The Interrupted Story: One Way to Tell a Story in a Speech

Christopher Witt —  February 2, 2016

interrupted story, speechEveryone knows by now—or should know—that telling a story is one of best ways to make a speech interesting, powerful, and memorable.

I’m not talking about fables or stories that are made up out of whole cloth simply to illustrate a moral. Or about stories you’ve found on the internet or heard from some other speaker or read in a business book.

No, I’m talking about true stories. Stories that involve real people, actual events, risks and struggles that have tangible consequences.

I prefer personal stories, stories that feature the speaker in some way without, mind you, making him or her the hero. But telling someone else’s story—as long as it’s not widely known and properly attributed—can also be effective.

One of my favorite ways of telling a story in a speech is what I call the interrupted story.

If you haven’t used this technique yourself, you’ve probably heard a speaker use it.

How the Interrupted Story Works in a Speech

Begin telling your story. Jump right in without preface. Avoid saying, “I’d like to tell you a story.” Just start.

Establish the context of the story and present the main character. Then introduce a wrinkle of some sort, a “disturbance in the force.” Not a major crisis. Just an event or thought or circumstance that gives you the opportunity to pause.

Stop telling the story. Step outside of it for a moment to comment on it, to look at what’s happening below the surface, to connect the main character’s concerns or feelings or problems to those of the people in the audience.

Then pick up your story again. Carry it forward until you get to a point where the audience wants to know what happens next.

And stop. Leave them hanging for a moment. Comment on something—an added piece of information, an insight, a question—that adds depth or resonance to the story.

And do it one more time. Tell your story right to the climax. And stop. By now your audience is hooked. They want to know how it ends. So what you say at this time—the main point of your speech—lands on expectant ears and hearts.

Then finish the story. And briefly, in one sentence, if at all possible, finish your speech.

You can  build an entire speech around your story, if it’s a good story. But why would you tell any other kind of story?

What’s your experience with this type of speech?


You might want to check out Hallmarks of an Effective Speech.


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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.

5 responses to The Interrupted Story: One Way to Tell a Story in a Speech

  1. Thank you for posting this great article. I’ve told “my story” many times, but the next time will be different using the strategy you describe. I will definitely share the outcome with the time comes.

    • Dianne,

      I look forward to hearing how it goes.

      I’m working on a new speech using this technique based on a story I’ve told many times.


      • Chris, it’s been a year since I posted and forgot I promised to give feedback on this technique. A work in progress, but I’ve been using it for the past year. I’ve received positive feedback on my presentations but most importantly, I’ve gained so much confidence in doing so. I’m sharing this article with a friend who will be sharing her personal story to a group of family members who are caregivers for a loved one with a disability.

        • Dianne,
          Thank you for your feedback. And I encourage you to keep it up.

          Telling stories is one of the most powerful tools we have in our speaker’s toolbox. There are so many ways to tell a story and so few excuses not to tell one.

          Best, CHris

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  1. The Interrupted Story: One Way to Tell a Story ... - February 2, 2016

    […] Telling a story is one of best ways to make a speech interesting, powerful, and memorable. Telling a story–and interrupting it several times–is a great technique.  […]