fifty times. You’ve presented it until you can give it in your sleep. Everybody and their dogs have given you hints and told you where you could improve it.

“That first gesture is too weak.” “That first gesture is too strong”. Your conclusion from all this advice? It’s about right.

But what can you do to give yourself that little extra edge when you have already gone over it up, down and sideways?

1. You could try backing off for a while, then coming back to it with fresh eyes.

2. You could try giving the text to a friend or two and asking them to give it their best presentation to you. Now you can observe how someone else would present it. You might get a couple of new ideas. Notice where they have difficulty or stumble over words.

3. You could watch videos of professional humorous speakers and immerse yourself in their presentation of humorous material. See how they do it. Notice the little tricks and the word use. Analyze how they make even their transitions funny.

4. You could ask the funniest speaker you know to coach you.

5. This last one might seem odd. Is there some emotional moment in your speech? A point where there’s a hiatus in the  laughter and you give your audience a contrasting emotion (fear, sadness, anxiety)? If yes, can you deepen that moment of contrast? If no, can you insert that moment of contrasting feeling?   It gives your speech and your humor an extra dimension.

Good luck!


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The Touching Story

As I have written these posts and gathered them into book form I have taken care not to research from the Toastmaster manuals. I read them a few years ago when I was working on the projects, but I have not re-read them for the Story Solver articles.

At this point, with both projects very close to completion, I have re-read the Toastmasters Advanced Communication and Leadership Series “Storytelling” manual. I’ll share my thoughts on each of the projects. These are in addition to what you can read in the manual and are in no way intended to refocus your approach to the projects.

This is one of my favorite projects because it empowers the speaker to spend time building a speech at an emotional level rather than at a mental or intellectual level. There might be information in the speech, but it is background, not front and center. Theoretically you could appeal to any emotion, including jealousy, anger, grief.  In fact, getting your audience riled up in anger or jealousy or treating them to every grief-stricken moment of the day your old dog died might not be a good idea.

So we all understand that the ’emotion’ we appeal to in this speech is empathy. We want people to feel the poignancy of the moment rather than hard core emotion.  It might be the story of a grave miscarriage of justice, or the loss of a sibling. Either of these are difficult stories to tell without wallowing in anger or grief. Do you really want to burden your audience with these in addition to the burdens they already carry?

So the trick is to have your listeners feel some of the emotion without dumping all over them. It’s a fine line to walk and the keys to it are understatement and an oblique approach. If your story is about the loss of a sibling most listeners don’t need to be told the details of your pain and grief. They get it. You could even interject humor by saying that the Kleenex factory made a big profit that year. The contrast between that note of humor and the deep emotion is very effective in creating empathy.

The oblique approach works by using one unusual detail rather than hard evidence of emotion. “I was so sure I would win that settlement that I had planned dinner for six of my best friends.  It was going to be East coast lobster and French champagne.  Instead I had a Subway sandwich and a Coke. Alone.”

Allowing people to draw their own conclusions helps them to react to your story more personally. It’s the revealing details  that make them feel your story rather than just hearing it, it’s not the amount of emotion you throw at them. These details are shown, not told.  Don’t tell your listeners, “She felt embarrassed” but “She felt her cheeks flush and she carefully studied the button on her sleeve rather than look her mother in the eyes.”

Remember, too, that this is a story. It needs strong characters, a plot, action and a problem to be solved. The main character might be you or someone else. The tale might be fiction or fact. The personal characteristics and the problem to be solved need to be focused on getting the most emotionally poignant mileage out of the situation, the people and how they deal with the issues they face.

Last words: Avoid emotional cliches. “A tear glistened in his eye”,  “Her chin trembled” , “She leapt to her feet in anger”.  C’mon, you’re a story teller. You can do better than that.

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Personally, I like to laugh

When I choose a program to watch on TV I have certain expectations. If I select a documentary I expect information, if I choose a drama I expect suspense and if I choose a sitcom I’m hoping to be entertained and to laugh.

