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Tips on Storytelling to Audiences

Updated on October 2, 2015

Below are pictures of Sydney Harbour Ferries

This is the Ferry 'Dee Why,' on which ran in the 1950s.  Named after a Sydney Beach Suburb
This is the Ferry 'Dee Why,' on which ran in the 1950s. Named after a Sydney Beach Suburb

The Power of Storytelling

Masters do: others teach - is it true?

There is an old saying pertaining to 'The Arts' in general along the lines 'that those who cannot excel in, say, painting, or writing or playing great music, teach.' This is a rather cynical way of looking at those who dedicate their lives to helping others. For it is natural, almost instinctive within us, to want to teach others what we have learned. This is certainly the case with me. I've been telling stories to audiences for well over thirty years and now wish to teach others how to do this. For I am passionate about storytelling. I believe it to be the most powerful, most effective medium in bringing about change in others. Nothing appeals more to the emotions more than a story well told. In fact, it is difficult to think of any public speaking scenario which would engender a change in the hearts and minds of an audience other than their listening to, and being affected emotionally by, a story.

It is with this in mind that I propose to bring my experience of storytelling to this website so that members might read, learn and, hopefully, practice some of the skills and techniques advocated here..

Many Ferry 'North Head.'

North Head was an old timer but still going strong in the 1950s.
North Head was an old timer but still going strong in the 1950s.

A definition of a story

A definition I like reads: "A story is an imagined - or re-imagined - experience narrated with enough detail and feeling to cause your listeners to imagine and experience it as real." You don't retell a story, you relive it!

What does storytelling do?

A world famous keynote speaker, Robyn Seager, says, "People never forget how you make them feel." In our human, one-on-one relationships we can make people feel by our body-language, our words and, most importantly, our deeds. But as an storyteller on stage in front of an audience, the most powerful way to have them remember us is to make them feel good. This does not necessarily mean make them feel ecstatically happy, or dreadfully sad, though storytelling does not rule these out. It does mean that your story needs to be gripping, seen as personal to them - in meaning, at least - and best of all uplifting, inspiring. Inspire people and they will remember how you made them feel.

We react physically when someone tells us a story

The storyteller needs to remember that each person in the audience is both the 'experiencer' and the 'observer' of the story. They experience the story by automatically interpreting it with pictures in their minds. These pictures imbue emotions, and they observe the mental movie and feel the emotions simultaneously as the story unfolds. But they do far more than this. They actually record what is being said within both mind and physicality. It lodges in there in their bodies. Place an electroencephalograph (EEG) machine's electrodes on a person's head and show him data as dot points or figures on a screen, and a small area of the brain lights up. Just one tiny area. Tell him a story which arouses his emotions and his brain lights up like New York City after dark. There are lights winking on and off all over the brain. These indicate all manner of the story being recorded and assimilated. The reason is that we react physically when someone tells us a story.

The story will be remembered whether it remains within easy recall or not. Nothing of this nature is ever really forgotten. Told well enough, a story can bring about changes in the brain's synaptic pathways and thereby change the life of the listener. That change might not be immediate - probably will not be. But in the long term it could help bring about a different interpretation of the world - even a different philosophy of life. That is how powerful a story can be.

My favourite Manly Ferry South Steyne. A beautiful ship

South Steyne has been retained as a exhitibit in the Sydney Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour.
South Steyne has been retained as a exhitibit in the Sydney Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour.

In Summary

So, to summarise this brief piece on Storytelling - What does storytelling do? It makes the listener reflect on what they know as they connect with you. The storyteller's job is not just to convey knowledge, even wisdom. It is to get the listener to think and feel. They'll ask, albeit almost unconsciously at times, "How does this apply to me?" They'll reflect on the message in the story - if there is one - and could well apply it in their own lives.

Stories are inspiring when they are: understandable, memorable, and emotional. And I'll finish by saying that the closer the story is to the teller's heart - if told right, and with passion - the deeper it will lodge itself in the mind and hearts of your listeners.

It is stories which change the world. May you learn to tell stories well.

More tips on storytelling

Exemplify what you're advocating

If a speaker is to gain and keep the attention, respect and credibility of an audience he needs to be accepted as an exemplar of what he is advocating. To use an old fashioned saying, he needs "to practice what he preaches," or to use today's Speakers World parlance, he needs to "walk the talk." It does not take an audience long to realize one way or another if the speaker is actually genuine to his teachings, and much of this is revealed in the stories the speaker puts in his presentations.

