Singer Songwriter & Vocal Coach, Lizanne Hennessey - Voice Coach


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What makes you care?

In his talk, 'The Clues to a Good Story', Andrew Stanton suggests that, when we hear a story, we subconsciously want to 'work for our meal', that we want to deduce, be provoked, be stimulated like in real life. From his experience, a good story begins with is a promise that it'll be worth your time, and the ingredients are anticipation, uncertainty, and infusing the gift of wonder.

He quotes:
"There isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love, once you've heard their story."

What makes you care? The story itself, or how it's told?

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    May 20 2013: The nature of my work means that I have the very genuine honour and privilege of hearing personal stories that sometimes have been 'locked up' inside - often for years, or even lifetimes. Those hitherto locked-up stories that have shaped the person sitting in front of me, are often so powerful as to induce a profound empathic reaction in me - such that I feel I have almost lived that story myself.

    What makes me care, is an understanding of their experience via my own lived experience. If there is any similarity or match in emotional reaction to such experiences, the more powerful the story seems to me. That power is increased a thousandfold if the person has never related the story to anyone else before, because of its raw, visceral nature. Seldom has such a story been modified by the intellect to be told as a story 'by rote'.

    That's not to say relating stories by rote are 'flat' by comparison. They can also be powerful if the listener can perceive that the emotion attached to it is still genuinely felt.
    • May 21 2013: Wonderfully said, Allan. You are fortunate indeed, to be in a position to hear such moving stories! And the storytellers are just as fortunate they have you as a listener!

      You've made an important point about the role of the listener - perhaps consciously? A storyteller with an attentive listener may tell a more engaging story, than one who feels no one is listening...
  • May 19 2013: Your ability to be empathetic makes you care. I think this ability is something that is developed early in life and nurtured by the love and understanding of good parenting and a happy childhood family life. You need to understand your own feelings, be understanding of the feelings of others, and be cognizant of how what you say or write nurtures or challenges these feelings in your audience.

    Relative to a good story, the author needs to develop characters that solicit a reader's empathy. These characters need to either be defined by description or action such that the reader associates with them and can put them in the context of their world. The success of an author in creating this association determines a reader's emotional commitment to a storyline and sets the boundaries for the level of drama, suspense, passion, or similar literary tone that a reader is willing to accept.

    There are many tools for an author to use to develop these associations, such as setting, plots, or special character attributes. However, I think the most powerful way to gain adherence to the strength and credibility of a character is to control how they interact with other characters. Somehow it is these interactions that bring the characters to life and allow them to leap from the pages and sculpt animated visions in the gray matter between our ears. The other tools just add color and sharpen the images.
    • May 20 2013: Robert, I agree completely.
      Even a villain can appeal to our empathy, some of the best characters are those you 'love to hate', or vice versa!

      Who we are, is how we respond, and how characters interact with each other should be no different.
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    May 19 2013: How it is told is part of the story.
    • May 20 2013: True, Fritzie!
      I think when we tell a story, or read to our kids, or tell a joke, we utilize our voices with pitch, dynamic, tempo... There's actually a term for that! It's actually called "Sprechgesang", German for 'speech singing'.
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    May 18 2013: Hey there, nice topic, I am going to give my opinion about public speakers.
    I usually pay more attention on the speaker himself than the story, what triggers me most part of the time is my curiosity about the different kinds of approach that the speakers have, specially in TED. I think that the best speakers are those ones that does not put themselves on a pedestal, they embrace the cause and you can feel it on their speech. I don't think I have to remember everyone about those people who presents a power point and just read out of it, they have the power to kill any emotion existence in any story. A good speaker on the other hand, does not need a power point, they don't even need a story, they just need a passion.
    • May 20 2013: Pablo, how good of you to bring up TED speakers!! Absolutely. Someone who has their eyes constantly on the prompter, not knowing what they're supposed to say next, or fumbling over what they're reading, are usually less convincing than those who know their whole presentation by heart.
      I love your closing statement, "a good speaker doesn't need power point, they just need a passion".
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    May 23 2013: Such an interesting topic and totally conducive to the TED medium which is all about talk/conversation/stories. I agreed with most points raised and so as such was inclined to like them, as in mark them as helpful. I do appreciate the effort people go to with regard to posting a commentary reply and think acknowledging quality content is appropriate. To me if something resonates with your own thoughts, then it is helpful. Helpful in that the comment/opinion is akin to your own and you would like others to also see this viewpoint favourably.
    To me story tellers are the bomb... they engage you, they transfix you, they transport you, they mesmorise and ultimately own you. You become so caught up in their rendition that nothing else matters.This is the reason that you just cannot put a book down or leave a cinema, even if you are busting to go to the toilet!
    Story telling is an art and people care because they want to know how it ends!

