Once Upon A Time…

Once Upon A Time…




If you want to show an audience why they should do something, how they should think about something, or why something has happened, a story is what they will respond to best, and a story is what they will remember long after they’ve applauded you from the stage. But what is a story?

A story is not (to me, anyway) a series of events. When we tell an audience that this happened, and that happened, and then this happened, we are not telling them a story – because they will lose interest, however exciting or dangerous or intriguing the ‘this’ might be.A story IS about character. Why should we care for Snow White if she isn’t virtuous, or her step mother wicked? Why should we love Charlie and not the other children in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’? The characters should always be the driving force of the story.

If things simply ‘happen’ to characters in a story, they become passive and boring. If you look at the story you are telling, your character should be making active decisions and the plot should follow how these decisions impact on the character and the people around them.

An old script writing technique is to cover up the character names on a page. It should still be possible to know which character is speaking each line. And don’t be afraid of making characters BIG: if a character is wily, make them a fox. If they are brave, make them a lion.

This isn’t to say that external events can’t impact on a character – far from it. But how, for example, do you begin to tell a story as big as the Holocaust in a two hour picture? You don’t. You tell the story of Oskar Schindler’s heroism in the face of evil.

So when you are putting together your next speech, look for the story (most speeches have one, and perhaps all speeches should). Is it a ‘real’ story? How can it be brought into focus? Who is the hero, and what is their journey? Above all, give the audience a reason to care.

Ian Hawkins is a writer, speaker coach and stand up comedian. He tweets at both @SillyMrHawkins and @SmartMrHawkins, and his book is available from Amazon. 

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