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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E118. How to Write A Great Keynote Speech (BONUS: Listen to one of my recent talks in full!)

Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.

Francisco Mahfuz  0:00

It's a few weeks ago, and I'm in the bus with my six year old daughter, Alice. And she looks up at me and says, Popeye, now that the climate is changing, is the world going to explode? And we're all gonna die. No, baby. That's not how climate change works at all. So we're not gonna die them. Well, I mean, one day, we're gonna die, even everybody dies someday. Why? Well, it's weird, because when we get really, really old, our body stops working so well, when people eventually die. So we can only die when I'm really old. Well, probably, but I mean, I guess you could get really sick. Or maybe you have a really bad accident. So what you're saying is that I could die right now. Yes, but only if you keep asking me more questions. Maybe you're not a parent of a small kid who asks annoyingly difficult questions. But if you have to present, you know that explaining complicated subjects is complicated, even to grownups. But when our communication is not as effective as it needs to be, sales don't close, people don't feel engaged. It's really hard to inspire action, in our best ideas go nowhere. So today, I'm going to talk to you about why that happens, how storytelling can help you fix it. And I want to give you some really practical tools that you can start putting to work tomorrow. Well, tomorrow is Saturday, and Monday is a holiday. So on Tuesday, you can definitely start putting this to work on Tuesday. So why is it that explaining complex subjects is so hard? Now I believe that happens because of three main problems. In the first problem reminds me of a really old movie from 2001 called Kate and Leopold, as it some of you remember that one that makes seven of us yay. Now Caitlin Leopold does a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, for most young people known as the Wolverine. And in that movie, Hugh Jackman plays Duke Leopold, a Victorian inventor that time travels to present the New York. Now, you would think that because you know, England, 200 years ago was very different than now, he would have a lot of trouble understanding modern technology. But actually, that's not what happens. And if you think about it, that kind of makes sense. Because a car is just like a horseless carriage. And a skyscraper is just a very tall building. And even something as revolutionary as a mobile phone is a machine for two people to talk at a distance. So just like a personal telegraph, it's a way a place to read your news, just like a very small newspaper. It's also a way to waste many hours and make your life worse, which I guess is the modern day version of what smoking opium was back in his time. Now, if he had been a caveman, instead, he wouldn't have understood any of those things, not because he would have been less intelligent, but simply because he wouldn't have been able to relate them to anything he already knew. Because complex subjects are very rarely brand new things where they are instead, our smaller pre existing ideas built on top of each other, or at least connected to each other in ways that we haven't seen before. So that is the first problem of complex subjects, they are often too big to be relatable. Now, the second problem happens, because when communicating ideas of a complex nature, our syntax and vernacular, are not optimised for the peer to peer transfer of knowledge in an agile manner. In other words, language gets in the way. Because often when talking about difficult things, our language gets very technical and full of jargon. And that can be okay, sometimes, but only if your audience shares the exact same context and background that should do in assuming that. I could say a bad word here, but Margaret has already done that joke. So assuming that is what people call the curse of knowledge is this difficulty a lot of people have of not realising that just because we know something that doesn't mean our audience knows it, too. Now, the third problem is that maybe people can understand what you're trying to explain to them, but they won't remember it. When that happens, because most of our communication is very information based, it's very full of facts. And there is a problem with the way our brains deal with facts. Now, I could tell you what that problem is. But I'll rather just show you. And for that, I'm going to need some help me now. Can you please come up here? A round of applause for me? And again? All right, can you just stand up here, please? And if you'd be so kind, put your hand out like that. Oh, God, don't worry about anything too funny. The problem is facts is that facts are like ice cubes, called, they are cool. They're shiny, they have a very clear shape to them. But they are slippery. And they can be a little uncomfortable to hold on to, particularly if it's more than one. So run another one. I think you're gonna need two hands for that. Another one. And another one. No, I just have all of them. Yeah.

