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Speaking Tips: Padding Out a Story: Yes or No

Updated on July 26, 2012
The author telling a story
The author telling a story

Speaking Tips on Storytelling

Recently, I attended a workshop on Public Speaking where two of Toastmasters International’s most lauded presenters, Craig Valentine and Darren LaCroix, both World Champion speakers, gave of their wisdom. The duo placed an especial emphasis on the use of storytelling to not only get a point across, but to have that point remembered. During the workshop they invited a number of people from the audience to come up on stage so that they could evaluate the audience members’ performance and give them some tips on how to improve. Of the four who were invited up, I was number three.

Padding out a story: yes or no?

Whilst up on stage, Craig gave me some valuable tips on how to use the ‘stage-space’ to better effect. The ‘stage line-time line’ was one of these, and I will certainly keep it in mind. It was all good stuff. However, there was one point made by Craig that I did not agree with. That was his advice that a story should be cut down, shortened, rather than ‘padded out.’ As a storyteller who has been entertaining audiences for over thirty years, I could not agree with this; though I had the commonsense not to say so before an audience of over two hundred people and thereby cause a furor. For as a storyteller, I know that a story which can be told in half-a-dozen terse sentences, dealing strictly with the facts. Done in this way, it can be down right clinical, not to mention boring. Can you imagine this sort of description of, say, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

Some of Tom's audiences are shown below
Some of Tom's audiences are shown below

How not to tell a fairy story.

“A little girl called Goldilocks finds a house in a nearby forest belonging to a family of bears: a father, mother and baby bear. She goes inside, finds and tries three different dishes of porridge but only likes one. Then she sits in three different chairs; only one suits her. Then the little girls gets tired, tries three different beds and finds that the last of the beds suits her fine. She drops of to sleep. The bears come home. They know someone’s been in the house. Then they find her. Goldilocks wakes up and runs away.”

Even using suitable pausing, this story is over before it begins: forty-five seconds.

The story IS the entertainment

Yes, I know this is unfair to Craig and Darren. They did say one should use dialogue, get audience involvement, et cetera. However, I cannot but disagree with the concept that the story should be kept as short as possible; or even as short as practicable. Perhaps in the purely persuasive, motivational speech this is the case. It certainly is not the case when the main purpose is to entertain. The story is the entertainment. A memorable message can be part of it and, in some of my own stories, this is the case. But the audience remember the story, then the message integral to the story. They recall it is that order: story first, message second.


Stories are remembered!

And stories are remembered! I can recall meeting a woman who remembered a story I’d told to an audience she’d been in over twenty years earlier. She didn’t know the title, but she knew what it was about. But to get back...

How a seven-minute story became a forty-five minute drama.

Some stories grow in length the more they are told. I used to tell a story about the “Titanic.” which when told the first time, went for seven minutes. As the years went by I added more detail – and invariably more description a drama - until it is now a forty-five minute oral presentation. And I know it’s good. For on quite a number of occasions I have been told that “That was better than the film.” And “I loved it, far better than reading about it, or watching a documentary,” And some of the best of all “You’re the best speaker we’ve ever had here,- loved the story,” et cetera.

If it leaves a lasting message...well, that's a bonus

So, in conclusion, I have to say that although I learned a lot from these two masters of the platform, I am yet to be convinced that a story should be made as short as it can be. To me, a story is a story...and a story should be told so that it not only creates pictures in the mind of the audience and emotions in their hearts, but that these pictures and emotions should be given as long a play as the speaker senses the audience desires. And if it leaves a lasting message...well, that’s a bonus.


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  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

    Hi, Tom thanks so much for the e-mail, cheers nell

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

    Hi, I quite agree with you, maybe they were refering to the old 'learn how to write' syndrome of using one word instead of two or three? for example, 'He was nervous so he scratched his head and moved from foot to foot' so then cutting it down to 'scratching his head, he scuffed his feet' etc either way I agree with you, a story is much more memorable when padded out, cheers nell

  • sofs profile image

    sofs 7 years ago

    I always love telling a story, a good story captures the attention of the audience and keeps them glued to what you are saying, while you get your message across. A personal story works really well. The memory recall for a story is much longer than for information that is given out. So stories stick around longer!!

  • Dee aka Nonna profile image

    Dee aka Nonna 7 years ago

    Great information. I too love speaking to audiences and you and I have so much in common as I have done a variety of things in my life that kinda round me out and give me different ways to look at things. I love life. Thank you for your wonderful info.