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Tell Stories that Move Your Audience to Action


Don’t you just love winning free stuff?  I know I do.  I recently won a copy of the book Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.  I cracked it open over a bowl of cereal this morning.  I’d listened to a podcast of Clay Shirky speaking at the RSA in England about the book so I suspected that I was going to enjoy this piece of non-fiction.  Shirky starts the book with a story.  Immediately I was sucked in.  After a few paragraphs I realized, I needed to start eating again or my Cheerios were going to get soggy.

Whether it’s a non-fiction book, a sermon, or a presentation, stories have a way of pulling us into the real content of a message.  While the content of a message maybe what makes a difference in the audience’s life, if the audience has trouble tuning in for the message, the content can easily get lost in the information overload that is our modern life.  Adding stories to your presentations can be just what’s needed to sucks your audience into your content.

But what stories move our audiences toward our message and toward the action that we want?  Here are some thoughts.


Oh Yeah… Thanks for the Reminder

Exercise regularly.  Eat healthy.  Treat others with respect.  Have you heard any of these messages before?  Sure.  Do you believe in them?  Probably.  Are there times when you don’t do these things?  Absolutely.  Does being “lectured to” about them make you want to take action and change?  Eh, probably not.

When you have a presentation where you know your audience should know your message, but they don’t always follow it, consider a story that makes it OK to change course.  Where possible, tell a story that tells of your own failure to comply.  When have you violated your own advice?  What were the consequences?  Were you shamed into changing or was there a kind person whose wisdom helped turn things around for you?  By being vulnerable and showing that you made the change, you can inspire your audience to make the shift themselves.  People need stories where you make it OK that they aren’t doing what they should be doing and now but can then be motivated to change.  Your turn around can be the inspiration that they want to change too.

Geez, I Could Do That!

A lot of times, people don’t take an action because either they don’t know how or they don’t believe they can.  Do you know anyone that falls into that category whom you helped?  Were you the person who didn’t think you could do it but learned how?  If you seem like an approachable person and you did it… or if you showed someone else who was just like them (the audience) make a change… then you can create in your audience’s mind an epiphany that they can do it too.

Sometimes we all feel that we’re not ______ enough.  Fill in the blank.  We’re not smart enough… We’re not rich enough.  We’re not brave enough.  We’re not talented enough.  If you have a story that takes away the word in the blank, then you have a story that can motivate an audience.

I remember sitting in an audience in 2003 listening to a speaker who was talking about how he became a professional speaker.  He talked about his steps and I remember thinking to myself, “I could do that.  I could do that.”  He wasn’t handsome.  Or rich.  He wasn’t more talented then me.   If he could do it, then so could I!  And now I have.  Find that kind of story for your audience, and they can follow in your footsteps too.

I Never Thought about It Like That Before

Sometimes people feel an urge to change their behaviors or their thought processes, but their choices are ingrained based on tradition or what they’ve always believed to be right.  Most of us loathe to admit we’re wrong.  But when we’re given new information, the new information offers us a chance to change our mind but still keep face.  The new information makes it OK to change our mind because we didn’t know it earlier.

What new piece of information will inform your audience and give them permission to change their minds?  Do you have a story that illustrates the change in your position?  What new information made a difference?  It may not be the actual issue that you’re discussing but maybe it’s a story from elsewhere in your life when new information made you change your stance.  Either a direct or an indirect story can help illustrate to your audience how having the new information they now have can make changing their approach OK too.

Stories the Work

If you tell a story and you’re getting the results you want, than you’re golden.  If not, then consider the ideas above.  Are you giving your audience reminders and permission to change?  Are you telling them how they can change?  Are you giving them new information that makes it easier for them to change?  Try making the adjustments and watch your results improve.

Now It’s Your Turn

What stories have been successful for you?  What stories do you tell that move your audience to action?  Tell us the story and the action it moves your audiences toward in the comments section below!