Francisco Mahfuz  6:06

I guess I should have thought this through a little better. Now, with the best we've in the world, even if she wants to hold on to them, she just can't, sooner or later, they're going to melt in those lip right out of her hands. So we already lost some statistics here, some abstract theory over there. Now, can you just please dump them over here? Thank you very much. Thank you. And that is exactly what happens to facts, or at least to most facts in our brains. And I now Boris is now breathing a sigh of relief because I managed to do this without knocking out the electrics for the whole conference. So these are the three problems of complex subjects. They are too big to be relatable. The language we use to explain them is very technical and full of jargon. And they're not very memorable. So how does storytelling fix that? Well, it's useful to understand first of all, what a story actually is. Because in fiction, a story can be many things. But when it comes to business representations, or story, something very simple. A story is a real life example, that makes a point. That's it, a real life example that makes a point, something that happened to somebody somewhere some time, and you using that to make your point, because they are examples. They're small, because they come from real life, they should be relatable. And that helps fix the first problem. When we tell stories, the language we use, it's a lot closer to the language we use in our everyday lives, it is really hard for technical terms and jargon to sneak in there, which helps fix the second problem. And finally, if facts are like ice cubes, a story is like an ice tray. It's a mental structure to keep all your facts in place. And even if they get a little melted over time, you can still tell what they used to look like, and where which one of them goes. Now, I could prove this to you by sharing some really boring research from Stanford that found that stories can be 1,160% more memorable than other forms of information. But I don't think I have to because you probably have a favourite movie. And even though you haven't watched that movie in 10 or 20 years, I'm willing to bet that you could still tell me what that movie was about who the main characters were some of your favourite scenes, maybe even some of the dialogue. But I know you couldn't remember anywhere near as much from a business meeting you had last week. So that's how storytelling can help. Because stories are small enough to be relatable, they're told with simpler language, and they are memorable. Alright, I told you, I was gonna give you some practical stuff. So let's get to the practical stuff. I'm going to talk to you about three approaches that you can use. And for that we're going to need an idea or subject, right. So the one I'm going to use is the struggle. Most organisations and individuals have to allocate the resources to deciding, you know, what's worth spending time and money and energy on which tasks should be done, which ones shouldn't, who should do them what should be delegated? So that's the the idea that we will try to explain the first approach is to tell a story about it. So a story about the issue you're trying to explain from the same context. So this is a business idea. So we're going to tell a business story. And here's one JC McCormick is the CEO of scribe media, which is a publishing company based in Austin in the US. And when he just started his leadership journey, he was very keen and hungry. He wanted to do everything well in in one of the first quarters of his time as CEO Yo, the numbers didn't add up. They did the accounts. And they were short by 38 cents of $1, which is a bit less than one Bulgarian left. But he got his team together. And he said, attention to detail is really important. If we let the small things live, we're gonna let the big things slide. So we're going to get to the bottom of this. And he got his CFO and his VP of operation into a room, and they looked for those 38 cents. And they looked and they looked and they couldn't find them. And they looked somewhere, and they looked somewhere. And at about nine in the evening, they finally found the money. So he was really happy. He was proud. He congratulated his co workers, and his CFOs, who had been in the industry quite a bit longer than him said, JC. I mean, he's really good. We got them found the money, but I just wanted to check, you know what my salary is? Right? Like, yes, you know, a better salary is right. Yes. I guess you know what your salary is, right? Yes. Well, we've just spent six hours in this room to find 38 cents, but how much have we just cost the company? And that was when JC first learned that just because he can do something? It doesn't mean he should? So that's a story about it? Where can you find stories about it? The easiest way I know is to look for a human being that is actually being affected by the issue you want to discuss. And that shouldn't be happening. Because if no person is affected by it, it's just a theoretical idea. And why are we bothering talking about it. So who are these human beings going to be maybe it's you, maybe it's a co worker, maybe it's a customer or client, maybe it's someone from another company, but in the same industry of yours. So look, for a person whose life is being made better or worse by this idea you want to explain. And that's where you find a story about it. Now, you should be obvious enough to say that no one story is going to explain the whole com concept. But this is one of the building blocks you use to explain it to your audience. The second approach is to tell a story like it. So a story about something very close to the issue trying to discuss from a different context. So the first one was a business story, the second one would typically be a personal one. And here's one of mine. And it's a few years ago, my wife, Patricia and I have just moved to a new flat. So we go to Ikea, we buy a whole bunch of stuff. And then she turns to me and says, Francisco, we were going to pay the extra 200 euros, or 400 Live to have the delivery guys put all the furniture together, right? And I go, there's no way I'm doing that. I'm just gonna do it myself. It's gonna be fun. So that's what I'm doing. And I've already put together a bookshelf and a small sofa, and some table and chairs for the garden. And the only thing I have left is this huge wardrobe for my wife. Now this thing has three sliding mirror doors in the IKEA manual actually says that you need two people to put it together. But I'm up for a challenge. So I put on some Beyonce. I get my game face on. And I get started in it's taking a bit longer than I thought it would. And it's a little harder, but it's going okay until one of the mirrors and this thing was taller than me falls over in by some miracle. I managed to catch it with my foot just before it explodes all over the room. But I get it done. And I call my wife to see my work. And I was like, look how it fits perfectly against the wall. And how the walls the doors light is out of H inches are very impressive. And then she opens the wardrobe and goes quiet for a moment. It just says Francisco, do you know that when you when you build a wardrobe, you put out a nice looking bits out? Yeah, that's exactly what I've done. You put all the nice looking bits out with the exception of the one in the back that one faces in in the ugly cardboard Bay it is against the wall. So you don't have to see it every time you open the wardrobe. And then I go quiet. And I say listen, this monstrosity has just taken eight hours of my life and it almost killed me that bit in the back there 120 nails. There is no way I'm doing this again. So get used to it. This is your wardrobe now. And for the next three years, I had to hear her complain about how I ruined her wardrobe. Because I was too cheap to spend 200 euros and that's when I finally understood the IKEA occurs. Just because I can do something doesn't mean I should do it. So that's, that's a story. My wife wouldn't be applauding right now.

