March 17, 2009

What's your story?

Last week's challenge to the men on "From Gs to Gents" was to present skits on drug abuse and gang violence to inner-city middle school students as part of their lesson on giving back to the community.

Both skits are entertaining, the first one receiving more laughs than the second, but where the true success of the exercise comes out is during Q&A.

The first group handles questions awkwardly, realizing that the students have not fully grasped the message of the skit. To make things worse, one group member tells the kids that, if they do drugs, he'll come after them.

During the second group's question period, a student asks if anyone in the group has ever been in a gang. Blue, the leader of the group and former gang member (who had attended this same middle school), takes the question.

He tells a story about sitting at the bus stop with his mother and sister, when a car pulls up and the gang member inside points a gun out the window. Blue's mother steps in front of the gun and starts praying out loud, and in that moment, Blue realizes the danger to his family from his gang involvement, and starts on his path to change.

Blue begins to cry as he tells the story, and his tears clearly move the students. They give a standing ovation.

When it comes time for the students to vote on which skit was better, the students choose Blue's group. Maybe because the skit was actually better, but more likely because the students connect with Blue's story, witness his pain, and empathize with him and his situation. His personal story enhances the skit's message about the dangers of gang involvement.

Audiences resonate with stories, but your own personal stories are the best way to make a human connection. As fellow coach Joey Asher mentions in this post, in reference to research about what makes people fall in love, "The more you reveal about yourself during a presentation, the more the audience will like you."

Make sure your stories are appropriate to the group, don't go on forever, and do indeed tie in with your main point. You don't want to overwhelm them with emotion or embarrass them with too much personal detail. But you do want to share honestly the aspects of your life that make sense with your topic in this place and time with this audience.

What stories do you tell to connect with your audience?

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