Often, though, the documentary will include stories. If the information is about drought in sub- Saharan Africa they might show a small boy and his mother struggling to make crops grow in dried-out earth. You can see their protruding bones and feel their helplessness and the bewilderment and pain of a hungry child. The information about the results of a lack of rainfall has been driven home in a simple story that appeals to the emotions and to the humanity in each of us.

Our emotions cover such a wide range – from pleasure ( including humour and joy) to fear, including suspense, from jealousy and hate to love and tenderness. And we would have to include pity, horror, excitement and many more.

If you are working on a story, speech or anecdote, whether you want to inspire and motivate or inform make sure the reader or listener feels what you have to say. Build some suspense into the story, give the reader or a listener a taste of sadness or fear but also give them the relief of joy or humour.

Test yourself: Go through your story marking the places where you have appealed to feelings, and name the emotion. If you have not touched the feelings of the reader at least once, you have not fully engaged them.

Emotional appeal gives your story the richness of texture and dimension that makes it memorable.

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Voicing your Story

Recently at a Toastmasters meeting I told a story about a woman whose job it was to deal with the public in a government office. This woman had an uncaring, coarse, snide attitude.

In order to tell the tale well I had to roughen up my voice. Now my voice normally is quite soft.  (I know this because of all the evaluations I’ve had that say “Try to speak a little louder.”)  This particular story lost much of its power when I practiced it in my normal voice. It didn’t come across at all vividly. So I had to build into my rehearsing a way of deepening and coarsening my voice.

It was a painful process and my throat took the brunt of it. To carry it a step further I loosened up my speech patterns so ‘going to’ became ‘gonna’ and ‘want to’ became ‘wanna’. Knowing my audience I allowed myself to say “What the hell” instead of “What the heck”. That’s a bit chancy. It worked for the particular audience but it isn’t recommended generally.

This is not the same as acting, but it has some similarities. I am allowing my voice and the way I vocally express my words to carry a generous share of the message. If I normally spoke sloppily and used profanity when I made a speech the audience would judge me accordingly. In this particular case I’m hoping the audience will judge the character I’m portraying, and not me.

If, in your story, you have two people conversing you can use  your vocal variety as a means of showing the audience which one is speaking now. It means you don’t have to use tags like ‘he said’ or ‘she asked’ yet the identity of the speaker is still clear to the audience.

When you write or remember your story try to feel the emotion behind the words people say. If it was you speaking, try to remember how you felt at that moment. If it was someone else you’ll have to use your imagination to plumb the feeling. Those emotions and feelings will guide your choice of voice and expression.

Take time to use your voice to strengthen and enrich your story.

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Come closer

“The man was tall and slim and walked with a limp. He had been hit by a car when he was a teenager and the orthopedic specialist had said that the bones in that leg would always be shorter than those in the other leg.” 45 words

“John limped to his car. As always, he tried to walk without limping but on wet days the ache in his bones made it almost impossible. Some days, despite his height and strength, he felt like an old man.”  39 words

I wrote the two paragraphs above to demonstrate two ways of describing a single character. The first gives you the man’s back story – how he came to have his limp. It shows you the facts behind the description.

The second description puts a name to the man and this in itself draws you closer to the story. The facts you read (his name, he has a car, tall, strong) are all about right now, not the past. More importantly, that bit of description lets you go right into his feelings and emotions. You are not just observing him from several feet away, you are within him, experiencing his emotions. You can’t get much closer than that in less than 40 words.

The closer the reader or listener gets to the story, the more strongly they feel it and become involved with it. Let’s try another description:

“She walked down the street to the church wearing a pink flowered dress and a lacy white scarf. She was carrying her mother’s pink purse. Her blond hair shone in the sunlight and her blue eyes sparkled. On her feet she wore 4″ stiletto heels.” 45 words

“Claire took almost an hour to dress, finally choosing the pink dress that seemed appropriate for church. She washed her hair, tried to flatten her curls and dug out an old pink handbag of her mothers. The 4″ stiletto heels she couldn’t resist.” 43 words

Again, putting a name to the person brings us closer right away. The first description seems to me to be flat – the person is a cardboard cut-out. The blond hair and blue eyes are a cliche and where else would she wear four inch heels but on her feet? You get no feeling for her or about her.

