Don’t Tell The Spoiler, Tell The Story

Stewart Bewley

My brother was watching “Avengers: End Game” when someone stood up, half way through and shouted out the spoiler at the end. People threw popcorn, demanded their money back and their evening was ruined. What did this deeply inconsiderate cinema-goer do? He delivered a spoiler — he ruined the story for everyone and they felt cheated out of their money and thier evening.

Most presentations I work on suffer from the same problem. In the attempt to get to the end too quickly, people deliver spoilers to their audiences — sometimes in the first sentence, sometimes half way through! Nobody throws popcorn and storms out demanding their money back. People just smile politely, keep their cameras turned off and go back to the email they left unfinished. It is the same result, expressed very differently — disappointment and wishing they had not turned up.

How do you NOT do a spoiler?

First of all we have to name the problem — Adrenaline is a thief. It will tell you to get out of the room if a Boa Constrictor enters. It will also tell you to get out of your presentation because it feels the threat level in your body rise when you start to pitch. Adrenaline only recognises the sensation of threat, it can’t tell whether that threat is a snake or a slide deck. If it is a thief it means it has something to steal from you — and that is your story. Stanford say a story is 22 times more memorable than a fact — we all know the power of story in theory but what about practise?

You can’t just squeeze and hope for the best — this is improvisation learnt badly. Some of us squeeze well, some of us squeeze badly. You have to create new habits to keep you on track and then practise those habits until they become possible, and then until they become normal, then until they become so normal they are unconsciously wired into what you do. Yes it takes 6 weeks to embed a habit but it only takes a few moments to create one. I have done this with 10,000 people in 30 countries and quite simply … it works. I have only had 2 of my clients who I couldn’t help — one thought they knew everything there was to know and the other … thought they knew everything there was to know. If you think that, you can stop reading here. Well done. You have gone as far as you can go. For everyone else — read on.

Founders get stuck in the weeds on a daily basis — the fairway of story is missed. Train yourself to have three different ways of starting and your opening swing will go up the fairway in the right way!

1) The “once upon a time start”

Force yourself to tell the story of where this began. “I was sitting in a tapas bar in London in the middle of the financial crisis in 2008 when my co-founder and I came up with a mad idea — let’s start a bank”. So said Marc Osigus, the founder of Hauck & Aufhaeuser. Practise saying your opening line as a Kid’s presenter, practise it in a whisper — download my app (if you’re on apple) or take a look at the web version — but practise this opener until you feel uncomfortable and a bit too loud. Then you are on track.

2) The (real) Headline start

I once heard someone start a talk with “Here are our five values”. He only got through one and I thought we were going to be stuck there forever. I had been given a headline, but also had no sense of hope of ever getting out alive. Give headlines and fulfill them. “There are three things that we need to do before Christmas 2021”. I doesn’t sound very ground breaking but it tells the audience where you are going. Tell your audience where you are going and then go there. In Short sentences.

3) The Metaphor start.

“At the moment it feels like we are driving around the backstreets of Hamburg in a Porsche. We need to get out onto the Autobahn and go at 120 KM per hour”. This was an introduction to a very important piece of legislation. Why did my client start like that? Because the brain is wired for picture, he wanted to wake his sales team up — and they all drive fast cars. They know what it feels like to be trapped, slow, and not able to go at speed. 2/3’s of what we process is picture. Give your people a picture they can understand and feel and they will follow you to the detail — in this case to the sales legislation. But you have to be bold. Again — download the app, use the free resources. They are resources for a reason — we need them to help us beat adrenaline into submission so we can tell the stories we are desperate to.

The only way to train in story is to be playful, to try, to fail, fast, to get up again until you find a flow. You will know you are in the flow because you will feel like you’ve not said enough but also like you’ve just caught the fastest wave and are, to your surprise, surfing in. You shouldn’t be surprised. We are wired for story, we understand our lives in story, we are drawn to people who tell stories, it is in our blood as humans. Try these three techniques, see how it changes the beginning of your story and then message me so I can help you get to the end of your story without delivering a spoiler. The smallest change can make the biggest difference.