I am a big fan of the CBS series, NCIS.  My family recently purchased the DVD set of Year 1 and it included special features about the show.  For those of you not familiar with the series, it chronicles the adventures of a team from the Naval Criminal Investigation Service based in Washington D.C.  The show stars Mark Harmon and is in its 6th season as a huge hit.

I always enjoy watching the special features. I enjoy learning what happens in the background to make shows or movies successful.  In NCIS, creator Donald Bellisario discussed at great length why the show has been a huge success.  Just like in his former work with Magnum P.I. and Jag, Bellisario felt that the show needed to be “character driven” instead of plot driven.  He knew that audiences identify with characters first and foremost.  Characters must create some sort of emotion, from love to hate, to evoke interest from the audience.  In NCIS, the protagonists are all likeable with their own small quirks and flaws.  They are real.  Think of your favorite television shows.  Regardless of the genre, comedy, drama, mystery, etc., the characters are really what keep you involved, interested, and coming back for more.

Think about your speeches or presentations.  Do you develop that kind of strong characters in your stories?  If not, you are missing a golden opportunity to influence your audience, and perhaps worse, bore the heck out of them!

The development of your characters doesn’t have to take a long time.  However, your audience must be able to see them, hear them, like them, or relate to them.  Here are four tips to help bring your characters to life:

1.    Give them a name.  It doesn’t have to be a real name.  You might shorten a name to Mr. T or even maybe more powerful, a brand.  I’ve used a brand name in one of my speeches, calling a character “Angry Dad” in a story from my coaching days.  Just using the brand gives you a partial visual of this character.
2.    Help your audience see.  Does your character have brown or blonde hair?  Are they short or tall?  Walk fast or with a limp?  You get the idea.  It can be a one or two word description as part of a sentence, but this still helps us visualize.
3.    Help your audience hear.  Does your character have an accent; a lisp; speak quietly; or loudly? Again, it doesn’t take much to sneak in clues.  Heck, in this one you can even model the sound for your audience by copying it during dialogue.
4.    Give them the best lines.  Make sure you include your characters in dialogue and give them the best and funniest lines.  Your audience will come to love them and your story.

Television shows like NCIS are no different than you writing a speech.  A successful TV show and a speech must both have a strong open and close, an intriguing plot or message, and must effectively use characters to keep the audience engaged.

NCIS is character driven.  Is your next speech?

© 2009 Dan Weedin – All Rights Reserved


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