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Tell Stories That SPARK the Imagination

Speakers tell stories that spark your audiences imaginationYou’re going to judge me. Honestly, I judge me. My embarrassing confession: I’ve read ALL of the Twilight series. You might be wondering how a smart, snarky, sophisticated woman got suckered in to a book about sparkling vampires. The truth is, I blame my brain.

Have you ever been suckered in to a movie that you had no intention of watching? Stayed up into the wee hours of the night reading a book even though you had to get up early the next day? We just couldn’t help ourselves. It’s all our brain’s fault

In the book, Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, Lisa Cron explains the neuroscience behind compelling stories. A story that keeps you up all night indicates that your brain needs the answer to the question “What happens next?”

As a speaker, in order to engage the audience in your speech – you must engage the brain in the “What happens next?” thinking. The quicker you can do this with a story, the more connected your audience will feel to your message. Their brain won’t be able to help itself.

There are 5 components to creating a story that sparks the imagination and will trigger the need-to-know function of the brain. The SPARK formula doesn’t necessarily need to be linear – you just need the 5 components to spark the mind.

S – Setting the scene

You’re brain wants to know the background. Where is the story happening? What’s the context? Writers can spend pages setting up the scene. I tried to read The Hobbit at one point and bailed because I didn’t care to read that much about the shire.

For speakers, you only have a couple of moments to set up the scene of the story. Craig Valentine recommends that you check the VAKS when setting the scene. VAKS stands for:

  • Visual – what do the characters in your story see?
  • Auditory – what do they hear?
  • Kinesthetic – what do they feel?
  • Smell – what smell is hanging in the air?

”Sitting in chemistry class, Catherine smelled sulphur in the air.” “The buzz of her classmates talking ceased when Edward walked in the room. His hatred toward her was palpable.”

What do you see? A chemistry classroom

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What do you hear? The chatter of classmates

What do you feel? Edward’s hatred.

What do you smell? Sulphur.

In 3 sentences, the scene is set. How can you describe a scene in your next speech?

P – People

Your story must have people. For speakers, you need to have a maximum of 2 characters is the story you are telling. Typically, one of these characters is YOU! If you have more than 2 characters, it confuses your audience. Keep it simple even if you have to blend 2 characters into one. Now, some people say this is lying, but really it’s about keeping your story simple.

Let your audience get to know the people in your story. Help them visualize their characteristics. It doesn’t take much. If I tell you my mom wore bunny slippers, your mind is going to fill-in the blank of what she looks like. Will your picture be accurate? Most likely not, but what’s important is I engaged your mind.

In Twilight, Stephanie Meyers admitted that she gave Bella as few descriptive physical characteristics so that girls could see themselves in her. This makes the story sticky.

A – Action

As a speaker, the quicker you can get to the action of the story, the more engrossed your audience. Action in essence is the conflict, obstacle or roadblock in the story. It’s what your main character needs to overcome in order to transform. Let’s take Twilight, the conflict throughout all the books is if Bella is going to stay human or become a vampire for the man she loves.

It’s a teenage fantasy, so I bet you can guess what she chose. However, the path to transformation creates the tension that keeps readers hooked.

R – Resolution

The resolution in a story is how the character is transformed. Bella becomes a vampire. In your speech, how did the conflict or obstacle you overcame change you? How are you better for it?

K – Carry out message

I cheated on this one. I know carry does not start with K, but cut me some slack. The carry-out message is important. It’s related to the BIG IDEA of your presentation. For Twilight, the carry out message is that you should totally change for the man you love (which is a really crappy message).

As you craft your story, be clear on what you want your audience to know, feel or do after they hear your story. What have they learned? How have you transformed them?

Using the SPARK process to make sure you have the five pivotal elements in your next story. Hook your audiences’ brains and you’ll keep them engaged!

What story has completely sucked you in? Leave your answer in the comments!

photo by: { pranav }

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