December 4, 2008

Behind the scenes of "you"

Martha Stewart regularly invites her TV audience to her home. She has introduced her pet donkeys, dogs, cats and birds, she has taken viewers on tours of her gardens, her desk was photographed for Vanity Fair, and she regularly films updates on new projects, like building a greenhouse.

The audience learns something about her personal life, but not too much. And by knowing something about her outside of her business, they can relate to her better. In fact, viewers come to think of her as a friend, while she still manages to maintain her boundaries as a private person.

Do you invite the audience in? Do you use personal stories during your presentations? If it's appropriate to your topic and to your audience, there's nothing wrong with revealing a little about yourself.

My house fire became the perfect teaching tool in a presentation on storytelling a few months back. I've talked about panic attacks I had after a car accident as a way to illustrate the power of breathing, relaxation and visualization. I've even used one of my cats and her morning feeding routine as a way to introduce the concept of preparation rituals.

A story, as we know, is a highly effective way to convey a message or make a point. Stories help the audience make the connection between your topic and their lives. Stories create mental pictures for the audience. And personal stories, especially, help the audience relate to you as a person.

But I'm not just talking about "telling." You might have heard the phrase, "Show, don't tell," a mantra for writers and actors that expresses the requirement that audiences experience the story through the characters' actions and emotions rather than through narration and descriptions.

Bring a picture (like my cat Kitty, who graces the first slide in my presentation on preparation rituals) or a personal item (I still regret not using my old journals in a keynote where I talked about my teenage new year's resolutions) to engage your audience in the story rather than just telling it. Use emotion and body language in addition to your words.

Invite the audience in. Let them get to know you a little. Give them a peek behind the scenes of "you." You don't have to tell your deep, dark secrets. You can maintain your boundaries while still revealing some of your personal experiences. It's all about connection.

Do you invite your audience in? Share in the comments!

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