The stories we tell and the way we tell them reveals a lot about us. Of course, not every speaker is willing to tell certain stories. They're his secrets. But it is well known that the secrets we hide can have a devastating effect on our lives. They undermine our peace of mind and, often, become physically manifest in the form of some sort of illness, so it behoves us to 'get our secrets' out there.' The rewards for doing this far outweigh those of keeping quiet. To quote highly acclaimed Educationalist, Jane Langdon, "The path to each other" - and isn't this what we want when we're a speaker - "starts with our own vulnerability."

This is the Queenscliff, one of a later breed

Queenscliff, and two sisters of the same vintage are still running at time of writing.
Queenscliff, and two sisters of the same vintage are still running at time of writing.

Voluntary Vulnerability

The courageous first step of telling an audience something about ourselves which we've been reluctant to reveal to anyone, let alone a large group, is self-liberating. But such self-liberation comes at a price. The price is the fear we have as we choose to reveal something in our secret self-image to our listeners.

But oh, how an audience loves and admires the speaker who has the courage to present their own embarrassing moments, their fears, flaws, failures and frustrations. When we use our own embarrassing or self-shame moments in our personal stories before an audience we help liberate them. Yes, we help set them free. For they see you doing it and it gives them courage to do likewise. You're in the vanguard and they are likely to follow.

Now, remember our purpose in public speaking is not perfection - it is connection with our audience. It is not what is said. It's what is understood. If we tell a story based on our beliefs, and even better, our experiences - beliefs or experiences the audience already hold - our speech is 'bullet proof.'

Here is The Narrabeen. One of the more modern vessels

These ferries make the quite long journey from Sydney's Circular Quay up the harbour and across open ocean water, to Manly.  Hence they are built as 'ocean goers.'
These ferries make the quite long journey from Sydney's Circular Quay up the harbour and across open ocean water, to Manly. Hence they are built as 'ocean goers.'

Selecting that personal story

What sort of personal, self-revealing story should you choose when you decide you wish to make a particular point? Firstly, consider the point. Turn it over in your mind. Then select an event or incident from your life you can fashion into a story. Are you willing to tell this one! Do you have the courage?

The most powerful story is one from your own experience remember. If it happened to you, or you experienced it, you have that credibility I wrote about at the beginning of this essay. Second hand stories are good. Even stories you've gleaned from resources fairly well removed from you can be used if they are interesting enough. But by far the most powerful are you own stories. Use these wherever you can.

The Process

So here is the process: Know the point you wish to make. Pick a story which makes one strong and simple case that exemplifies that point. Do this first. Then work on the speech so it becomes so riveting, so interesting, so emotional that the audience is right in there with you as you envision and present your story. Make the point! Make it more than once if its wordage fits in well. And if it is a long story, make the point several times - the same point! Do this, and your speech will be both a heart and a head winner. It will lodge. It will stick. It will be taken away to help change the listener's life. And isn't this what we're all about as speakers?


Submit a Comment

  • pagesvoice profile image

    Dennis L. Page 

    3 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post. You make many good and informational points. Storytelling and public speaking don't always marry well. I think we can all relate to the person who speaks in a monotone, never exhibiting any excitement or drama in their presentation, as the audience squirms in their seats and commences with an avalanche of yawns. We run for the exit doors when the torture is over.

    It is a treat to hear someone with an exciting story...emotion in their voice...cliff hanging questions how we would handle the same situation and then their closing. To me, that is a true professional speaker.

  • Tusitala Tom profile imageAUTHOR

    Tom Ware 

    3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Thank you, Ann. Always good to hear from you.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    3 years ago from SW England

    Those who can tell stories in person are so good. I'm not too bad at writing them but standing up in front of an audience, well...!

    It's true that anything from personal experience is going to be more dramatic and more credible.

    As for 'those who can't... teach' I always feel insulted when people say that, even when joking. Do they know how hard we work to teach others? I'm retired now but I loved it and I wasn't averse to telling the odd story either!

    Your hubs are always full of great advice and your passion shines through. I'm catching up with a few hubs after a busy time so hope to read more of yours soon.



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