Public Speaking 101: Becoming a Great Storyteller

If you want to be an exceptional speaker, and ignite your audience, you must learn the fine art of storytelling. 

Have you ever wished you could captivate an audience?  Ever felt the desire to grip a crowd in such a way that you could move them to action?  Nothing grabs our attention, holds our attention and moves us like a good story.  And when a good story meets a great storyteller, great things can take place.  If you are looking to become a dynamic communicator and an exceptional speaker, then you must learn the fine art of storytelling.  Storytelling is an art and needs to be developed.

Storytelling is a cherished tradition and an entertaining, effective way to convey information about almost any subject.  Walk-in any classroom and you will find teachers educating their students with stories. Walk into a major corporation and you’ll find high-profile CEOs expressing thoughts, opinions, and facts to their employees with stories. Wherever you go, storytelling is a powerful means of communication.

It has been discovered that each of us has a desire, and perhaps even a need, to tell and hear stories. By sharing stories, and listening to the stories of others, we learn to understand one another at a much deeper level. By creating a common level of understanding, we come together as a community of individuals—appreciating both the differences and similarities we share.

So, how do you go about becoming a great storyteller?  How do you develop the fine art of using stories to make your speech more dynamic?  Here are some steps to becoming an exceptional speaker, and a great storyteller:

1.      Discover the #1 place for finding good stories…your own life!  That’s right; you are the greatest resource for your own stories.  While many public speakers, preachers, teachers, etc. purchase stories from books, the internet, and so on, the best place to get your stories in your own life and experiences.  Listen to the best public speakers and you will find one thing in common (as storytelling relates); the stories they tell are their own, not some story out of a book.  There is nothing wrong with using stories from other places (like books, the internet, and other people), but those resources just do not compare.

Here’s why.  When we tell a personal story, we tell it with more energy and more passion than when we tell someone else’s story.  And passion is contagious!  We are much more likely to inspire people to respond when we speak with great conviction and enthusiasm. 

2.      Learn to find great stories.  Since the best stories are from your own life, you need to learn how to look for them.  Carry with you a recorder or a notebook and pen.  Anytime something moves you—makes you laugh, cry, think, mad, etc., write it down.  And don’t just write down a brief title, write in detail what happened.  Over time, you will forget the details, so write down as much as you can as soon as you can.  Then file it where you can find it the next time you need an illustration that can drive home a specific point.  Speaking of which…

3.      Make sure that the story drives home your point! I have actually seen a few public speakers (and more than a few preachers) tell stories just to tell them.  They either do it simply to entertain or because they have failed to find a real illustration that actually makes the point. You never want to use your story to drive your speech.  Your story is just a tool to effectively communicate.  If you are using stories to make your presentation more effective, it stands to reason that your stories should illustrate your point, not the other way around.

4.      Know your story inside and out!  The main reason for this is that it will give you much more confidence as you speak.  This confidence is good for you, but it is very important for your audience, as well.  Have you ever watched a speaker or singer who lacked confidence?  You sat in the audience and couldn’t wait for it to be over, not because you thought it was bad, but because you felt bad for them.  It made you nervous, and you weren’t even the one on stage.  If you are uncomfortable on the platform, your audience will be uncomfortable watching you.

Another reason you want to know your story well is that it frees you up to tell your story with passion (see point #1 for the importance of passion).  When you do not have to worry about remembering all the important details of the story, you can focus your energy on your delivery.  Please do not underestimate this point: knowing your story inside and out is liberating and powerful.  Be prepared.  Be confident so that you can own the stage.

5.      Connect with your audience. Connecting with your audience on an emotional level is huge. If you are able to do this, you can more easily draw in the interest of the crowd, and your story won’t fall on deaf ears. This means understanding who they are, what they desire, why they are there, and how to speak to them.  Be sure to match how you speak to with whom you are speaking. Your tone, language, and attire should be different when you’re talking to high school students versus a group of women over 40. Try to precisely understand what the audience goes through day-in and day-out and tell a story that connects with them.

6.      Use the emotion of the story.  One reason that so many successful public speakers use stories is that they have learned the great truth of emotion.  Stories are so compelling, because not only do they inform and entertain, they bring about emotion; they inspire. 

Some stories make us laugh, some make us cry.  Some stories make us think, and some cause us to question.  But all stories, if used right, can do the same thing—move us to act.  And this is the goal of EVERY speech giver; to compel the audience to respond.  Use the emotion of the story.

You can become an exceptional speaker and a dynamic communicator.  Public speaking does not have to be something to fear or dread, but can be something you love to do.  You simply need to develop the fine art of storytelling!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marc Adams is the Speaker’s Coach for INSPiRE Coaching. 

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