Applying Dale Carnegie’s Magic formula to career talks

When you’ve reached a point where you think you need someone to help you with your career, who do you turn to? You could pick a friend or colleague. But perhaps you’ve decided you need someone independent, with some professional expertise. You could call them a career adviser, a career practitioner, a career coach. It doesn’t really matter. The main point here is, how do you pick one?

There are no boring subjects: only boring speakers.

One way to make talks more interesting is to use metaphors.

Another is to use stories. Yes, you may need to include data, but vivid stories will make the data come alive. People remember stories.

Back in the 1960s Dale Carnegie wrote a book called The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. In it he describes his Magic Formula as a method for preparing an audience to take a desired action. The formula uses a real-life example or incident that taps the motives of the audience and provides a point or reason to explain why you are telling the story, plus the benefit they will gain by taking note of the information provided.

The Magic Formula

There are three parts to the formula.

Incident: This is a personal example or story. It doesn’t have to be long nor detailed. You give sufficient detail so that the audience understands it and can grasp its relevance. The incident is vividly relived and told in sensory rich language. This part of the story takes about 60-70% of the time.

Point: What is the point you are trying to make? Your audience needs to find it easy to make the links between your point and the story. You state this point with conviction. This takes 5-15% of the time.

Benefit: Here you shift context from the specific story to the circumstances of your audience. How does the story relate to your audience’s current situation? What action would you like people to take? What benefit will they gain from taking this action? Avoid trying to list every potential benefit. Better to express the main one with conviction. This part takes 5-10% of the time.

For example, during a workshop titled 50 Ways to present, train, and emcee with elegance, poise and engagement, delivered at the CDAA Perth National Conference, I opened with the following story. I’ve inserted the formula segments to show the structure.

The incident:

The year was 1992. The place, a large auditorium at the Penrith Panthers Club, Western Sydney. I was a finalist in the Toastmasters International Speech Competition. This comp is a big deal as the winner could potentially go on to represent Australia in the US final.

My greatest wish for that event was not to be first. So long as I didn’t lead off, I was sure I could win.

Two hours before the event, the competitors gather for a briefing.  After explaining the details the organiser held out a small pack of card, splayed, face down. We each had to pick a card with a number indicating our order. The man next to me picked four. I lent forward … At that moment my whole world shrank. I tried my best, but I didn’t even come runner up.

The point:

What I learnt from that experience is how easily we sabotage ourselves. You see, there’s some truth to the saying – be careful what you wish for.

The benefit:

We are all sense makers, interpreting our world according to our own thinking habits. That thinking can help or hinder our efforts. Skilled public speakers are effective sense makers. Being able to present with elegance, poise and engagement depends on this skill.

Where do you find stories?

Career practitioners have a wealth of material available to them:

  • your own experience
  • clients’ and colleagues’ experience
  • books, articles, research, media
  • people you meet or interview.

Keep records of these stories so you can capture the vivid and essential details for retelling.

How do you make your story come alive?

A story comes alive based on the language used and how it is delivered. A story comes alive when the language is:

  • specific rather than vague
  • personalised with names, places, real people
  • dramatic so that people can see, hear and feel what took place.

When delivering a story move with purpose so that any movements support the story telling rather than being random and ineffectual.  For insight into moving with purpose watch Michael Grinder’s video on Six wrong ways to make a right first impression.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist® specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.