A Must-Have Storytelling Secret for Speakers

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One of the questions people ask me is, “Do our stories always have to be true?”

If you’re delivering a story that happened to you or that you are representing as true, then it should definitely be true. However, it should contain what my friend and fellow speaker, Darren LaCroix, calls “The emotional truth.”

The emotional truth means you stay true to the essence of what happened in your story even if you might alter a few facts to make it more interesting, clear, and digestible for your audience.

For example, take my story that you’ve probably heard before. Listen to a section of it now and then come with me behind the curtain to see how I changed certain facts to make the story shorter and clearer (which is almost always my goal).  This clip is 2 minutes and 19 seconds in length.


Let’s take a look at what really happened in my life and what I decided to share with you in the story.


Condense Time

First, your heard that conversation I had with my Vice-President when he kept offering me more money, right? Well, guess what? That conversation actually took place over a 4-day period. Each day I came in and turned down his offer and then he made a counter offer to keep me on board.

However, if I were to present the story in that way and keep coming back day after day, it would get tiring and boring for my audience. So what did I do? I condensed it to connect with my audience. I put all 4 days into one conversation with my VP. Was it true? Sure. What happened really happened. I just took out the extra days to make it shorter and clearer for my audience. So what is the takeaway for you?

Think about condensing time or several scenes into one scene.


Condense Events

Also, here’s what else really happened that I left out. Michael J. Fox. What? That’s right, I left out Michael J. Fox. You see, when I went to meet with my Vice-President, he kept using Michael J. Fox as an example for why I should stay on board with the company.

 He’d say, “Craig, why don’t you do both…be a speaker AND stay with the company? After all, when Michael J. Fox started doing the Back to the Future movies, he didn’t leave his Family Ties sitcom. He did both. You can too. You can be Michael J. Fox!”

Then, in a last ditch effort, he said to me, “Heck, if you’re so bent on speaking, we can put you on a tour to speak about our company. We’d get you a van and you can go around and speak!” Finally, he even offered me a Director’s position where I’d be leading the entire sales team.

Well guess what? None of that needed to be in the conversation I shared with you because it would have done more harm than help.

Not everything that happens out there needs to find its way in here (in your speech).

So the takeaway is only use what’s necessary to drive home your point. I didn’t need all of that. When I write the book on my journey, I’ll include Michael J. Fox but not in my speech. Still, the emotional truth of what happened is included in my story. Condense to connect. I took all that happened and condensed the time and events into one quick but meaningful conversation. Condense to connect.


Condense Conversations

Now let’s look at the other conversation in my story, the one with my wife. Let me ask you a question. Do you think my wife had anything else to say to me about this decision I needed to make? Of course she did. We talked for days about this! But I took everything she said and boiled it down to the one line she said that hit me straight and hard. “Your dream is not for sale.” It’s the truth condensed.

If I told the story with all the other statements she made to me, chances are the “Your dream is not for sale” line would get lost in the mix. Instead, people are constantly referring to that line as they move on with their life’s decisions. I condensed to connect.


Condense Groups

And here’s another question I have for you. Do you think anyone else had anything to say about my decision? Of course! I had a speaker friend of mine giving me all kinds of advice. I had co-workers telling me what I should and shouldn’t do.

But here’s where the emotional truth comes in. If you start having too many characters and too many days back and forth and too many conversations with too many statements, you will lose your audience too many times. So I took all of those people and condensed them into one conversation with my wife. Condense to connect.


Final Thoughts

So how can you benefit from my experience of putting this story together? Realize that you can…

Condense time – so you get to the conflict and the message quicker

Condense events – so you do not lose your audience in the details

Condense conversations – so the lines of dialogue you want to be remembered will be

Condense groups – so you will not have too many characters that get in the way of your message

When you condense your story and keep the emotional truth, you get a connection with your audience that you won’t get by telling the entire story.  

So stick with the emotional truth and condense to connect.

Your Turn

In what ways have you condensed your story to connect?

Craig Valentine

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