Storytelling, or StorySelling, as I like to refer to it in business, is one of the best business tools in your arsenal if you are a leader, trainer, or speaker to communicate a message with passion, feeling, and meaning. Stories connect your team, clients, and audiences to the emotional “why” in the message you’re trying to get across. Stories can also humanize and connect us in ways that facts and figures simply cannot.
As a communication and speaking coach, I often hear, “I don’t have any interesting or compelling stories to tell like you do, Katherine.” I smile inwardly, if not outwardly, every time because the truth is most great stories that speakers use to make their presentations memorable and land their message firmly in the hearts and minds of their audience were not spectacular events at the time they actually happened. They were often every day occurrences which formed the basis of a great story. You have them too… by the dozens. Let me show you how and where to find them.
- Personal Experiences:
You can use your own or someone else’s (just be sure not to plagiarize and claim them as your own.)
Your Own: The signature story and opening of my speech on creating extraordinary telephone skills recalls an everyday phone call I made years ago while “shopping” for a family portrait. It foreshadows the skills I will teach to the audience to successfully handle a price shopper on the telephone. Tragedies, triumphs, struggles, and even embarrassing moments in our lives are all fair game and rich fodder for story selection. Think back to a time in your life when you experienced something similar to the point you’re trying to emphasize in your speech.
Someone Else’s: Sir Ken Robinson, in his famous TED talk on nurturing our children’s creativity in public schools, tells a wonderful story of Gillian Lynne who was stigmatized as a disorderly child until she was taken to a dance school. In it, she found she learned best by moving (instead of being told to sit still and behave) and went on to choreograph some of the most beloved musical theater in the world like Phantom of the Opera, CATS, Cabaret, Yentl, My Fair Lady, and The Secret Garden. It makes his point beautifully. Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? | TED Talk
- Fables: You know those silly, old stories you heard as a kid? They make great stories for speeches. Fables have an inherent lesson like the Prodigal Son, the Ant and the Grasshopper, or the Tortoise and the Hare. They can match up perfectly to the point of your speech and bring back some great childhood memories for your listeners!
- Historical Stories/Moments: History is full of stories that are terrific for making your point. One of the best examples I’ve ever seen of this is Andy Andrews telling the tale of the civil war soldier, Joshua Chamberlain, in his motivational speech about The Butterfly Effect. (See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3XagavMnxM) Presidents, celebrities, renegades, heroes, and even villains from history can enrich and enliven presentations. Use Google to search for historical stories about a central theme of your speech such as courage, leadership, failure/success, or teamwork. You’ll be amazed at the plethora from which to choose.
- Fantasy: “Imagine you’ve just buckled in to the first consumer flight to the moon…” You can always take your audience on an imaginary story that helps them emotionally connect to the feelings surrounding your content. Any “dilemma” can be painted into a beautifully suspenseful story sometimes even with the audience helping you to create the storyline.
- Your Dinnertable: I’ve listened to my parents and grandparents, friends and children, and my husband tell all kinds of stories around our dinner table for years. Some of my best speech stories have originated from these gems because I keep my “story radar” on at all times!
Remember also, when you are choosing visual aids, humor, or creating a PowerPoint remember they are the supporting cast to the powerful message of your speech. The same is true for stories. Write your speech first, outlining the major points and primary concepts and then go looking for stories to accentuate these points or to use as your opening (foreshadowing the concepts) or your closing (creating an emotional review of key concepts.)
We talk in depth about how to find, craft, and tell great stories in our new Inspirational Speakers Video Training Course. MMS subscribers save $100 using this code: Lion100
Stories are memory aids, instruction manuals, and moral compasses.
~ Aleks Krotoski