WESTPORT, Conn. — Storytelling has been with us since the beginning of time, but John O’Hern recently told Westport Sunrise Rotary members how to make their stories more memorable.
“It’s in our DNA,” O'Hern said, sharing with Sunrise Rotary members his tips on crafting a better story at the group's monthly meeting. He became a storyteller “because I’m probably one of the best BS-ers I know.” Today he’s “an actor, public speaking coach, writer and storyteller.”
Storytelling is simple, we all think. But how many of us can keep our audiences waiting for what’s next — or do we see eyes glaze over?
So how do you make yours stand out — whether it’s an elevator pitch, an advertisement, a business presentation — or just an oft told personal anecdote?
O’Hern offered a few rules. First, your story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. “Even a 30-second commercial is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.”
It has to engage immediately. When he picks up a new book he reads the first paragraph. If its first five sentences tell him who, what, where, when and why, “I’m sucked in.” Likewise a newspaper story, an oral story and the first five minutes of a movie.
Then comes a problem, and, usually, a resolution. He cited "The Godfather," which opens with the wedding scene, then moves to the singer who can’t land a film role. The first problem. The horse’s head in the bed resolves it, O’Hern said, and informs us how powerful the main character is, all in the first 15 minutes. “Then things get worse, then much worse.”
Second, “Just because it happened to you doesn’t mean it’s interesting. Talk about something people care about,” don’t retell the meandering tales your uncle told last Thanksgiving.
Third, edit! It’s crucial, yet many have a difficult time editing themselves and shrinking their stores to their core.
Four, “Practice, practice, practice … till you’re sick of it.” A strong elevator pitch is a carefully crafted, tightly composed and well rehearsed presentation, not a couple minutes of ad lib.
When you’re telling your story, stay on script. But if your audience’s eyes start to glaze over, shut up.
“Keep it short, keep it tight, keep it happy, keep it funny — what you want to hear in someone else’s story should be in yours.”
If you’re interested in giving back to your community, getting your Fridays off to a jump start and hearing interesting speakers, e-mail Ron Holtz at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on Westport Sunrise Rotary.