The Secrets of Storytelling: Public Speaking, Part 1

“They’ll remember your story after they’ve forgotten your name.”

A client and friend sent me a link to the article The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn from Scientific American a few weeks back, prompting me to revisit the importance of storytelling as a public speaking skill in our blog.

The article notes that as a social animal, our brains seem wired to enjoy stories.  One of the many questions explored is how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?

Empathy is part of the larger ability humans have to put themselves in another person’s shoes: we can attribute mental states—awareness, intent—to another entity. Theory of mind, as this trait is known, is crucial to social interaction and communal living—and to understanding stories.

As psychologists probe our love of stories for clues about our evolutionary history, other researchers have begun examining the themes and character types that appear consistently in narratives from all cultures. Their work is revealing universal similarities that may reflect a shared, evolved human psyche.

Perhaps because theory of mind is so vital to social living, once we possess it we tend to imagine minds everywhere, making stories out of everything.

The power of stories does not stop with their ability to reveal the workings of our minds. Narrative is also a potent persuasive tool, according to Hogan and other researchers, and it has the ability to shape beliefs and change minds.

Scientific American Mind, The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn by Jeremy Hsu

How do we utilize storytelling as a presentation skill?

In our workshops at The Henderson Group we know that stories help you get into the “zone” of presenting.  You are intimately familiar with the material and it’s easy to be more animated with an energetic, expressive voice and gestures when telling a story.

Weave your background and resume into a story.  You will get to tout your experience while also gaining attention and building rapport.  Use personal stories to make points.  Carefully selected, vivid details are always more powerful than vague, general adjectives.  These are the elements that can make a story effective:

  • Common reference points
  • Characters
  • Recognizable archetypes
  • Conflict
  • Details
  • Dialogue between characters
  • A good segue back to your topic

Fashion personal stories that show you in a vulnerable light (when you were struggling as a young sales rep, at your first job out of college, etc.) They will help you gain empathy and get the audience rooting for you.  Come up with 2 – 3 stories that you can develop and plug into different presentations.

Practice telling the story to friends and family members in informal settings.  Continue to refine it to its most compact, crystallized form by selecting the pertinent details and then letting those details vividly delivered with expressive non-verbal behavior do the work.  I GUARANTEE that you will find that storytelling will transform your professional and personal communications in powerful and pleasurable ways.  Part 2



14 thoughts on “The Secrets of Storytelling: Public Speaking, Part 1

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  9. Julie

    To find out which parts of a speech the audience remembered, sometimes I would just ask them. Almost always, it’s the information within a story that they remember.

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  11. terrygault Post author

    Julie – Just saw your comment today for the first time. Not sure why. In any case, your comment doesn’t surprise me at all. In our courses, we often do a story piece. I tell a story and then ask the audience to identify where the common story elements of high stakes, conflict, dialogue, etc. were evidenced in the story. They are ALWAYS able to identify them and invariably recount the details with remarkable precision. It proves the point that stories are VERY sticky. Thanks again!

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