"Once again, I so much appreciate learning about the power of storytelling. In my last presentation I started off with a fifteen minute story, interspersed relevant, sometimes amusing stories throughout the six hour presentation, and ended with a great story. Several of the evaluations read ‘I didn’t want to get up to use the bathroom because I might miss one of Dr. O’Reilly’s stories.’ Thanks again, I learned such an incredibly valuable skill from you."

Patrick O’Reilly, PhD
Clinical Psychologist
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of California San Francisco
San Francisco, CA

Ten Tips for Becoming the Teller of Tales

How to Use Storytelling to Connect with Any Audience

Storytelling is the pathway to personal connection with your audience. Whether you give a presentation to two people or two thousand, stories are the secret to success. Stories help you capture the attention and seize the hearts and minds of your listeners. Every type of presentation from the deeply technical to the highly motivational can benefit from the addition of meaningful, relevant, and lively stories. Your stories will be remembered long after your last word is spoken.

  1. Step into the Storyteller’s Mindset. The first step to telling great stories is to move into the “storyteller’s mindset.” This means having the courage to move away from the more typical “analysis based” presentation format. If you are willing to tell a few stories with sincerity and humor you will be amply rewarded. Your audience will respond in a whole new way. So if you’re bucking your own personal resistance or your company culture, stick your neck out anyway. Tell a story and you may learn one of the greatest lessons of public speaking—audiences love them!
  2. Develop Your Storyline. Look at any great story—from Odysseus’ journey in the Odyssey to the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet—and you’ll see that all memorable stories share a common structure. Every story you tell should include the following elements: a main character, an interesting plot, a series of obstacles, a turning point, and a resolution. Develop your stories with this simple structure in mind: beginning, middle, and end.
  3. Create Engaging Characters. Get to know your hero and heroine. Think about them. Give them names, faces, and places—and move them through your storyline. Describe your characters in vivid detail using all five senses so that they are believable and likable. The more you develop your characters the easier it will be for your audience to connect with them—and you. Let your story grow with each new telling. You will see your characters develop in ways you never imagined.
  4. Listen to the Stories of Others. Once you start paying attention, you will discover that stories are everywhere. You will hear them in your everyday business presentations; in community meetings; in political, cultural, and religious speeches; in entertainment and comedy; at social events; in the media, and at the dinner table. Write down every great story you hear so that you have fresh, new material for every presentation.
  5. Use the World Bank of Stories. Thousands of stories are in the public domain, and they come from cultures all over the world. Folktales, fables, myths, fairy tales, classics, parables, and religious stories abound. Good speakers who want to use stories but don’t feel confident or have the time or expertise to create their own often turn to these great stories that are available and handed down to us. So look for a story that is relevant and specific to the purpose of your presentation—free of charge!
  6. Use Personal/Celebrity Stories. Use the personal stories of others, as long as you quote the original speaker or source. Such stories can be useful because they move you one step closer to telling your own story. Look for stories from prominent national or international business or political leaders, authors, artists, academics, or others of note. But don’t forget to look for stories from everyday people as well. Aunt Louise may have told a memorable story about Uncle George that could fit perfectly into your next presentation.
  7. Tell Your Own Story. Your personal stories can often have the greatest impact on your audience. When you tell stories based on your own personal experiences you invite others into your world to experience your unique point of view. Tell stories from your past, present, or your projected future or share firsthand experiences with someone you know, such as your clients, your colleagues, your associates, or your family and friends. Stories are everywhere you look.
  8. Use Dramatic Interpretation. Keep in mind the importance of your body and voice in bringing your story to life. Use gestures, eye contact, facial expression, and movement. Vary your vocal range and change your pitch from high to low. Stories invite the use of dramatic elements. Use dialogue, pauses, creative tension, and humor. Read children’s stories out loud and practice your delivery skills in everyday conversation. Make your stories come alive!
  9. Link Your Story to Your Purpose. Even well told stories can be flat and meaningless if they are not linked to the overall purpose of your presentation. Always take the relevance test and ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish in telling this story?” Find a creative way to link your tale to the audience, the topic, or the occasion. Help the audience understand the connection between your story and your purpose by saying, “I’m sharing this story with you today because...” This simple technique will keep you and your audience engaged and on track.
  10. Embrace the Power of Practice. Once you’ve created a great storyline with memorable characters, take the time to rehearse before you go live. Practice in front of friends and family. Get feedback and make changes. Practice on camera and take notes on what you like and what you want to change. Tell stories whenever you can. When someone asks, “How was your day?” tell a story. When someone asks, “What happened in the staff meeting?” tell a story. When someone asks, “What did you have for lunch?” tell a story. Take every opportunity to build your skill and confidence. Practice your storytelling skills every chance you get!

About the Author

Angela DeFinis is an expert in professional public speaking. As an author, speaker, and CEO/Founder of DeFinis Communications Inc., she has spent over twenty years helping business professionals find solutions to their communication challenges and develop a broader repertoire of potent speaking skills. Her message and approach create positive, personal, and lasting change. Contact her at [email protected].

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