How to Tell a Story in a Speech

Christopher Witt —  September 10, 2012 — 7 Comments

Tell me a story copyThere are many reasons to tell a story in a speech.

Stories appeal to people’s imaginations, emotions, and memories. They convey a lot of information in an easily understandable format. They make the person telling the story more personable and likable.

And there are many types of stories you can tell. (Nick Morgan outlines here several variations of a problem-solution story that you can use.)

Let’s suppose for a moment that you have already chosen your story. It’s a good story. It has…

  • An interesting character who 1) is thwarted in his/her pursuit of something that matters, 2) overcomes that conflict or opposition to achieve his/her goal, and 3) learns a valuable lesson in the process.
  • Just the right details and the right amount of them so that people can see and hear the action taking place in their imaginations.
  • An element of surprise.
  • The ring of truth, even if the details have been rearranged or (slightly) altered to make it more powerful.
  • A universal appeal. Even though it is about a specific person in a particular time and place, everyone listening to it can place themselves in it and feel that it is their story.

So how do you tell a story in your speech?

5 Tips for Telling a Story

  1. Jump right in.
    Don’t introduce it with, “I’d like to tell a story about…” Don’t say, “That reminds me of a time when…” Just start.
  2. Picture the story in your imagination.
    I write out the story I’m going to tell. Then I rewrite it again and again so that every word, phrase, and image serves a purpose. Then I visualize the story unfolding in my mind. I make it seem as if I’m watching a movie. And then I describe what I’m seeing and hearing to my audience.
  3. Identify with the main character and his/her struggle.
    That’s easy to do, if you are the main character of the story. But even if your story focuses on some other person, put yourself in that person’s shoes. Feel what he/she is going through. That way your audience will be more likely to identify with the main character.
  4. Pause.
    Pausing is always a good thing to do in a speech. It adds emphasis to what you say before or after the pause. It keeps your speech from sounding like an unending stream of words. I suggest pausing before you begin your story and pausing at the end.
  5. State your take-away truth.
    Good stories lead to some insight, revelation, or truth. That’s one reason why you want to tell it. So state that take-away truth in one finely polished sentence. Then pause again.

As children we loved listening to stories and telling them. Somewhere along the way — in school or in adolescence — we had stories beaten out of us. But stories are still the native language of us all. So include a story in your next speech. You and your audience will be glad you did.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

7 responses to How to Tell a Story in a Speech

  1. Hi…this post was really helpful tome. I’m very inexperienced in storytelling but wants to do so in a Toastmasters speech coming up. Thanks a lot

  2. Really enjoyed your article. Lots of good tips on how the craft of storytelling. Thanks for sharing.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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    […] Check out How to Tell a Story in a Speech. […]

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