In the second description Claire isn’t in the street, but you know she is going to church. You can see her nervously choosing clothes she hopes are right. For what? You begin to wonder about this person. Why does she think all that pink is appropriate? Why use her mother’s purse? Why is she flattening her curls? Why has it taken her so long?

The second description gives us almost the same facts as the first, but it has also drawn us into the story. We are asking questions, wanting to know more. What comes next?

Only the story teller knows the answer. That is the magic of story telling.

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The key to a compelling story is that it should be entertaining. It should have people on the edge of their seats with excitement, or sitting back shaking with laughter, or perhaps sad or thoughtful. A successful story grabs the imagination and the emotions.

It does not have to be, as a spoken speech, word perfect. It can be word perfect as you write it. On the printed page the better your vocabulary reflects the meaning of the story and the sentence structure carries the pacing the better your story will be.

But then you stand up in front of an audience and half of all your word-perfect speech flies out the window. There was this beautiful phrase in the opening and somehow you missed it out totally. The distraction of having done that causes you to miss another well-honed phrase. The faster you relax and remind yourself that you have lots more well-honed phrases coming up, the faster you can get back to entertaining your audience.

Stop fretting about the well-written speech you’ve been practicing. If you have prepared well enough it will be fixed firmly in your  head anyway. Think about your audience. They don’t know you’ve missed a couple of really well-crafted phrases. Probably they wouldn’t care even if they did know. They just want to be entertained.

The quest for perfection? Let it go. Your quest should be the same as that of the audience – and that is the quest for entertainment. You seek to provide it, they seek to receive it. Instead of those lovely phrases, throw in some extra zany gestures, or some deep, heartfelt pauses, whatever fits the moment.

The words are only part of the speech; the presentation of a story carries major weight with your audience. The writing has long since been completed, now throw your heart into the selling of the story. The audience did not come here to swoon over your wonderful grasp of the language, they came to be entertained.

So you forgot some of the words. You were not word perfect in spite of all your preparation and rehearsal. Too bad! If you get over yourself and entertain the audience they will sense your success and welcome you as a true story teller.

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I had this story that I thought was just perfect for my next speech project. The only problem was, when I timed it, it was too long. I cut words and phrases out. Still too long. I cut almost a whole paragraph out. When I timed the speech it was just under the 7.30.

7.28 to be exact. So as long as I spoke consistently fast I would be OK.

No, I would not be OK. Speaking consistently fast (or slowly for that matter) can ruin a story. If you have sections of narrative or description you can probably move along quite quickly through them. They are the meat and potatoes of the story – you need them but everyone is waiting for the gravy.

Dialogue, action and reaction are the gravy. Often the action can be fast – staccato – if people are actually moving rapidly in the story. Other kinds of action might need to be taken more slowly. The reaction to it might be at a corresponding pace, or completely different. The pace of the action and reaction can vary as the story progresses, speeding up or slowing down. The speaker increases the tension by the pacing.

Dialogue needs to be spoken slowly enough that it is completely clear to the listener, especially if you are using an accent, slang or unusual vocabulary. Even if the character is speaking excitedly, don’t speak so fast that it is a gabble, instead perhaps raise your voice to a slightly higher pitch to show excitement.

Well-written dialogue offers a host of clues to your listener. If they miss the clues because you are speaking too fast they have missed an important part of the story.

Allow for pauses, especially in a humorous or an emotional story. Give the audience time for the humour or emotion to sink in. Yes, they will ‘get it’ without the pause, but they need a pause to truly savour the moment.

So for my story to be effective I had to rehearse it with all its different pacing and pauses. If that meant I had to cut even more out of it, so be it. All the words were common ones anyway – the audience had probably heard them all before.

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