Tell me a story


We love stories. We are wired for stories. Over the generations, we learned from our elders as they used stories to widen our eyes and make us listen and remember. And so information was passed on through the ages.

I get out to quite a few presentations these days, and in the past few weeks alone have listened to a former prime minister, a Premier, both a state and a federal treasurer (trying to sell their respective budgets) and a few other current and former ministers. Some were better communicators than others. I’ve also heard various business people give presentations, and they have ranged from the jaw-achingly awful to the spell binding. And in each case, separating the good from the bad really came down to the ability to tell stories.

John Howard held the attention of a room of 1000 people at the Perth Convention Centre the week before last, amazing his audience with his vivid memory from the 70s through to modern day. His recall (no doubt rose-tinted) helped place his arguments in context. You could see the nodding heads around the room as listeners recalled the same events he described. Speaking without notes and coming on after 3 previous speakers (who’d collectively taken up 90 minutes) he showed all the mastery and toughness that helped him though 33 years of parliamentary life as he climbed (as Disraeli once described) the “greasy pole”. He finished on time. To the minute. Humour was sprinkled in at intervals. Some of the other speakers lost my attention at various moments, but JH held me for 35 minutes straight.

Say you have a 20 minute or 30 minute time slot (or even just 3 minutes). Think stories. Think simple. People will relax and warm to you. Smile. Speak clearly and firmly. Learn your craft by rolling out these stories from time to time to different audiences. Perfect them. I practice in the bathroom in front of the mirror or in the garden. My family think me mad. Remember, most of the time, most of your audience would never have heard these stories before. Launch straight in. No messing. Use descriptive language to set the scene, to transport your audience. And then make the points clearly and effectively from the stories relayed. It’s about the most effective communication technique on the planet.

Kill the bullet points; use images in your slides (if you need any at all – John Howard had none, nor did the other pollies). Tell stories. And watch your audience lap it up.

If you have time: watch this presentation on this very subject.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Tell stories (right off the bat)
  2. No bullet points, use images on your slides (if you have slides at all – a great way to practice speaking is with NO visual aids. Remember, YOU are your best visual aid)
  3. Get to the WHY, use emotion to reach your audience (then they’ll follow you)
  4. Use simple language, four letter words
  5. Don’t try to make more than 1, 2 or 3 points
  6. Keep to time. Never rush. Practice, practice, practice. If it’s a 10 minute speech, hit your mark bang on 10 minutes. Anything else is an insult to your audience.

One thought on “Tell me a story

  1. Pingback: Public Speaking? Start with a story |

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