My previous post’s theme was how to tell a story in two parts, rather than all at once. To help you experience the story that way, I presented Part I of my “Oprah Story” in my last post and will present Part II in this post. Also, last time I told you what kinds of stories work well in a 2 or even 3-part format. This time I want to emphasize that if you make your audience wait to hear the ending, make sure they feel like the wait was worth it.
For a quick review, here’s the first part again…
One of the most thrilling and terrifying moments of my life was when I was interviewed on Oprah. My publisher, Harper Perennial, had lined up media appearances for my book tour. An appearance on Oprah was a coup for them and a chance to sell a lot of books. It didn’t matter that I was a clinical social worker who had never been on a national talk show. I guess they figured that with three hours of media coaching and a camera-friendly outfit, I would be ready for prime time.
After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Part II: I tell this part of the story during the last 10 minutes of my talk, just before I tie all my points together.
Imagine you are sitting three feet from Oprah. She is looking right at you asking a question. Are you fully present or are you having an out-of-body experience? Is your inner voice offering calm affirmations or is it screaming, “Oh, my God! I’m talking to Oprah!!!” It took everything I had to stay in my body, remember to breathe, and restrain my crazed-inner-Oprah fan, who tried to escape several times during my 17-minute interview.
The producers warned me that Oprah might not follow the script and often veered off topic. I listened closely and prayed that what came out of my mouth would make sense. So far, so good. Oprah kept asking questions and I kept having the answers to them. She didn’t throw me any curve balls. Then she asked me a question that made me think of something funny, which I shared…out loud. Suddenly there was laughter, then applause. Even Oprah liked it! I thought, “This is a great sign! I must be nailing this interview! I’m going to sell a boatload of books!”
And within a second of having those thoughts, this popped up on the monitor: Jan Lunquist, Sex Educator. Jan Lunquist, Sex Educator?!
What’s her name doing under my face?!
As you might guess, after the show there were a lot of unhappy people–Oprah’s producers, the PR people at Harper, and me. And book sales? They went “Kersplatt!” instead of “Kaching!” And all I could think about was that if my name had been Jan Lunquist, I would have sold a boatload of books that day.
Talking about being on Oprah doesn’t bring me closer to the audience. But sharing the truth about my experience does. Audiences enjoy and remember this story because we have a shared emotional experience. They feel like they are on stage with me and something terrible is about to happen. Then, when they see the photo of my face with Jan Lunquist’s name below it, they let out a collective gasp.
The story lends itself to making several points. For example, because most people assumed I would be the one to make a mistake, not the Oprah show, this is a good opportunity to discuss how we make judgments about people, based on very little information. In this case, the audience didn’t know that I had performed in musical theater and knew how to get a laugh.
I can tie the story to other themes, too, such as keeping your perspective when things go wrong or you are disappointed. The points I raise depend on the audience, the meeting theme, and my goal for that particular presentation. Because everyone likes a happy ending, I close with, “After everything that happened, three unexpected and wonderful things came out of this rather humbling experience. One, the Oprah show fixed the graphic. They put my name beneath my face and then re-aired the segment a few months later, which boosted my book sales. Two, my interview was included in their “Best of Oprah” show that year. And three, they invited me back.”