Stories can be a powerful component within our speeches. A personal story, when told well, can change people’s lives.
What does a good story need?
The Answer is…
In many of our speeches, the hero of the story is either ourselves or it’s someone we know. The hero is the protagonist. To make the story interesting, they need to face some kind of conflict. The conflict might be with another person, it could be social circumstances, it could be battling against nature. The greater the adversity, the better.
We often talk about rising conflict in drama. This is where the hero has some kind of conflict, deals with it to some degree, and then is faced with an even bigger conflict. This pattern continues to escalate until there is a final resolution and the hero emerges victorious.
When we tell a story within a speech, we need to remember that we’re actually establishing a kind of covenant or agreement with the audience. I’ve written about this elsewhere on the site. The inherent promise of the story is that the problems contained will be finally resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
Compare these two processes:
a) John always wanted to be a doctor. He faced great odds. He was mocked by his friends because he came from a poor neighborhood. Later, his parents died through an accidental drug overdose. He lived on the streets and died one day in a traffic accident.
b) John always wanted to be a doctor. He faced great odds. He was mocked by his friends because he came from a poor neighborhood. Later, his parents died through an accidental drug overdose. John ended up living on the streets. Then he met a mentor who gave him wonderful guidance. Persevering, John studied hard, but was then involved in a crippling car accident. Despite all odds, he finished his studies and eventually achieved his dream of becoming a doctor.
The second story is obviously the more satisfying. It has a resolution. The hero has faced their conflicts and overcome great difficulty. It has kept the agreement with the audience.
What conflict does your story contain? The more difficult the conflict, the more engaging the audience will find the speech. Look for the conflict in your story and ask yourself these two questions:
Is there enough conflict?
Is the conflict resolved by the end?
If the answer is no to either of these questions, then there’s a good chance you need to go back to your speech and rework it.