During your public speaking course you will learn how to use a story
effectively. You can use stories during your presentations to illustrate certain
points or you can state that point in addition to telling the story.
Always make sure your story is relevant to your material.
Select stories to match the intelligence, experience, occupation, and
age of the audience as well as the nature of the occasion. You don't
want to talk over the heads of the audience members and you don't want
to bore them with stories that are too simple. You must connect with
the audience to use your skills from your public speaking course the
Try to space stories at intervals to provide a change of pace and to
reemphasize your message. Remember the listening pattern you want to
create in the audience. You control the audience for their best interests,
always caring for them.
And when you do, they will care for you. Tell about your troubles,
stupidity, or ignorance. People like you when you use self-effacing
humor because they see themselves mirrored in your weaknesses. In weakness
there is strength.
Eliminate inconsequential detail. Use the fewest number of words that
convey the message in an interesting fashion.
Writing the story out will help you see words that you can eliminate
without changing the story, this is a valuable technique in the art
of public speaking. Remember, Harry Truman said "It takes me two
weeks to prepare a good five minute speech." Find the essence.
Keep your humorous stories short during your public speaking engagements.
An axiom in the public speaking is the size of the laugh is inversely
proportional to the number of words used to get to the punchline.
Rule: The longer the story, the funnier it must be. You must make jokes
and humorous stories believable up to a point. Use factual, specific
details that the audience can relate to, i.e., say the brand name like
Lots-o-Suds rather than a laundry detergent.
The more truthful and specific the story sounds the more your audience
will get caught up in what you say. And getting the audience involved
in what you say, getting "connected" to your message for them,
is central to your public speaking skills.
Specify the location of a joke or story. If your story takes place
in a restaurant say, "I was at Jerry's Sub Shop in Rockville, Maryland,
the other day." This gives the audience something concrete to think
about, which makes them more involved mentally. Mental involvement is
the antidote to mental slumber, which is the bane of existence in the
public speaking skills. Remember my book "Wake 'Em Up".
When crafting a story, use people, places, and things the audience
knows. When the audience is familiar with the elements in your story,
they will become even more involved. As soon as you mention the company
cafeteria, their minds race to the cafeteria to meet you and find out
what happens. However, don't use humor that is too inside. Only a few
people will understand it. Your job is to try to connect with every
member of the audience.
Another tip is to emphasize the adjectives and verbs in your stories
to make them sound more interesting and detailed. For instance look
around where you are right now and describe anything you want. Use great
detail. Really put punch behind the adjectives and verbs and see how
your description comes to life. Use specific and interesting verbs and
adjectives. Say I was exhausted, not I was tired. Emphasize one syllable,
and pause for effect.
Say, "her head was nodding and drooping, struggling to be held
up", not "her head was down".
Think about how a good book you read makes very descriptive sentences
in order to place you in the story. You must do the same when telling
a story in order to create the best effect. Learn your stories. In a
normal speech if you forget the exact thing you wanted to say, you can
improvise and go on. But if you leave out an important detail in a story
or if you accidentally give away the climax too soon, you have a mess
on your hands.
In the practicing my skills I teach in my public speaking course, I tell a story at least
30 times in private before I'll test it in front of an audience.
Use true facts from your own life. This makes it easier for you to
tell the story because you lived it and you can learn it faster too.
Also, someone else can't steal your story as easily if all the facts
have to do with your life.
Use appropriate emotional language to hook the listener. (Refer to
this website's "Emotional Language" article for reference.)
Construct a humorous
story so that it concludes abruptly with a climactic word. Don't utter
another syllable or sound after this climactic word. You might "step
on" or squelch the laughter you worked so hard to get.
Exception: Some stories get laughter all along the way, if properly
presented after much private practice. More of these stories are used
by humorists who practice to be and are expected to be funny all the
Work out different lengths of the same story to fit different time
(Yes, I've snuck a Don't in the Do's section.) Don't memorize your
I know a speaker who speaks primarily to school children. They often
ask, "How do you memorize all that?" He replies, "I don't
memorize it, I know it by heart." There is an important difference.
By not memorizing, you won't feel forced to say every word, every time
you tell the story. You can change the length of the story easily by
adding or subtracting detail. You can even be interrupted, and pick
up where you left off, which is especially important with audiences
of curious, rambunctious children.
Super Trick: Have a quotation ready that makes the same point as your
story. If your time is shortened, you can cut out a story and replace
it with a quote.
Slant your story to the intended audience. When telling a story to
a group of executives you would probably want to use different language
and emphasis than if you were telling the same story to a group of secretaries.
Change nonessential elements of the story to make a better connection.
Use terms like "Imagine this",
"Have you ever had an experience where ... ", "Let me
take you with me to ...", to draw the audience into your stories,
into the word pictures you are painting on the canvass of their minds.
Back to Articles