by Doug Stevenson 2003

This is the “Connect” Issue

“One of the most obvious facts about grown-ups, to a child, is that they have forgotten what it is like to be a child.”

Randall Jerrell




While standing in the baggage claim area of the Dublin Airport, I was watching a mother and her young daughter. The daughter was just getting used to running on her chubby little legs and she obviously couldn’t get enough of it. She’d run one way and then the other defying the laws of gravity with each wobbly step until the inevitable happened and down she went. After ten seconds of tears, she was up and at it again. The joy on her face lit up the entire area. Everyone watching this little ball of energy had a smile on their face.

Did you ever notice how enjoyable it is to watch someone who’s having fun? It’s a contagious energy and one that is essential to good speaking and storytelling. In the Four Types of Language* that I have identified, joy and happiness fall into the category of emotional language. If you connect with your playful spirit – the spirit that was effortless as a child – people will love watching you and listening to you.

* The Four Types of Language are verbal, vocal, physical and emotional. For more information on the Four Types of Language, see pages 215 – 217 of my book: Never Be Boring Again.

I’m not talking about acting childish or foolish. I’m talking about your adult playful spirit – the spirit that is in evidence at parties and socialgatherings when you are not overly concerned about your behavior. Your playful spirit emerges effortlessly when you’re feeling relaxed and comfortable or when you’re not trying so hard to be appropriate, cool or professional.

The beautiful thing about being an adult is that we have the wisdom of experience. We know stuff. We’ve fallen down and scraped a knee so many times that we’ve learned not to wear our Sunday pants when we go out to play. We have the ability to be childlike without being childish. As a storyteller, it is essential to tap into that playful childlike energy in order to draw in your audience. When you exhibit this joy, everyone in your audience will watch you with a smile on their face.

Being an adult is stressful. At least it is for me. I have to concentrate, do things right and make it to appointments on time. There are pressures to perform and deliver that are sometimes exhausting. I know that the same pressures and stressors that affect me also affect my audience members. I also know that I can give them a break for just a few minutes by launching into a story with playful “once upon a time” energy. When I look out and see the smiles on their faces, I know that I’ve got ’em.

When I connect with my joy and playful spirit, they connect with theirs. They watch me with a smile on their face, just like I watched that little girl in the Dublin airport. The difference is that I am using my adult intelligence to call forth this joyful, childlike energy at the precise moment that I need it – whereas the little girl was just being a joyous child.

On page 35 of my new book, Never Be Boring Again, I discuss the phenomenon called a “sympathetic experience” that takes place during the telling of a story. I talk about how the speaker / storyteller must “connect IN to connect OUT.” The next time you give a speech or share a story, remember the little girl in the Dublin airport, or the little girl or boy that steals your heart whenever you see them. Remember how it makes you feel to observe their joy. Children are totally connected IN to themselves and by being so innocently free and spontaneous, they connect OUT to us. THEY do not make the connection, we do.

Give your audience something to connect to. Be joyous.




Have you ever been giving a speech, and you see “screen saver eyes” staring back at you? If so, you’ve lost connection with your audience. The following tips will help you connect with any audience, any time.

1. Remove all physical barriers between you and your audience. Get out from behind the lectern and move. The lectern is the portable reading desk with a little light on it. It’s designed for you to place your notes on it and stand behind it. It is sometimes called a podium. However, it is a barrier. Step away from it and walk and talk like you do naturally.

2. Know your audience. Don’t talk at them with a canned speech that you prepared for another audience. Customize your content to their issues. Connect the point of your story to their current problem or challenge.

3. Make it personal. Speak about what you know from personal experience. Bridge the gap between your research and your opinions. If you don’t bring your point of view to the speech, why bother?

4. Create a 40/60 balance of facts and interpretation. Report on the facts, and then interpret them. If you report too many facts, you run the risk of having a very dense program that loses people. Weave back and forth between facts and interpretation.

You may have the most brilliant content ever spoken, but if you don’t connect with your audience, it is all for naught. You’re human. They’re human. Connect!




In studying many comedians and observing what works, I’ve discovered a simple principle: volume works! I’ve also discovered this for myself in performance. There are certain lines that I deliver with exaggerated delivery and increased volume that get a laugh as much because of the delivery as for the line itself.

I’ve also noticed that the size and volume of the audience’s laughter is directly proportionate to the size and volume of my delivery. The size of their laughter can also be measured by their movement. When I really punch a line with volume, I can actually see people moving in their chairs as they laugh. It’s a full body laugh, not just a titter.

It’s easy to know when to increase the volume on a specific line. Look for the most absurd and ridiculous moments in your story. Your volume should reflect your inner angst, embarrassment or frustration. In real life you might not react with such volume, but internally, you want to scream.

For instance: My streaking story is about the time I was in a theater class and we were given the exercise to go out into the community with a partner and do something we were afraid to do, something that was a risk. My partner and I decided to go streaking. As I describe the moment when, in the back of my 1962 Volkswagen bus, George and I have disrobed completely, I increase the volume and angst on the words “buck naked” in the following line:

“And then came the moment of truth, we were completely buck naked…except for our shoes.”

By increasing the volume on the words “buck naked” I am coloring my internal angst with volume. By that time the audience has witnessed my anxiety about getting undressed in the back of the bus with a guy named George and when I let out a wail on, “buck naked” it fits. It works.

On another level, it provides a setup for the last part of the sentence…”except for our shoes.” Because I have taken the volume up for “buck naked” I can come down on, “except for our shoes.” This provides the vocal juxtaposition I need to take my audience on a roller coaster from loud to soft, fast to slow, panicked to calm.

Look for the natural places in your stories to increase the volume for dynamic effect. Seek out the moments of anxiety, frustration, anger and trepidation. Choose a couple of words and belt them out to express the emotion you’re feeling. When you do, you’ll get a bigger and louder laugh than ever before. Volume works!


Copyright 2005 by Doug Stevenson. Reprinted with permission. Doug Stevenson is the creator of the Story Theater Method. He is an author, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. Reach Doug at or 800.573.6196