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Seven Golden Rules You Can Learn From Aristotle

May 26, 2014 fm

What do Shakespeare plays and Hollywood movies have in common? They both follow – sometimes more, sometimes less – the Seven Golden Rules of Storytelling by Aristotle. You, the public speaker can also learn from Aristotle’s 2,300 year-old wisdom.

For me, the most powerful story is your own personal story. My friend and professional storyteller Peter Zinn points out three reasons why public speakers should tell their personal stories.

1. You know them.
2. Only you know them.
3. Your lessons learned inspire the audience.

Aristotle’s Seven Golden Rules of Storytelling are: plot, character, theme, speech (or dialog), chorus (or music), decor and spectacle.

What from these seven rules can you apply in your own speeches and presentations?

Plot

When, where, what – Describe the major events of the story. Use the five senses. Be descriptive, but use less information than in writing.

  • I grew up in a yellow house with four families next to a highway.
  • The air smelled like sea water.
  • In the distance I heard a jazz band playing in the dark narrow street.
  • 19 years ago I found myself standing in a hot and sweaty Karaoke bar in New Orleans.
  • BOOM! … Then silence.

Character

Who are the protagonists of your story? Focus on looks, character and personality. Be descriptive, but use less information than in writing. With less information you trigger the imagination of your audience. With your speech advancing, you can add more details of the characters.

  • The hyperactive sales guy had a black spot on his nose.
  • The introverted little boy wore a Mickey Mouse shirt.
  • His dark suit made the grumpy business man look even darker.
  • The hyperactive sales guy with that black spot on his nose had a cold.

Theme

A speech with a theme is a better speech, and a story with a theme is a better story. Use themes for your stories: love, wedding, adolescence, business, divorce, childhood, journey, friendship, sports. Also metaphorical themes like dawn, sunset, stars, desert, oasis, treasure hunt or rollercoaster ride.

Dialog

When you write you write for the eyes of the reader. When you speak you speak to the ears of the audience. A great way to speak to the ears is to relive real dialogs with other people. Your facial expressions change; your voice changes. You turn into an actor without being an actor. Dialogs enliven and energize your speech.

My boss, Mr. Wesner, asked me once, ‘Mr. Mueck, do you think we should organize another team event?’ ‘Of, course, Mr. Wesner!’

Music

Aristotle’s Seven are based on the world of theatre. The Ancient Greek liked to use chorus in their plays. This is not so applicable in your speeches. Nevertheless, in my trainings a fragment of singing – e.g. “With or without you” – is always judged positively by the other participants – without a single exception. Don’t sing the full 4m 35s of “My Way” on stage, but dare to throw in “All we need is love”.

Decor

Your business conference or wedding speech stage is not the Metropolitan Opera or the Scala di Milano. But – you also have two ways to add decor to your speeches and presentations:

  1. Full screen images in your slide presentation (e.g. undersea world, rain forest, movie posters, orchestra) and
  2. Holograms created in the minds of your audience using body language and gestures.

Spectacle

Love, betrayal, hatred, tragedy, death – Ancient Greek plays were made for spectacle. As a speaker you too can create spectacle on stage. You too can create “special effects”. Make your body speak much louder. Use much more vocal variety. Use much more intense facial expressions. Appeal much more to the emotions of your audience (pathos). Just make sure no one dies on stage; you’re not Oedipus.

Image source: Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Compfight cc

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