Storytelling is an integral part of human existence. It not only reaffirms our identity but also provides meaning to our lives. The power of storytelling transcends time and space, enabling us to connect and find common ground with others.
But what makes storytelling so unique a concept?
Karen Eber, CEO of the Eber Leadership Group, began her TED talk – “How your brain responds to stories and why they’re crucial for leaders” – with a narrative about Maria.
“Maria walked into the elevator at work. She went to press the button when her phone fell out of her hand. It bounced on the floor.”
Reading this, you can almost visualize the phone falling and hear the sound it made upon impact. This mental imagery is due to the activation of your occipital and temporal lobes, as if you were witnessing the event first-hand.
Stories strike a chord in every human being. Framing your presentation as a story or a sequence of interconnected narratives can significantly enhance your rapport with your audience.
Drawing on advice from public speaking experts, this article demonstrates the dos and don’ts of storytelling in public speaking.
Inspiring speakers often display openness, authenticity, and occasional vulnerability. Your chances of influencing and motivating your audience increase when you demonstrate a passionate, enthusiastic, and significant link to your subject. This connection is often showcased through storytelling.
While it’s true that stories can be fictional, they’re not devoid of truth. Humans, by nature, tend to embellish their narratives. However, as international speaker Julian Treasure – known for his talks on sound, listening, and speaking – points out, this embellishment can degrade our language: “[it] becomes lying, and we don’t want to listen to people we know are lying to us” he says.
Consider folk singer Joe Kowan, who shared his intense, overwhelming feelings of stage fright when performing. During his first open mic night, he cleverly turned this anxiety into an asset. “All I had to do was write a song that exploits my nervousness. That only seems authentic when I have stage fright, and the more nervous I was, the better the song would be” Kowan explains.
So, leverage your personal experiences. Extract insights from them. This doesn’t necessarily mean recounting events verbatim but capture and express the truths you’ve lived and the values you hold dear.
Humor acts as a barrier breaker, making your audience more open to what you have to say. It also enhances your likeability, and people are often more inclined to engage with or back individuals they find appealing. Interestingly, humor doesn’t always require a joke to incite laughter. Simply adopt a more relaxed approach and avoid taking yourself or your subject matter overly seriously.
Know your audience
The saying “know your audience” is commonly heard, yet many people fail to apply it correctly, according to Briar Goldberg, the director of speaker coaching at TED. She observes that too many individuals prepare their scripts, craft their presentations, or assemble their talking points without first considering the needs and expectations of their audience.
Appealing to emotions can be a potent persuasive tool, particularly when addressing a diverse audience. After all, everyone has made decisions based on emotions at some point in their lives, which is why storytelling wields such power.
Revisiting the example of folk singer Joe Kowen, he thoughtfully considered his open mic night audience and cleverly exploited his stage fright. By doing so, he transformed a hindrance into a stepping stone for success.
Keep coming back to a central theme
Storytelling revolves around connecting moments to convey a meaningful narrative to others. However, ideas can be intricate and multifaceted. This means it may be necessary to streamline your content. By focusing on the single concept that you’re most passionate about, you can articulate it thoroughly.
Andrew Stanton, a filmmaker and voice actor at Pixar, likens storytelling to joke telling. He says, “it’s knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you’re saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal.”
So, select one idea and let it serve as the central theme throughout your entire presentation, ensuring that every point you make somehow ties back to it.
Give the audience a gift
As a speaker, your primary objective is to provide value. However, personal anecdotes may not always achieve this. While they might entertain, captivate, or inflate your self-esteem, they don’t necessarily provide the audience with takeaway value.
“When we assist speakers in preparing their talks at TED, we ask them to pinpoint the ‘gift’ they’re offering to the audience,” shares Director Briar Goldberg.
Conclude with a fulfilling resolution, whether it’s humorous, emotional, or enlightening. Above all, ensure that your audience leaves with something valuable from your talk.
Practice and practice some more
In her TED talk, Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor tells the story of her experience having a stroke and her thoughts during it. The talk has been viewed almost 30 million times to date.
Would it surprise you to know that she practiced it 200 times before she gave it? By internalising the content, Jill was able to deliver it as smoothly as if she were having a conversation.
Practice truly makes perfect.
Mastering the art of persuasively presenting your thoughts is arguably the most critical skill for a public speaker. “Confident storytellers make effective persuaders,” states Stephen White, Managing Partner at Scotwork.
Implementing these strategies can significantly increase your chances of inspiring your audience to embrace and act upon your ideas.
If you’re ready to get started on telling your story, become a Rule the Room member today
About the Author
This guest post was written and brought to you by Millie Fuller. She is an emerging copywriter with Content Coffee and has a passion for all things business-related. Armed with a knack for words and a coffee, Millie bridges the gap between creativity and commerce.