2009
07.08

Magic Johnson Teaches How to Tell A Story

Sometimes there are surprise moments when some rather public storytelling skills are demonstrated very well.

It is common to see public figures fail at storytelling. However, at the Michael Jackson Memorial service, entrepreneur and former professional basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson demonstrated a command of and elegance to his story. Although many speakers spoke at “MJ’s” funeral, Magic’s few moments stand out.

Here are 4 things that anyone who wants to use storytelling can learn from Magic’s story.

1. His story was brief. I am sure that Mr. Johnson may have had more to say, but he cut through the extraneous details and went directly to his point, taking the audience with him as he experienced the wonder he felt as Michael Jackson ate KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) with him one night many years ago. Ironic as it may sound, the purpose of being a storyteller is not to talk words but rather to communicate ideas.

2. It was a story told in the “voice of the people.” I have watched and commented on many public speakers, especially politicians, who try to speak “to the people.” In the Jackson memorial, Magic Johnson used an important storytelling technique: talk so people understand. His words were simple. His illustrations were accessible to all as he talked about family gatherings, dinners, playing games with family, celebrity-meeting nerves and eventually, something as simple as a fast-food icon: a bucket of chicken.

As a pro-basketball star, Magic could have easily made sports references. However, no sports reference would speak to such a wide range of listeners as his family references did. Choosing to speak to your audience so they understand rather than using self-serving references is a sign of a mature and effective speaker.

3. In his story, he laughed at himself. Magic’s story was not to tell people how wonderful he was but rather to share how wonderful he thought Michael Jackson was. A good storyteller can reflect the focus on the story and the subject of the story.

4. His story was actually a story. It contained a beginning, a middle and an end. Magic did not tell an anecdote: “I once sat on Michael Jackson’s carpet and ate KFC with him. Wasn’t that cool?” Rather, he placed his story in the context of a developing relationship with the family and the invitation to dinner. Without being sappy or manipulative, he shared his own feelings about the invite and his surprise to discover his idol ate “real food” like everyone else.

His story supported this expression of hope for the future. At the end of his comments, when he referred to Michael’s children having family support, you knew his point of reference to make such a statement.

Although in the past Magic has been critiqued for his speaking style, his presentation at the MJ funeral was a good example for any speaker striving to improve their storytelling skills for business or personal use.

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Sean Buvala is a public speaking coach who specializes in helping you tell your core story in all situations. For free Email lessons, please see www.storytelling101.com .



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