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Speaking Tips: How to tell Stories in Public Speaking

Updated on May 1, 2017

Tom on how to introduce a long story. The audience GOA Toastmasters Club

Stories are remembered

The writer was a former member of the Australian Storytellers Guild.  He has told stories to well over 40,000 people and demand for his presentations continues.
The writer was a former member of the Australian Storytellers Guild. He has told stories to well over 40,000 people and demand for his presentations continues.

Public Speaking Stories

Speaking Tips: Stories in public speaking are essential if you want your speech to be remembered in the long term. So telling stories orally is the key here.

The telephone conversation went like this: ...From me: "You may remember me. I was at your VIEW club in 1982. Gave a speech on Macquarie Island.”

From the woman who answerd the phone: “Oh, Goodness! Yes, I remember it. You spoke about seals and penguins, sailors and sailing ships, and... No, I haven’t forgotten.” This, from an elderly lady who had heard a story I’d told some fourteen years earlier.

Stories are important for they are usually easy to remember

If this was a ‘one off’ I wouldn’t allow it much credence, but over the past twenty years I have told stories to nearly 43,000 people. And back in the 1980's I told stories to at least another 4000 to 5,000 people. So I know the importance of stories, as far as recall is concerned, to be fact.

Invitations to tell stories continue to come in and, so far, I’ve presented on 746 different occasions in those past 20 years. In so many instances, when I am invited back, people recall the essence of the stories they’ve previously heard. “You told us about those little ships, last time- the Sixty Milers.” “The story about the runaway aeroplane was hilarious.” “I loved your Titanic Story. Better than the movie.” Yet they call me a guest speaker, not a storyteller.

Tellings stories puts pictures in the mind of the listener

What makes a speech memorable? Pictures in the mind arousing feelings, that’s what does it. Emotion. The visuals created by the listener, in response to the words of the speaker, words that evoke deep feeling. And it does not matter whether those visuals were aroused by a real event, a radio play, a book, or a platform speaker.

A speech is not the real event. A story told is not a real event. A presentation, no matter how well performed, is not the same as an actual experience. This being the case, the real experience should leave a deeper, more lasting memory. But, as Doctor Maxwell Maltz pointed out in his best selling Psycho-Cybernetics more than forty years ago, the mind does not know the difference between what is vividly imagined and what actually happens. So it follows that if we can create powerful enough pictures in the minds’ of our listeners, they can be as strong as those created by an actual event.

This is why professional golfers and champion archers and dart players can improve their practice by ‘playing in their mind.’ But in order for a speaker to make as vivid an impression on the mind as an actual experience, that speaker has to be damn good. He or she, also is helped enormously by being aware of how it is done.

You can be a champion, too. It is done by telling stories. The importance of stories in public speaking cannot be over-emphasized. Stories stick.

Here I am on stage presenting a Storytelling Educational session

This occasion was Toastmasters' District 89 Annual Conference.  The venue is the Jockey Club Auditorium at the Hong Kong Polytechnic held in May 2015
This occasion was Toastmasters' District 89 Annual Conference. The venue is the Jockey Club Auditorium at the Hong Kong Polytechnic held in May 2015

Speaking Tips: Telling stories in public speaking is essential if your speech is to be remembered.

I recall a speech I heard on an audio tape some twenty years ago. Now, how good is this speaker? Not only was the speech not a real event, or even a speech in which I saw the man himself perform, but one listened to ona tape player. It was two steps removed from an actual personal experience. Yet I remember it. The speaker’s name: Doctor Norman Vincent Peale. Another, the Reverend, Robert Schuller. Still another, Gerry O’Donovan, a Toastmaster who made it to the World Championship in the 1970s. Once again, only an audio tape. But the word pictures! And, of course, the public speaking stories...

In each of these speeches stories were used. In these stories scenes were described, vivid scenes. Good speeches contain stories. I would go further: the really good speeches are stories. The best speeches are stories personal to the speaker. The very best speeches are stories personal to the speaker which have had some profound impact upon his or her life. But they are always stories.

The importance of stories? Like warm mittens to cold hands.

Yes, and that is a part of the audience.

This conference drew Toastmasters from Hong Kong, Macau and Southern China.  Storytelling has become very important in the Speaking World.
This conference drew Toastmasters from Hong Kong, Macau and Southern China. Storytelling has become very important in the Speaking World.

Business and the resistance to Storytelling

Ten years or so ago the very mention of the use of stories in business to enable CEO's to get more cooperation from staff or for sales persons to gain more sale would have been regarded as ludicrous. "Stories! Are you kidding! Stories! Sounds like a lot of hogwash to me. That's kid's stuff! People want to know the facts, the bottom line, what's in in for them. How in hell are stories going to do that?" And so it went. At best, stories were regarded as 'office gossip' and of no real value. Oh, how that has changed. Now there are companies out there teaching how to use story to those very same larger organizations which 'rubbished it.' just a decade ago.

Story importance in business on the increase

The use of story is becoming very popular now in the World of Business. Business people all over the world are beginning to realize that people make decisions and are persuaded not so much by data and statistics but by stories. It is emotion which causes people to change their minds and nothing is as effective in arousing emotions as stories.

That's the importance of stories

What else are they? To reiterate: they are stories from which the listener as well as the speaker -who has already experienced it- are emotionally moved. And in the greatest, most memorable speeches, they are the stories that not only ‘move’ the listener, they change the listener. The change may be subtle. It may be profound. Whatever it be, in the truly memorable speech new beliefs are formed. People’s lives are changed. And the story, the precious encapsulation of a momentous event, is preserved in the mind of those listeners- forever.

I hope you gained something worthwhile from Speaking Tips: Public - How to tell stories in Public Speaking.

Keep smiling



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