I want to tell you a story that happened to me. It is about my daughter not coming home when she was supposed to, and I decided that you can’t always resolve problems right when they happen. I always set a curfew, and my kids know that I stick by it. The curfew is 11 o’clock on weekends. My daughter had a date on a Friday night and missed the curfew by one hour and fifteen minutes. She came in knowing she’d be in big trouble and told me a cockamamie story about getting two flat tires. That was her excuse. I didn’t buy it for a minute, and I think she knew it. But I let her get away with it because I thought it was too late to confront her with the obvious. And actually it worked out pretty well, because I showed her I trusted her, and she was pretty good living up to that reputation in the future. We do the same thing in our company now, and it works.
The wrong-way version is not as powerful, is it? Compare the two and you can see what it is lacking. It has no time or place established in the first sentence. This makes it hard for the audience to draw a mental picture of the situation.
There is no dialogue, so it is devoid of personality. The audience doesn’t really get any impression, good or bad, of the daughter, the boyfriend, or the father who is giving the speech. There are no details that would allow you to experience the story. Even though the moral of the story is the same, we don’t feel the same impact. This means that the audience is less likely to remember the point. The story is forgettable—and so is the speaker.
Make sure the story supports the key message you want to leave with your audience. The only exception to this is if you are a fabulous joke teller. Then you can tell a joke story to the group even if it doesn’t fit too well. But most of us aren’t in that category. And it makes no sense to practice at a luncheon presentation before a large audience. As a matter of fact, unless Jerry Seinfeld has personally laid his hands on you and welcomed you into his fraternity of joke tellers, it would be prudent to drop the whole idea of going for the big laugh.
People generally forget jokes once they leave the luncheon room. They do remember a good story. If you were to tell that father/daughter story as a part of a luncheon talk you were giving, and let’s say the whole talk lasted thirty minutes and that story lasted five, what do you think people would remember about your talk? Probably the story, right?
Members of the audience would probably come up to you afterward and say things like: “I loved the story about your daughter.” “I think you handled your daughter just right.” “Your daughter is lucky to have a father like you.” “I wish our company respected the individual the way your company does.” The reason they would say those things is that you would have gotten inside their heads and their hearts. You moved the audience, because you made your point come alive for them in the form of a story. You expanded their life experience. Audiences love that. It makes the talk special.
One very effective way to get the attention of an audience, especially at a luncheon, is to shock them with a headline. Make a statement that surprises, startles, or challenges them. Teenagers are great at this. My son Ryan, who is sixteen, said this in the car the other day: “I’ve done an experiment at school, and I’ve discovered that girls prefer it if I treat them badly.”
Imagine my reaction. My stomach tightened, and my lips clamped shut. Does he really believe this? What kind of experiment? Where did we parents go wrong?
Ryan accomplished his objective. He had my full attention. And that’s the purpose of shocking your audience with headlines.
Here are some business examples that I have seen work effectively:
“The organization is going to change in ways you can hardly imagine over the next six months.”
“The compensation plan, as you know it, no longer exists and never will again.”
“I have a message from our customers that negates everything we once thought was true—and you’ll never guess what it is!”
There are three rules to make this technique work effectively.
The headline should be just that, one sentence.
It should hint at information that intrigues or shocks the listener and makes them want to hear more.
It should dramatize the topic of the discussion.