How to Speak So Others Will Listen
You’re in a classroom, a giant hall with a bright stage set up at the very bottom and with stairs on two sides leading upwards on a slope, concluding with a door at one extreme corner. You’re in front, surprisingly, since you didn’t want too much attention given to you because you didn’t think you deserved it. But today, on this very exceptional day, you decided to pay attention.
You were not alone of course. You had Tyler beside an empty seat beside you and you had Josie on your left who can’t stop typing word for word what was being said out front. It was Doctor Cooper, and he was enjoying himself (obviously, with that boring look on his face that suggested that he was in the zone and nothing was gonna stop his run of spewing out over-technical information that drew sweat from every student’s ass) with today’s lecture on ‘Testing the Theories and Postulates of Some French Guy Whose Name Was Impossible to Pronounce’. But Doctor Cooper was nailing it. He even delivered a consistent and strong utterance of the nerd guy’s name. That nerd guy’s ideas could be the reason I’m flunking this class.
The Doctor was going about his routine, making a triangular dance formation with the whiteboard where he wrote most of the time just one word by the end of class (making it impossible for the non-listener to have some good notes) and with his table which held his powerful laptop that could make or break everyone’s dreams of passing the class because our grades were in there, and with the white screen which displayed his entire night’s hard work of putting together an attractive PowerPoint in an effort to bring in more listeners (it did the opposite).
The Doctor was having so much fun with his lecture, but upon inspection of the weary faces, whisper-talkers and keyboard-fondlers, he realized that maybe his lecture was only fun for himself. He realized that maybe today’s lesson had to be taught differently. So in the middle of equating two sides of an equation with more plus and minus signs and weird Greek letters than a Mathematics Book specifically for Greek people, he decided to shut his mouth. He fell silent. And everyone began to, as well.
The laptop-corders were waiting for the next word to be uttered or for a next line of the equation to be written. The whisper-talkers finally stopped looking on their side and stared out front as if their family names were called out to answer a question. The weary faces suddenly raised themselves to an elevation of one inch and straightened their posture. And me, well I was waiting too and I put my pen down without even finishing the last line on the board, and I crossed my arms waiting for a story to be told.
And there, Doctor Cooper started a lecture that everyone listened to – a lecture that brought out emotion from the souls that were gathered in that hall. The hall was beginning to disappear into something else – it was starting to look like a theater.
A story was being told.
Who knows the exact relation of that narrative was to the lesson he planned the other night, but I’m sure everyone remembers that story today – and because of that story everyone in that room had an analogy to grasp during the final exams of Doctor Cooper’s class.
And Doctor Cooper, at that moment when he started his fascinating story lived by his near-human characters, was no longer the Doctor everyone was afraid of. Because of that story, the front row seats sold out like they did during the NBA Finals. After that day, I had to come extra early to own my spot and let everyone know that my seat had a name to it.
Doctor Cooper became a prophet, a patriarch, a guy from the Bible who told parables and multiplied his followers like a cult phenomenon. When he told his story, everyone listened. Like all stories there was a beginning, a middle, and an end. He carried us through his story, and with every surprising line that made us think of the comedic tragedy of one character, there were inevitable laughs. He made us know the characters in that story and he made us feel that every character had a purpose in that story. More importantly, he was teaching a lesson while having fun himself – and making everyone else join in the fun.
The word-for-word typers closed the lid on their computers and gave their full, unadulterated attention. The whisper-talkers stopped whisper-talking. The weary faces transformed into faces of emotion. And me, I felt as though I was the guy in the story. I felt as though I was the one learning what was to be learned and feeling what was to be felt.
There were peaks and troughs in Doctor Cooper’s story, but he ended it on a smooth downhill path. He wanted the story to die down like a forgotten potted plant in someone’s living room. The leaves slowly and inevitably dying, and the living creature which was the story meets its destined end but without failing to give its purpose – to exhibit life.
The theater-lecture hall became quiet after that story, and Doctor Cooper closed his heavy textbook with a loud sound. He switched the hanging projector off to say goodbye to his unused PowerPoint, and to everyone’s surprise he took two whiteboard erasers from the compartment on his table and washed the board of any signs that there was someone making confusing art on it.
Everyone in the room felt betrayed by this act – how could Dr. Cooper wipe out everything we came for? Now we can’t study for the Finals. Now we can’t add those few important lines to our thesis.
But before anyone could ask any question Dr Cooper said, “If you listened to my story today, then you’ve leaned today’s lesson. It’s the only part of my lecture you’ll remember for the rest of your life anyway. What use are some equations and formulas that you can’t grab out of the bag of knowledge in your head when you need them?”
I never imagined today’s lesson would go this direction. Don’t you ever wonder why, when your teachers or lecturers suddenly tell a narrative, be it a past experience or something they read or a movie they watched last night, that everybody really starts to listen?
Stories fascinate us. We were all designed to listen to stories.
“But seriously, I’ll email you some important notes and problems you can work on to prepare for the exams. Don’t escape the technicality of all of this. My story may have been fun, but you have to learn to enjoy the boring stuff that goes on in order to realize that none of this stuff is boring at all because at every line of equation, a story is being told,” added Doctor Cooper.
The Story is the Hook
This is a shout out to not only every teacher or lecturer, but to every public speaker. If you want your audience to listen to you, give them a story. The story is the hook. You can even integrate your key points into the story. You can even make them learn so many facts by simply using people in the story to carry those facts. Lectures don’t need to be boring. Speeches don’t need to be blow-by-blows of anecdotes and achievements by the numbers. Report presentations don’t need to follow a format without a story in mind.
Take advantage of the design of the human mind. It was built to store stories into its unlimited hard drive. Remember your favorite birthday celebration? Remember your first kiss? Remember the time you made disastrous and unfortunate decisions that led to the most hilarious day of your entire life? I damn bet you do.
We will continue to love stories, and this is too obvious because, otherwise the film industry will go bankrupt. Even the adult film industry incorporates better stories nowadays. The fiction shelf will always be filled with best-sellers. Magazines will not only continue to compile flashy pictures, but balance them out with flashy stories as well. Newspapers will continue to sell, whether in hard form or on a screen. The News will continue to be showed on a daily (if not secondly) basis. It’s in our blood. It’s in our genes. We just love them stories.
I hope you weren’t bored with my own little version of a story. This was meant to be an article, and now I feel like it’s just another story anyone can write. But then, I don’t think there’s a difference anymore between a story and an article. Because like a story, an article has a beginning, has a middle, and has an end. And as much as I love to put more words and ideas to your impressionable mind – I have to give this story justice. I have to be brave and bold enough to say that this flower, I have to leave in the dark forever and somehow forget to water its leaves. I have to accept that its leaves will die out and wilt and become what it was it came from – nothing.