    Lizanne mentioned, and I LOVE language, story telling whereby one starts a story and another adds/finishes it to once again start over from person to person. I don't think there is a translation, however, I too have done that with my own English speaking children! We'd just say something like, 'I'll start and then you say the next words, then I'll say something that you then follow with. For example, David used to......? He could never find.....? when David walked he...?
    It is a fun way to improvise and be suprised by random thoughts and suggestions. To care, why do people care? Simply because they are interested in the outcome? It is for this reason that the news is so compelling, we need to know what happened after that bank robbery. We aren't so engaged to know that Joe Bloggs sneezed because he sniffed some pollen
    I will dispute one opinion posted here which basically implied that you can't tell a story via this medium, well yes you can, because while each post is capped, cumulatively your total posts do tell a story of you. :D
    • May 23 2013: True, true and true! I couldn't agree more with what you have to say here, Time Traveller!
      This, like all other conversations on TED, are a joy to be a part of, aren't they?
      And you are so right, every comment is a story in itself.
      Thank you for this thoughtful, insightful reply!
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    May 19 2013: How it's told. If it's not told well, it becomes history and not a story.
    • May 20 2013: Good point, Michael.
      My brother is a history buff, and it was the fascinating, riveting historic 'tales' he told me, that helped me pass history in High School!!
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    May 19 2013: I care because I have feelings. I know about detachment and nirvana. But I am too entangled with life, too silly not to trust once more, too connected with the small things of life. I have to be an ascetic not to care and I am not one.
    Perhaps there is no salvation in the end for me, but this waking present is so wonderful.

    Edit: The story itself.
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    May 19 2013: the quote is pretty much on the money. can i add another?

    to know me is to love me.

    we're all islands but we become bigger than ourselves when we choose not to be. it's not always an easy choice to make..
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    • May 20 2013: I see what you mean, LeMar. The authenticity plays a role when it comes to character assessment.
      I'm curious - have you ever heard a 'sob story' you knew was false, or exaggerated, but enjoyed to listen to anyway?
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    May 21 2013: Probably more how it's told. But you know, Lizanne, the story also depends on the listeners. If someone tells me a story and it isn't very good, I can usually improve it by asking some good questions, clarifying some points, adding a reaction that then pulls more out of the original storyteller.
    • May 21 2013: Greg, indeed!
      did you read Allan's comment below, and my response? We also talk about the importance of the listener.
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        May 22 2013: Right, I'm not 100% sure you two are talking about being as active a listener as I am, I can't tell if you mean just listening well and not drifting, or listening and getting involved where you're talking too, asking questions about what the person said, clarifying something they said you didn't understand, eventually I suppose segueing into your own story. Maybe finding something humorous in what they said, and pointing it out. I remember there was a radio show here in L.A. every Sunday morning where they would have guests on to talk about the work they did, two guests for a half an hour each. It was talk radio where the audience was encouraged to call in. Often noone would call in with a question except for me, I usually had an interesting question for every guest. I probably got on the air 70 or 80 times on that show, the host even called me a little bit of a regular. It was exciting and fun. Of course one learns a lot because when they get a guest on the radio it usually isn't a lowdown person in an organization, it's like the head of an organization. So I got to talk to museum directors, police chiefs, etc.
        • May 23 2013: I see what you mean, Greg.
          You're absolutely right - listeners have various parts to play in storytelling. Active, or passive, or both... I guess it would depend on the kind of story, and the purpose of that story.

          At bedtime, my kids and I do a 'Verzinnetje' - that is our own made-up Dutch word for telling a story together - 'verzin' means to make something up, and 'zinnetje' is a small sentence.
          Someone begins the story with one sentence, then the next person takes over, and so on. I'm sure there's a word for this in English, but I can't think of it right now! I love it, because it encourages both telling and listening actively, and the funnest, most crazy stories are born!
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    May 21 2013: What makes you care?
    ….any joys, any love I want to be there! Care is the basis of empathy.

    Empathy & social interaction skill are not available with behavioural dysfunction eg. contingent yawning & or Kid with autism, contingent yawning is ineffective.

    Towards a Neuroscience of Empathy: Ontogeny, phylogeny, brain mechanisms, context and psychopathology (2013)
    • May 21 2013: Thank you so much for this, Lamb Lamb!
      A friend of mine has a son with autism. She once told me, that she would never have as close a relationship with her son, as I do with my children, but I never really understood why. This article explains it.
      Empathy truly is a gift.
  • May 20 2013: Good question. Equal parts of both, really. If the story is fictional, realism and depth of character make me care. If I can see the characters as real people regardless of the setting, I'll probably adore the story. If it's someone's real life story, as long as the person is sincere and genuine, I'll care. That's both how it's told and the content I think.
    • May 21 2013: Agreed.
      I am surprised and impressed when someone grabs, and keeps, my attention on a subject I would otherwise not be inclined to find interesting, or 'care' about. And, the opposite is also true - how a potentially fascinating story can be ruined by lack of interest from the storyteller.
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    May 20 2013: Hi again Lizanne!
    Nothing "makes" me care, because in my perception and experience, caring is a choice which gives me joy and pleasure:>) When we hear people's stories, it opens the window for honesty, trust, compassion, empathy, and kindness which contribute to caring. The first thing that is important, is to care enough to listen to the story! If we don't, we deprive ourselves information.

