You can strengthen just about any speech by telling a story. (Highly technical presentations may be an exception.)
I’ve written a lot about storytelling, because I believe stories are so important:
The Importance of Storytelling In Speeches
Two Easy Ways to Introduce a Story
How to Tell Stories of Struggle, Loss, and Failure
The problem is, not just any story will do.
As a matter of fact, a lot of stories are lame or stale or juvenile. They make a speech less effective, not more powerful. And they weaken a speaker’s credibility.
The best stories to tell in a speech are wild.
Here’s what I mean.
A wild story is fresh.
Once your audience has heard a story–especially if someone else has told it–it’s stale.
Stephen’s Covey’s story of the lighthouse may have been fresh when he first told it decades ago, but it’s tired now and it should be retired. And certainly no one else should tell it. Not if they expect to captivate their audiences.
Stale stories lose their power to excite your listeners or to move them.
A wild story is surprising.
A story moves from a problem–an unwanted situation or dilemma–to a solution or resolution.
That solution should be reasonable, practical, actionable. But, here’s the thing, it should also surprise your audience. It they could figure it out on their own, why would they need to listen to you?
Good stories make the audience say to themselves, “I didn’t see that coming.”
A wild story is disconcerting.
A tame story simply confirms what everyone already knows and thinks and does.
And since the purpose of any speech is to bring about some change, the story you tell should ruffle people’s feathers. Should give them pause. Should make them question their established assumptions or operating procedures.
You can tell children stories they’ve heard before. Stories they can figure out for themselves. Stories that soothe and comfort them.
But when you’re giving a speech to adults, tell wild stories.
Tell them a story they haven’t heard before.
Tell them a story that startles them with some new insight.
Tell them a story that splashes cold water in the face of their certitude, wakes them up, and makes them think.
Great post, Chris!
This aligns with the ideas in “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath — an excellent book on the art of “sticky” storytelling. The book begins with the urban legend about a guy who wakes up in a bathtub in a strange hotel room, and discovers that his kidney has been harvested by a woman he met the night before. The key to a “sticky” story — or a “wild” story — is that it combines an outlandish plot with vivid, specific details…and it’s successful if the listener can read back the entire story after one listening.