The Six Stories That Presenters Need to Know How to Tell: An Interview with Christie Ward, CSP

This week, I am honored to present an interview with nationally acclaimed leadership and communication expert, Christie Ward, Leadership Facilitator and Principal of the Impact Institute™. Since founding The Impact Institute in 1999, Christie has focused on communication, leadership and team-building topics that result in more productive teams and effective leadership. She is known for her high-content, high-energy workshops and keynotes that get results. Prior to founding The Impact Institute, Christie was the Director of Training for CareerTrack, Inc, where she coached and managed 200 of the best professional trainers around the world. AND gave me first speaking gig!

Christie agreed to sit down with me and answer a few questions about her business and this week’s topic, The Six Stories that Presenters Need to Know How to Tell. Christie is an expert in this area and very, very good at seeing presentations through the eyes of an audience.

Tell us a little about your business.

I work mostly in the public sector, with about 70% of my business for the federal, city and local government. I live in Denver, and travel all over the world.

Tell us about the “Six Stories That Presenters Need To Know How To Tell.” Where does this come from?

It comes from a great book called “The Story Factor” by Annette Simmons. If you are interested in telling stories in your presentations, training, facilitation or speaking, definitely pick up a copy of Annette’s book.

Let’s go over the six stories. They are: “Who I Am,” “Why I Am Here,” “Vision,” “Teaching,” “Values and Action,” and finally, “I Know What You’re Thinking”. Who is the “Who I Am” story for?

The “Who I Am” story is for the audience that needs to have some context about you. When you step up on stage, the audience often has no idea who you are. They may wonder why they should listen to you and if you know what you’re talking about. This story should share a little bit about your history or something that gives them a picture of you.

Do you have to tell a personal story?

Not necessarily. You could talk about Mother Teresa and the lessons that you learned from what she taught the world about gratitude and humility. From that story, your audience would get a sense of who you are. But it has to be genuine and it has to come from the heart.

So, if you told the Mother Teresa story and explained what you learned from that story, in this case about gratitude and sacrifice, you are in essence telling a “Who I Am” story.

Absolutely! People get the feeling that “Oh, she connects with that person, therefore that must be something that is part of her as well.”

Tell us about the second type of story, the “Why I Am Here?” story

This story is about why you here and why you are teaching this subject. Years ago, I lived in the Middle East. One of the things that was always so fascinating to me was that the Dead Sea has no outlets. The water flows one way. The Sea of Galilee gets both an input of water and an outflow of water so it’s comprised of fresh water. The two seas are very close together. In fact, if you’ve got on good pair of shoes, you could probably make the hike in one day. But the truth is, they’re so different. For example, if I was teaching about communication and I was speaking specifically about one-way communication and how dead that is, I could make a creative metaphor about the Dead Sea. If you want fresh communication, then it needs to be two-way communication, just like the Sea of Galilee. Not only do we talk, but we listen, and that’s what two-way communication is all about. It’s using a direct analogy like that where people can see the connection.

So in “Who I Am” and “Why I Am Here” stories, we’re explaining what’s in it for ourselves.

Right! As well as what’s in it for the audience. By the time you’re done with these two stories, they’re going to know they’re sitting in the right room and that you have something to teach them. There’s a sequence to these stories as well, so you need to consider the sequence that is created here. “Who I Am” is first, “Why I Am Here” is second.

The third story is called the “Vision” story. Can you give us a definition of that?

The “Vision” story is where you paint a bigger picture. You create a situation where people see themselves, where they propel themselves into the future, and they see something that may not have seen before.

I love history. For me, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech is very special. At the time it was delivered, racial inequality was the law of the land. Today, people are judged, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, based on the “content of their character rather than the color of the skin.” Another great example is John F. Kennedy’s speech about our national goal to safely land a man on the moon and return them safely. We were trailing the Soviets in the space program. This was a vision statement. It was something that the entire nation got behind. And then another example is Ronald Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech. He famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The big thing about the vision statement is that at the time they’re made, what they’re talking out does not exist. They’re talking about a future that is better, that is brighter and in all three instances, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, were able to manifest those visions.

The goal is to paint a picture for your audience of something bigger than themselves. You don’t have to be a speaker to do this. I think people need to hear this in their training too. Training can get pretty dull and boring, but if you can paint a picture where you show that you know there’s another side to the story and something in the future to look forward to, it is more compelling.

What is a “Teaching” story?

When you tell a story, you’re going to cut your teaching time in half. For example, one time, I had to do a class on technical and business writing. A client asked me to do a section about e-mail, which wasn’t my area of expertise, but I agreed because it occurred to me that e-mail is the way most of us write. One of the most important things about e-mail is editing it before you send it out. How many times have you sent an e-mail that wasn’t quite correct, or the tone wasn’t quite right and it came back to haunt you? I like to share a story about an experience where I sent a message off to a client after I had done a presentation. I sent it in the evening, the night before we were scheduled to have a debriefing meeting about the session. Before I sent it, I went back through and reviewed it. I decided I needed to take out some of the names and some of the specifics. I thought: “We’ll just talk about that tomorrow, but I won’t send this off in an e-mail.” My father used to say, “Never write something down, Christie, that you don’t want the world to see.” When I walked into that conference room the next morning, I looked up on the screen, and there was my e-mail.