Francisco Mahfuz  15:07

That's that's a story like it. How do you find stories like it? Well, the way I teach all my clients to do it is to think about first, last, worst, best. So when was the first time you came across something like this, when was the last time when was the worst, maybe the one that cause you more problems, this was mine. When was the best maybe when you finally learned it, or at least something that was funny or interesting. So if you ask yourself, first, last worst, best about anything you're trying to present, I'm sure that at least one experience like it is going to come into your mind. Now the third and final approach is not another type of story is just a symbol. And like most things, this is better explained through an example. I teach communications at an MBA in Barcelona. And last year, at one of the storytelling classes, one of the students share the story about how when he was in Brazil, on a beach, and then a penguin came out of the water. And everybody was really concerned because he was really hot penguins shouldn't be there. But before they could do anything, the penguin sort of just looked around, waddled back into the water and swam away. In when it came to feedback, I look at female I say, you need to make the penguins suffer. And half of the students laughed, and half of them looked at me like I was some sort of psychopath. And I explained as a listener story needs conflict. And it's a problem. If you get solved too quickly, it's not going to work the way you want it in, they all got it. And for the rest of that course, every time I said the pain we need to surfer or that penguin hasn't suffered enough for that thing we really suffered. They understood immediately what I meant. So that approach is great because you have all the benefits of a story. But you can do it in three seconds. And you don't need to repeat a story that that particular audience has already heard from you. So in the examples I gave earlier for the JC McCormick story, what will be the symbol 38 cents? What will be the symbol for the IKEA story? Maybe the IKEA curse, or you know saving 200 euros at IKEA? Do you need to tell a story to use the symbol? No. You can also use metaphors, analogies, similes, so figures of speech that pack a whole bunch of meaning by comparing them or referencing something else your audience is familiar with. And I've been doing that throughout this whole talk. I said the car is a horseless carriage. A skyscraper is just a very tall building. A mobile phone is a personal telegraph, a small newspaper and a pocket opium them factor like ice cubes or stories like an ice tray. So you can do that and just use a symbol like that. And where would you find those? Well use your imagination, you can go to Google or now that shut up T is all the rage, the prompt you use is what is a good metaphor or analogy for. And then you put down the complex idea of trying to explain. So those are the three approaches, you tell a story about it from the same context, and you look for a person being affected by the issue. You tell a story like it from a different context. And you think about first last worst best to find those experiences, or you just share a symbol, either from a story already told, or from a metaphor, an analogy or a simile, and you find those online or in your head. And that is how you use storytelling to make complex subjects easier to understand. Now, I think we have time for a few questions. We know we

Speaker 1  18:40

have time for one, maybe two questions who's feeling bold? And if we can get one from online, that would be amazing. I want our virtual participants to feel equally as engaged. But let's go ahead and get one from the audience. Does anyone have a question? I think your storytelling was so effective that I think you just fully just like made them feel super clear. I have to say that I'm going to in my workshops use this as a story specifically with that ice tray analogy. Because it was so effective. I think that was a really, really effective effective tool. All right. So let's see. Here's a great question. So from Eva, other simple tips that you could give managers and leads SMEs on how to simplify the tech info for non tech people that they leave very relevant question right now, what do you say?

Francisco Mahfuz  19:31

So the answer to that is something I mentioned earlier, which is find the human because whatever you're talking about, it needs to manifest itself somewhere down the line into an effect on a person. Maybe this is the people you work with. They're getting into trouble because of a tech issue. Maybe it's the customers that there's some how a person is being affected by this thing you want to talk about. So keep looking until you find the person and when you find that we can relate To the problem, and then it's a lot easier to understand why the solution needs to exist or why it matters. So find the person, because that is the one that the non tech people in your audience will relate to, in the tech people should be able to relate to because they should know what all these things do. Or don't.

Event Host  20:17

Yeah, perfect, great answer. I love that. Yeah. Speak to the human. Human. Thank you so much for this talk.

Francisco Mahfuz  20:25

Just just before I'm out. Yeah, I know. I know. I know. Just before I'm out, don't kill me. I just wanted to share, okay, one conversation with my daughter that wasn't annoying or painful. And this happened a few months ago, we were having breakfast at home. She looked out the window and said, a pie. Look, the new building across the road is almost ready. And I said, Why do you care? And she said, well, because when the pupil the new people move in there, they're gonna be super happy, right? And I was like, I think so. But what makes you say that? And she looked at me and said, because it's a new building in new buildings are for homeless people, right? The world my daughter lives in is a better world. But that's not the real world. At least not yet. If you ever wanted to be, the way you make that happen, is through the big ideas you share and the small stories you tell. Thank you very much. Fantastic.

I hope you enjoyed the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find the show. Then scroll down a little and when you see the stars tap, I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website

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