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How to tell a story public speaking

April 10, 2022

how to tell a story public speaking

L​earning how to tell a story in public speaking is a key skill that can really take your presentations, speeches, and sales pitches to the next level. If you really want your public speaking to grab the listeners attention, and hold it until you’re done, you need to know how to tell a story.

Why Telling A Story Works

Y​ou might be wondering why it’s important to know how to tell a story in public speaking. After all, if you present the information in a clear, easy to understand manner people will listen, right?

W​ell, yes. But they might not listen all that closely. And they might not retain the information afterwards. What’s more, they probably won’t be inspired. All public speaking is ultimately intended to inspire the listener to do something. Whether it’s to buy the product you’re selling, or change their lifestyle in some way, your goal is get them to do something.

S​tories are powerful. Humans are hardwired to listen to stories, and to tell them. Telling stories is one of the oldest methods we’ve used to pass on information.

keep your story interesting public speaking

Story Is Interesting

I​magine you’re at dinner with a friend, and you ask about their day. They might just list the things that happened to them: “I went to work, I ate my lunch, I got into an argument with my coworker, and then I came here.” You listened to them, but you probably weren’t paying much attention.

N​ow, imagine, instead, they told you a story: “I got to work and when I was on my lunch break I realized my coworker was trying to steal my food from the refrigerator in the break room. So, I called them out, and they tried to deny it, even though they were holding my lunch in their hands!” Now you’re hooked, and you want to hear more. You’ll be hanging on their every word, and you’re not going to forget their story anytime soon.

W​hen he hear a story, we listen. It’s something instinctive. We want to know how it ends. So, we listen to every word.

We Remember Story Better

S​omething about our brains work makes us more receptive to stories. It’s not just that we find a good story irresistibly interesting, we actually remember stories very well. That’s why story was the primary means of preserving information before we had written languages.

P​eople could sit around the fire at night and listen to stories for hours. And they didn’t just listen, they remembered them. And they told them to others. When people hear a story, they don’t just remember the information, they remember the story well enough to repeat it.

people connect with stories in public speaking

People Connect With Stories

O​ne of the keys to good public speaking is to connect with your listeners, and there’s no better way to connect than to tell a story. When you tell a story, there are characters that people can relate to. Listeners automatically insert themselves into the story, and they identify with the characters.

I​t’s an easy way to connect with your audience on a deep level. Now they aren’t just interested in what you have to say, they’re invested in hearing how the story ends.

Your A Better Public Speaker When You Tell A Story

M​ost people think that, to give a great presentation without having to read off your notes, you’ve got to memorize everything you want to say. Not true- you just need to come up with a good story.

R​emember how we’re hardwired to remember stories? That doesn’t just apply to the listeners, it works for the speakers, too. Instead of writing out a speech, come up with a story, and give it three acts. A beginning, a middle, and an end.

T​he first act, or beginning, engages with the audience by presenting an idea or situation. Harry learns that he’s a wizard; that changes everything, and it can’t be undone.

T​he second act raises the stakes. Harry leaves behind the world he’s always known, and goes to wizarding school.

T​he third act precipitates a resolution, by posing a question that has to be resolved. One of the professors at the school is evil, and Harry seems to know who.

S​o, if you’re giving a presentation on why your company needs to improve its performance, the acts might be: Act 1: We’ve been losing clients steadily for three quarters now. Act 2: If we have another down quarter, we’ll have to start laying off employees. Act 3: To turn things around, I’ve developed this new product line that’s going to excite our existing customers, and bring in new ones as well.

T​he best part is, as long as you know the Acts, you don’t need to memorize the whole thing. You’ll always know what to say next.

success with public speaking while telling a story

How To Tell A Story: Public Speaking Secrets For Success

W​e think we’ve made a pretty convincing case for why you should learn how to tell a story in public speaking. Now we’ve got to look at what’s required to actually do it well. Don’t worry: it’s a lot easier than you think.

Paint A Word Picture

Y​our audience really needs to be able to visualize the story you’re telling. If your words are too dry, or abstract, they’re going to have a hard time engaging with the story. You need to use lots of imagery to help draw them in.

T​hink about best novels you’ve read- the true classics, that will be enjoyed by generations to come. Those authors use all kinds of sensory information, describing colors, sounds, smells, and textures to immerse the reader in the world of the story.

I​n other words, you want to shift from factual information to sensory information whenever possible. You might notice that successful politicians are experts at this. Their speeches, and even debates, tend to be lighter on facts and heavy on sensory information, story, and drama. In other words, they know how to get people interested in what they’re saying. Speak with enthusiasm and the rest will come.

Speak From Within The Experience

Y​ou aren’t an outsider. You’re not telling someone else’s story, like a narrator. You’re there to tell YOUR story. Use your personal perspective. Don’t tell the audience what they should think or feel, tell them what you think and what you feel, and invite them to feel it with you.

I​n other words, don’t just repeat the experience onstage, relive the experience with the audience. If you’re talking about why clients are leaving your company, relive a conversation you had with one of those dissatisfied clients. Make it personal, and your audience can’t help but be drawn into the story with you.

Know Where You’re Going

T​o tell a good story in public speaking, you need to know the ending. Everything you say must be said with the end in mind. This forces you to think about what you want the audience to take away from the story, and that helps to focus your presentation.

A​nother word for this is a throughline. A throughline is a single sentence that sums up the message of the entire story. Everything you say in your story must contribute to the message of that line in some way. If you don’t incorporate this, you run the risk of telling a scattered, incoherent story.

How To Tell A Story: The Basic Stories We All Know

B​elieve it or not, there are only a few basic stories we all tell. The characters may change, the setting may change, but the basic progression of the story always follows one of a handful of simple plots we all know.

The Quest

O​ne of the most common and instantly recognizable stories is The Quest. Every Quest story involves a hero or a group of heroes, who set out to achieve something specific. Along the way they’ll encounter obstacles, enemies, and setbacks. But in the end the heroes always win.

T​he power of the Quest story is that it sets your audience up to expect and even embrace obstacles. This makes it a great story type to use if you asking people to make a big change. Normally people want to avoid obstacles, but the Quest sets them up to expect them along the way.

Stranger In A Strange Land

T​his is both an archetypal story, and the title of a novel from the ’60s. The basic premise involves the main character being transported, voluntarily or involuntarily, to a strange place. The plot then revolves around their interactions with people and customs that are new to them. It’s a storytelling device that allows the storyteller to take habits and customs that are considered normal, and give the listener a new perspective.

T​his can be a very effective tool for helping people to re-evaluate company culture, or change common habits.

T​here are others, like Rags to Riches, Love Story, and Revenge, all of which should be fairly familiar to us.

Tell A Story, Change Your Public Speaking

L​earning how to tell a story in public speaking is one of the biggest, most transformational things you can do as a speaker. It makes it easier for you to speak from the heart, without reading a script.

I​t draws your listeners in and engages with them on a deep level, which means they’re paying a lot more attention to you. Telling a story helps the listener retain the information better, and most importantly it’s more likely to persuade them to do what you want them to do.

T​elling a story isn’t as hard as it might seem at first, and anybody can master it. We’re all hardwired for storytelling, and once you unlock that ability you’re public speaking will really take off.