Storytelling & Your Presentation: Why & How to Find A Hero

Find a hero for the story you tell in your speech or presentation. Sometimes heroes are unlikely, as the character of a reluctant King George VI, as portrayed by Colin Firth in The King's Speech.
Find a hero for the story you tell in your speech or presentation. Sometimes heroes are unlikely, as the character of reluctant King George VI, portrayed by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech.

Do you captivate your audience with captivating characters in your presentations?

The late comedy impresario John Cantu knew that speakers must not be the heroes of all their stories. Once, we sat down together to deconstruct one of his speeches and found 62 different people mentioned! Learn from great books, plays, and films. Fill your speech with exciting characters, real and imaginary.

What does Hollywood do to make characters even more alive? In Analyze This, Robert De Niro is a mob boss who orders people killed. Yet, by the end of the movie, he is sentenced to only 18 months in prison. Why? Because he is likeable. How can you like a killer? Because Hollywood builds in the likeability factor. The audience ends up pulling for him, despite his flaws. This is true of almost all bad boy antiheroes, from Bogart to rap stars. In The King’s Speech, the lead character played by Colin Firth, is the future King George VI, someone we can rarely relate to as a monarch who is technically rich and powerful. Yet, we are shown the enormous vulnerability of the reluctant royal and rejoice at his personal triumph and bravery. We like him!

If Hollywood techniques can make audiences like a vicious killer and a remote King, surely the same techniques can get them on your side too. Build this likeability into your characters. Start by identifying the values, needs, and wants of your audience. Then tell them about characters who share those characteristics.

My audience at the Governor’s Conference for the State of Maryland was made up of government employees. Like their counterparts in corporate America, many were feeling underappreciated. “The best thing about performance excellence on the job,” I said, “is that you take it home, and it affects your family life.

“One of my friends is an everyday hero like you.” And I told them about Bobby Lewis, a proud father who took his two boys to play miniature golf. “How much?” he asked the ticket taker.

“That’ll be $3 for adults and for any kid older than six. Free for kids younger than six.”

“Well, Mikey is three and Jimmy is seven, so here’s $6.”

“Hey, Mister,” the attendant sneered. “You like throwing your money away? You could have told me the big one was only six. I wouldn’t have known the difference.”

“Yes,” Bobby replied, “but my children would have known the difference.”

And the 2000 people in that audience broke into spontaneous applause. Why? Because that simple story told with dialogue and a dramatic lesson represented their values: that it’s not what you say you believe that counts. It’s what you model, encourage, reward, and let happen. Did I know they were going to applaud? No. Did I wait and let them enjoy it? Yes.

Here’s a homework assignment: Count how many characters appear in your speeches. They are the factors that make a Hollywood production, flesh and blood personalities that the audience can relate to.

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More to Help You Find a Hero & Tell Better Stories in Your Presentations

A few of the many complimentary resources on on to help you use stories and characters to add power to your presentations and speeches more:

Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with those who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.