Have you ever seen an action film with a hero who saved the day?
Chances are the hero had a person or a group of people who depended on him or her to make it through a tough situation. Fighting the good fight together, they made it through, and everyone was happy.
Sure, it’s corny at times, but this sort of story is also very engaging. That’s why we see it played out over and over again on movie screens.
But can you imagine a story where the hero did nothing except save themself? After a few minutes of tolerating the story, we’d soon grow bored. Soon we might resent the hero for their ego-centric behavior.
Often when I am listening to a speech, I hear this very same theme played out again and again.
“Let me tell you how I overcame my own struggles all by myself”
“Here’s the story of when I became a big success”
“This is a lesson I learned myself, that I want to teach you.”
None of these sound the least bit interesting or appealing. In fact, they probably make you want to punch the person who is saying it.
I first learned this important speaking tip years ago from World Champion of Public Speaking Mark Brown. He said that it is a huge mistake to try to be the hero of your own story.
This theme is also a big part of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ by Joseph Campbell. In each mythical tale, the character meets someone who teaches them the way to overcome their greatest challenges.
If you are telling a story about yourself, it is far better to be the person who is struggling. In your stories, you should ideally be the person who finds a mentor, a guide, a hero who teaches you how to succeed. It is ok if you do succeed after the struggle, but it must be because of something somebody else taught you.
In this way, you teach the audience through simulation. They experience the struggle with you, and they become engaged. If you are able to solve all your own problems, you lose reliability.
Let’s face it: nobody succeeds without help, so trying to tell stories like you do is just lying. The audience will resent anyone who tries to act like they are ‘self-made’ and they will tune out.
But by being the humble bumbling student, who fails, then meets a mentor, and then succeeds, you suddenly become extra engaging.