Nobody asked my permission to share it like that. Fortunately, I had taken out anything that might have been incriminated someone, or said something derogatory about the people I had coached. It was a very professional e-mail that was spelled correctly and the grammar was correct. It really taught me a lesson. Edit your e-mails before they go out. If I share that story, and I’m teaching about editing e-mail, doesn’t that make the point better than just saying ‘Oh, by the way, you should always go back through your e-mail and read it before you send it?’ It also illustrates how many of these things blend together into “While I’m standing in front of you, why am I teaching you this?”

The next story is the “Values and Action” story.

There’s a story in Annette’s book that involves a man that was giving his children piano lessons and the kids just hated it! I mean, every day they come in, “Mom! We need a break, what are we doing?” Then one day, several months later, the kids all ran to the window and said “Mom! Come look, come look!” The piano was in the yard, being burned.

The dad was standing in front of the piano, and the family was going crazy, as you can well imagine. The father turned around and calmly explained, “I want my children to know, that if it ain’t fun, don’t do it.” This man was making a very startling, memorable lesson for his children. I think that’s a little extreme way to express your values, but, at the same time, how much are you behind your values? People talk about values all the time, but do they really live it? Do they  really do it? That’s the question.

Finally, we have the “I Know What You’re Thinking” story. I think I have an example of this one. In his winning speech, 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren Lacroix, used a story called “Ouch.” In this story, he literally falls. He has a line that says, “Do you fall on your face?” and he literally falls on this face. He’s on the floor, and he actually gives a portion of his speech facedown on the floor. After he gets back up, he asks the audience, “Do you think I was down there too long?” Usually an audience member thinks: “Wow! How does he know that?” The reason he knew that was because he’d practiced and rehearsed this in front of 22 different audiences, he did in fact know what the audience was thinking. So what’s the essence of this particular type of story?

You want to stay one step ahead of your audience. If you do your homework, you should know the group to whom you will be speaking. Then you can say, ‘So you’re probably thinking what is this middle-age woman standing up in front of me going to teach me today?” You’re probably thinking to get ahead of them, say it first before they say it! Then they look at each other, they look at you, and they think, ‘How’d she know that?’ That’s what Darren was doing when he stepped up in front of that group. It’s always interesting when you can be a step ahead of your audience. My caveat to speakers and trainers is to do your homework, know your group.

For example, I gave a speech to a group of federal employees around the beginning of sequestration time. There was a lot of angst and concern with all the budget cuts. I knew that if I didn’t address that, they wouldn’t listen to me. I needed to make sure I put that on the table first. You need to say: ‘I know that you’re thinking. I know that you’re concerned about this thing, some of you may need to leave, answer e-mail during this class, and that’s okay. If I don’t, then they think that I don’t understand them. What audiences want most is for us to understand them.

In Colorado, we had an organization called Rocky Flats. Rocky Flats was a manufacturer that made triggers on nuclear devices. At the time, the US was in the process of ramping down our nuclear program. Employees were typically high school educated people who were making six figure incomes. Once those jobs went away, they were gone forever. I remember the day I came in to give a class on change which management ordered was mandatory for the workers. The moment I walked in there, I knew I had a problem. I also found out through the receptionist that word had gotten out that management was going to get a million dollar bonus if they actually closed the plant ahead of schedule. I could sense the tension, the anger, and the frustration.

I said, I know what you’re thinking, “This sucks.” I told them, “If I was in your shoes I would be really mad and angry too.” I let them know that I had some ideas for what they could do with their next life. I suggested they discuss among themselves if they wanted to hear me talk about that.

We talked about the elephant in the room. As speakers and trainers, we need to walk in and be intuitive in that moment, because you can feel if something bad has happened, like it someone they’ve loved has just been fired. One time, I was giving a speech at a company where a beloved vice president had had a heart attack the week before. Everybody loved this guy and they were all in turmoil about who was going to take his place. He was a father figure to them all. We had to talk about that. We can’t read people’s minds. We can be sensitive to it but ask questions in your pre-programmed questionnaire, find out from your client what’s going on? What’s new? What are people scared of? What are the no-no things to say?

So we’ve talked about the six stories that presenters need to know how to tell, they are “Who I Am,” “Why I Am Here,” “Vision,” “Teaching,” “Values and Action,” and “I Know What You’re Thinking” stories. How can our readers get in touch with you, Christie?

I have a website and people can sign-up for my free newsletter. I would love to hear from any of your readers.

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