Private Stuff

by Doug Stevenson

Before I step in front of an audience, I have rituals and processes that I go through. I start with NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) exercises that are designed to integrate my right-creative brain with my left-linear brain. I then do some yoga exercises to warm up my muscles. I prepare mentally by reading my notes and the pre-program questionnaire that my client filled out for me. If I haven’t had a chance to run or work out, I often jog in my room or do something to elevate my heart rate. The last thing I do is my spiritual practice. I combine affirmations with prayers that remind me that I’m a conduit for a greater message that goes beyond words and content. I ask God to speak through me. All of this takes place before I go to the meeting room.

Once I’m in the meeting room, I like to chat with audience members and ask them questions related to my topic. I make sure that my meeting planner knows that I’m okay and in control. As it gets closer to show time, I’m monitoring my energy, conserving it for the performance, while maintaining enthusiastic excitement. It’s as if I’m gently revving my engine, making sure it’s firing on all cylinders.

Just before I step in front of my audience, I remind myself that we’re all one, that there is no separation between my audience and me. I set my intention on telling the truth and being totally authentic and real. I embrace the gift that is Douglas and trust that I’m enough, that me being me is totally appropriate. Then I take the stage, get out of my own way and let my preparation and the magic of the moment mix. That’s what I call getting plugged in.

Today, I will embrace the gift that is me and let it be seen.

Today, I will trust that what I have prepared is perfect.

Today, I will tell the truth and be authentic and real.

Today, I will stay connected with myself and let the audience come to me.

Today, I will love myself and let them watch.

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PRIVATE STUFF – Crucible Stories

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A recurring issue with many of my coaching students is a reluctance to share their most private stories because they fear that they will be perceived as manipulating their audience. It is a belief so prevalent that I feel I must address it here. These types of stories are called Crucible Stories.

A crucible is defined as a severe test. Crucible stories reveal our private and profound struggles to survive and overcome life’s greatest challenges.

In my opinion, the only reason to get up in front of an audience is to share what you know and how you feel about it. You are the message! The question then remains, what do you choose to share? Do you play it safe and tell stories that are interesting and teach a valuable lesson, or do you take a risk and tell stories that stir deep emotions while teaching a valuable lesson? One choice is not better than the other. Both are valid and each will work for your audience.

I believe that as speakers, we are asking the wrong question when we focus our attention on what we perceive the audience wants. What is an audience? Is there such a thing as an “audience preference?” When you are in an audience, are you audience or are you an individual? Are you the same as the person next to you, or is it possible that your likes and needs as an audience member are unique? Now multiple your unique needs by the number of people in the audience and what you have is a room full of individuals with different wants and needs. There is no way you can please them all.

I conclude that there is no way to decide what the audience wants, because there is no one mind or preference, but rather many individuals with unique needs and perspectives. A better question to ask is this: What beliefs do you bring to your choices about what kinds of stories to tell? Do you believe that emotional stories are always manipulative? What about the movie Titanic, one of the most powerful crucible stories of all time? It was incredibly emotional and it was a blockbuster hit. As a matter of fact, if you have ever seen a movie that made you cry, and you liked the movie; you paid good money to be manipulated. Saving Private Ryan was an exercise in manipulation. Manipulation means to move something from one place to another. So, using emotion to teach a lesson isn’t a bad thing; it’s a natural style of storytelling. Emotion moves an audience member to a state of feeling rather than thinking.

Some people like to cry and feel their emotions. Others don’t. I believe that many speakers shy away from sharing their most powerful private stuff by using the audience as an excuse. Sorry, audiences like stories that make them cry. They like to feel their emotions because it’s a release. That’s a fact that box office receipts prove over and over.

Another reason why speakers shy away from their most powerful crucible stories may be because they don’t know how to craft and perform them. Perhaps they lack the confidence and skill. Many times they’ve seen someone do a crucible story poorly and they fear they’ll fall short as well. When done poorly and without the proper intent, a crucible story can be an exercise in excess. When done correctly, for the right reasons and with the proper placement within a speech, an emotional story is a vehicle for healing and renewal.

If you have had a powerful emotional experience, and you learned one of the most profound lessons of your life from it, please share it. The life experiences that were most painful and difficult to endure can and should be used as teaching moments. We don’t do it to manipulate; we do it to create movement within our audience members so that they move beyond intellectual understanding to emotional impact. People don’t change their behavior based on intellectual understanding alone. It generally takes and emotional experience coupled with an intellectual understanding for people to change. Crucible stories help people experience emotion in the context of a teaching moment where a profound and logical point is made.

Crucible stories must be crafted to make a strategic point. They must be performed brilliantly so they take your audience members on their own emotional journey. And they must be done with the intention to share the lesson learned from a profound human experience.

I challenge you to first look at your reluctance to share your private stuff. Are you afraid to share it because it’s scary for you? Are you afraid to look there and relive the experience for fear that it will hurt again? But wait. You’ve chosen to be a speaker. You’ve chosen to serve people by sharing what you know and how you feel about it. You must be brave. How can we inspire people to do what we are afraid to do; to go where we are afraid to go? Trust me, your most powerful work is already done. You’ve already conquered the fear and survived the test. Your courage in the face of adversity is proven.

Think of me as your audience member. I am sitting right in front of you and I need to hear what you have to say because I’m having a hard time right now. My life is challenging. I’m concerned about my future. I know in my mind that everything is going to be all right, but I don’t always know it in my heart. Can you help me?

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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 www.storytheater.net or 800.573.6196