    I am very curious about everything in our world, especially human behaviors, so I love to observe, consider information from different perspectives, learn, grow and evolve. I think/feel observing with a genuine intent to learn, understand and care, is a great gift to myself. The story itself, the way it is told, and everything to do with the situation, provides information which may facilitate caring:>)
    • May 20 2013: Hi Colleen!
      I agree 100%.
      My question was actually a direct quote from Andrew's talk, but slightly out of context. I, like you, care unconditionally!
      In our world, and specifically in the world of literature, TV, film (which is a reflection of that world, at the end of the day) - how a storyteller can keep the attention of an audience is all about observing and understanding, like you say. I love how you say it's a way to provide and receive information - regardless of the subject matter, we learn from stories, absolutely.
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        May 20 2013: I agree with you 100% Lizanne!

        There are definitely different levels of story telling, and good story tellers draw us in with their skill and talent for drawing people into their story! I was aware of this when performing, and you are probably aware of how you connect with an audience as well:>)

        In addition to the information provided with the story, I find quite a bit of information provided with the WAY we tell our stories, and/or our ability to listen to other's stories. Sometimes, we can listen with more than the obvious senses, and get additional information....I suspect that you are aware of this:>)
        • May 21 2013: Absolutely.
          So much can be 'said' when nothing is said at all. Body language, eye contact or lack of, how well the storyteller knows the story, it all adds to the overall impact and, like you say, provides so much extra information.

          I often try to tell a story through comments here. It's SO hard! Not being able to use our bodies and voices is a real handicap online!!
  • May 20 2013: It depends:)When people told me:they are telling me a real story.then I probably like to know if the story is real nor not:).If people told me they wanted to tell me a story they made,I like to know what it's told:fun?meanings?
    • May 20 2013: How interesting, Ed! So, you appreciate a true story, perhaps, more than a fictional one?
      Or, do you mean, when someone tells you a story, you want to know if it's over-exaggerated, or not?
      • May 20 2013: Lol,no Dear Lizanne Hennessey,I appreciate true stories and fictions both,But I meant if writer told me it was a true story,I prefer and respect it's truth the most.If writer said it was a fictional one,I would like to extend my imagination to enjoy it the most.
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    May 19 2013: A great story nicely told, is the best.

    If you donot have a nice story, put in great efforts to tell it .

    If you are unable to tell a good story, choose a great script.
    • May 20 2013: Well said, Adesh.
      Storytelling is an art. I'm the type of person who can't tell a joke or ad-lib to save my life, but I can sing a story that can catch attention... which is a sort of script, indeed!
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    May 19 2013: G'day Lizanne

    The best stories are told through lyrics, your not just reading them or having them read or sung to you but your feeling them as well through the music accompanying the lyrics itself, that is why music is so popular. If the music doesn't mesh with the lyrics or visa-versa the song usually won't appeal.

    So I would say how it is told or sung in my case.

    • May 20 2013: Mathew, I could not agree more with you on this!!!
      Although I love a good story, and am improving my storytelling skills with my kids every day, my preferred medium is also lyric and song.
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        May 20 2013: G'day Lizanne

        Yes but your only being bias within your opinion so it doesn't count so nerrrr........sorry but I haven't grown up yet but it's true isn't it & I bet not tooooo many people would disagree with this as is it's one of the fundamental reasons why we love music & the best of music!!

        Do you remember your dreams Lizanne? My dreams are almost always full of music as at times my dreams have always got some sort musical rhythm within them, when I wake up I usually can still remember the tune & boy can't I sing in my dreams at times. I wish I was a song writer because boy aren't some of my tunes catchy.

        • May 20 2013: Hahaha, Mathew, you caught me! It's hard to formulate an opinion that isn't biased...!

          You know, I don't remember my dreams as often as I used to, but I love it when I do! And sharing them is story-telling too. I have often dreamed about music - I'll never forget a dream I had when I was jamming with The Beatles and the Stones together on stage - an extremely exclusive event - and we came up with the 'best song in the world'. I vowed to my dream self, that I would never forget that song. I woke up, and promptly forgot it. I wrote a song that was a sort of tribute, though (this was all before Tenacious D's tribute to the best song in the world, by the way!)

          What's stopping you from singing those dream songs into a little recording device, on your computer, for example?? Get those ideas down! Cherish them!
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        May 21 2013: G'day Lizanne

        There is one reason why I don't record them, I can't sing for you know what plus I don't seem to be able to remember them well enough to do so. I live in a totally different reality in my dreams.

        • May 21 2013: Mathew, that dream reality is as valid as any other. It sounds like you don't need to record them at all!
  • May 19 2013: Choice and understanding .