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Essential Speaking Skills
All about the art of public speaking.

Secrets to Story Telling Success

Stories are timeless. (Think “Three Little Pigs” or “Sleeping Beauty”) Your personal stories can also be timeless. They connect with your audience and add credibility to your message. They also bring a dimension of sincerity and authenticity to your speech or presentation. All these (connection, credibility and sincerity) are essential elements to be a successful and well-liked public speaker.

If you have been an avid reading of this public speaking blog, you would notice how much I expound on the importance of personal stories.

6 + 6 = Everything you need to know about public speaking
Essence of Public Speaking in six words - tell a story, make a point. Tell another story, make a point.

Things Happen, Pay Attention
This is a workshop I sat in by Jim Key, 2003 World Champion Speaker. A lot of us complained that it is difficult to come up with interesting and impactful stories for your speeches. However he thinks otherwise. His argument is that stories are everywhere if we start to pay attention.

Speaking Secret #4: Speak from the Heart
This is a personal account on how the success of a speech depends on its “heart” quality. And one avenue is through personal anecdotes.

In today’s article, I want to share with the “secrets” to story telling success, credits to Ed Tate (2000 World Champion Speaker). Frankly, this is not going to be much of a secret once I pen it here (grins). Nonetheless good things are meant to be shared. And I hope that you will milk it to the fullest.

We have been talking a lot of about the importance of stories. But what is a story essentially make up of? 4Hs!

Although most stories are perceived as entertainment, they can also serve as a trigger for your audience to think and reflect. In fact, they should. The success of your speech lies in the alteration you brought upon your audience. It could be as simple as getting your audience to ponder upon their current actions. For example “Am I wasting my time on unimportant things?” Or to look at areas in their life that they may not wish to initially. For example “Am I responsible for my broken marriage or family?”

By blatantly asking these questions, you may run the risk of offending your audience. Some of these questions could be too confrontational. And instead of nudging your audience to face them, you caused them to hide and switch off. However, when you share a personal story about how your pondering of “Am I responsible for my broken marriage or family?” resulted in the positive changes in your life, you subtlely hint your audience to do the same, without making them feel guilty or defensive. That’s the power of stories!

Stories, in my opinion, are the most effective vehicles to get into the hearts of your audience. One of the ways to win your audience over is by letting them know that you are one of them. A personal story provide you with the mean to do so as they can relate to your story, and thus your message. If you break apart every successful speech, there is always a story embedded inside it. In Jim Key’s winning speech, he opened with a humorous story about how his son caught him crying in the movies. He later ended with a story of how a dumb and deaf girl inspired a three thousand crowd with her song (in sign language) - It is never too late to dream. Or Earl Spencer’s eulogy for his sister, Princess Diana. He shared - with tears and grief - what his sister confided in him: “It is my innermost feelings of suffering that make it possible for me to connect with my constituency of the rejected…” Or President Clinton’s 1993 speech to 5000 ministers in Memphis, where he relate a conversation he had with a young kid. Here’s an excerpt:

The other day I was in California at a town meeting, and a handsome young man stood up and said: “Mr President, my brother and I, don’t belong to gangs. We don’t have guns. We don’t do drugs. We want to go to school. We want to be professionals. We want to work hard. We want to do well. We want to have families. And we changed our school because the school we were in was so dangerous. So when we stowed up to the new school to register, my brother and I were standing in line and somebody ran into the school and started shooting a gun. My brother was shot down standing right in front of me at the safer school.” The freedom to do that kind of thing is not what Martin Luther King lived and died for, not what people gathered in this hallowed church for the night before he was assassinated in April of 1968. If you had told anybody who was here in that church on that night that we would abuse our freedom in that way, they would have found it hard to believe. And I tell you, it is our moral duty to turn it around…

A powerful story with a poignant point! That’s Mr Clinton for you. (By the way, I think he was one of the better speakers among the twenty century Presidents)

The third “H” is humor. As the cliche goes - laughter is the best medicine, and the audience love to be entertained. Ask anyone.

Sometimes humor can also be used to lessen the blow you are about to unleash on your audience. By making the problem funny, they are more likely to accept it. However, I will like to add something that Ed Tate said during the convention. Though humor is a good to have in every speech, it is optional. To some extent it is true. Let’s use the merciless shooting story that Clinton related. He had a very serious message to his people. Even though there was no sign of humor, the story on its own was powerful and supported his message extremely well. There is so much more that can be said about humor. We shall leave it to another day. Let’s move on.

As my buddy JJ emphasised in his article The Metaphysics of Public Speaking, no matter how entertaining your speech is, you must have a point (or a message). Your audience must walk away learning something new or be motivated to act on something. That’s the hidden obligation that every speaker must undertake. Ed Tate call this “heavy-hitting”, your fourth H. At the end of the day, every speaker has a lesson to share with his or her audience. He may mask it with humor or deliver it through personal stories, but the lesson must still be there! Some people ask me, which should come first. Story or lesson? Hard to say. It is like the chicken and egg puzzle. Personally it is easier to start with a story since you can always extract a lesson. However if you start with a lesson, it becomes harder to source for personal stories, especially if it hasn’t happen yet. Your best bet is to start a story bank. Collect stories and include key lessons that can be shared. Sometimes, the lesson comes first. Write it down and keep a look out for relevant stories to support the lesson. Remember, things happen… PAY ATTENTION!!!

So my friends, here’s the four essential building blocks of a successful story!

Head: Think!
Heart: Connect!
Humor: Laughs!
Heavy Hitting: Lesson!

In the next post, I shall share with you how you can write one within ten minutes or less. Meanwhile, start collecting stories of your own!

“Secrets to Story Telling Success”

  1. Anonymous Josh Mathews Says:

    thanks for this article Erick. It helped me a lot facing my employees.

  2. Anonymous Sandy Says:

    Nice article. Good design too. From where did you get this template?