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Speaking Tips: Telling Stories Outside of Toastmasters

Updated on July 27, 2012

The writer joined his first Toastmaster Club in 1972.

Over a period of 38 years, Tusitala Tom has spent around 25 of those years as a Toastmaster member.  He was also a member of Rostrum Clubs of NSW, The National Speakers' Assoc. of Aust. and the Australian Storytellers Guild.
Over a period of 38 years, Tusitala Tom has spent around 25 of those years as a Toastmaster member. He was also a member of Rostrum Clubs of NSW, The National Speakers' Assoc. of Aust. and the Australian Storytellers Guild.

Long stories - Not in Toastmasters - more's the pity.

Welcome to Speaking Tips: Telling Stories Outside of Toastmasters.

“For a hundred years they plied the coast…and then they were gone – superseded, obsolete, of no further use. What were they? These were the Sixty Milers.” Thus ends a fifty-minute presentation which appears to go against all the tenets of Toastmasters.


Eulogies are out, too. As are Politics and Religion.

Firstly, because it’s as eulogy. This speaker was told that eulogy’s don’t go down well in Toastmasters. Secondly? It’s far too long. Yet this presentation has been done over and over again before thousands of people and, from the feedback the speaker has gotten over the years, it’s a winner. It has drama. It has humor. It has pathos. So what’s it about? And how could a member of Toastmasters present in such a way that he or she could obtain to such demand?

The answer is to tell a story.

Get carried away. Put pictures in their minds.

The three minute story is a 'snippet,' not a story.

The writer has noticed that what is commonly referred to as a ‘story’ is little more than a couple of dozen lines told in two or three minutes. Well, we could call such a snippet, a story. But what is being spoken about here is a riveting, maybe even a gut-wrenching yarn, that has people hanging on every word from its opening sentence to the very last word. It’s long enough to gather more than cursory attention.

So how do we do this?

Would it appeal to just about any listener?

All the various skills learned in Toastmasters aside, we have to look at several elements. Is this a universally interesting story? Would it appeal to just about any listener? “Am I experienced enough and familiar enough with the setting of such a story to make it sound credible?” If you’ve been a clerk working in an office all of your life and have never experienced much else, don’t try telling a story taken from the world of Aviation, the Marine, or Police Files. Take a story from something you know about, and know about first hand. Contemplate deeply. You’ll be surprised of the stories you know.

Appeal to their emotions: laugher and tears. Get them involved.

Involve the audience!

Secondly, once you have your story, learn how to involve the audience. Ask them questions they will know the answers to. Let them take ownership of what now becomes ‘their story’ because they can immerse themselves in it, and identify with it. Commonality is the key here.

Tell the story over and over.

Thirdly, tell the story over and over. It will take on a life of its own. It will expand, grow, become more polished. Don’t ever think that a speech or a story is a “one off.” It only becomes so if you choose it to be that way. Speaking outside of Toastmasters, the writer has presented maybe twenty stories. Some of these have been told over a hundred times. He’s been invited to address well over 700 audiences and addressed some 40,000 people. The feedback he gets is, “I remember that story about…… you told us back in 1998. Love to hear it again.”

Let them identify with the stories players.

As a child, did you ever get fed up of being told the same story?

So, strange as it might at first appear, if you tell a story well, people really do want to hear it again. When you were a child, did you ever get fed up of being told the story of the “Three Little Pigs,” or “Jack and the Beanstalk?” Of course not! Same with “grown up” yarns. Everybody but everybody loves a good story.

It's rare for a story to offend an audience.

Another thing about storytelling is that even if it covers a controversial subject, because it is seen as “a story,” and not as you trying to push your own beliefs, most people don’t take offense. You may bring laughter. You may induce tears- even cries of anguish. But it’s rare to offend an audience with a story.

You want to have 'em hanging on every word? Be a storyteller.

If you really do want to be the sort of presenter who can keep a room of thirty or three hundred people silent, hanging on every word, waiting with baited breath for what is going to happen next- learn to tell stories; real stories -and better if taken from life – and you will know that as a speaker you’ve reached a level you could not have imagined when you first joined our wonderful organization.

The writer (Yep, the old guy) receiving a certificate of appreciation.

Go outside. Tell your stories. But stay a member. Stay in.

So go outside Toastmasters. Tell your stories. But remain a member. Stay in. No matter how accomplished you become, the feedback, the evaluation you get within Toastmasters will hold you steady on course, and moving towards that perfection that all of us desire. You’ll be glad you did.


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  • lmmartin profile image

    lmmartin 7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

    I imagine you're a great storyteller, Tom. Thanks for the tips. Lynda