Storytelling Tips For Public Speaking

We’ve all sat through them; those painful speeches that never seem to end and it takes all our will to stop ourselves dozing off. The only thing more painful than these experiences is being the speaker in this scenario. As a speaker for the past few years I’ve been lucky to learn a lot of tips along the way. Most of them through trial and error. The biggest part of this learning curve was around storytelling. In order to be a good public speaker you need to know how to tell a story. 

All good speakers incorporate storytelling into their speeches as it keeps an audience engaged and more likely to remember what your message is. Without this most speeches tend to be boring and audiences switch off. Here are some tips that you can use to bring more storytelling into your speeches whether it’s a short speech or a lengthy keynote! 

  • Know Your Audience. Before you do anything you need to know who you will be speaking to. If you are delivering a talk at a local school it will certainly be different to a corporate speaking engagement. The age group can also dictate the length time you can speak before the audience switches off. Knowing your audience is important prior to preparing your speech but you also need to be able to adapt to the audience reactions and feedback. If something is not working, change it mid speech! If you can’t do this off the cuff, have a plan B. 
  • Preparation. This is where people get confused when it comes to storytelling. Over preparing can kill the creativity and flow that is needed for a successful speech. Preparing for a speech does not mean writing pages and pages of notes and a really long slide presentation. Personally I never use notes and try as little as possible to have slides. If you need slides please keep them to a minimum and as the for cue cards/notes…..get rid of them! It is good however to rehearse the general ideas and outline of your story so that you know the time it takes and the general direction you’re going in. 
  • Get Personal. The best stories are the ones from your own experience. People tend to engage more with personal stories and the good news is you don’t need to practice it – you lived the experience so it’s stored away in your memory already! Keep the talk conversational; there’s nothing that will lose an audience quicker than reading out bullet points from those slides we mentioned earlier. When telling your personal story make sure there’s a meaningful message in it. An audience will quickly pick up if you’re telling it only for the purpose of bragging.
  • Use The Senses. People take in and remember information mainly in three ways. Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic.  Bring these three into your stories and you will have an audience that stays with you. For example, rather than just saying the words of your experience, act it out if and where you can. Use props if it’s appropriate so people can relate to your experience further. When it comes to visual, it can be annoying if a speaker is pacing around constantly on stage so only move when changing to new point or to describe an event. 
  • Problem/Solution. We are far more likely to be captivated by a story that has a clear challenge or problem and seeing how characters overcome this to find a solution. You don’t need to have had a near death experience for this. It can be anything from your life but personal challenges can relate better than telling someone else’s story. Creating suspense throughout is also a good idea. Having a build up to key moments in the story will do this but make it fun and not too much waffle. Pausing on important points will help create more suspense in your story. 
  • Opening/Ending. You need to hook your audience in the first couple of sentences. It can be anything that grabs attention but it is important as you need to get them on the journey from the start. When it comes to closing your story it should be big. The audience should leave feeling inspired and ready to act on whatever the key message is in your speech. Every story should have a purpose and it ideally is weaved in through your story without telling the audience what to think. A good story will finish with the audience knowing what the message or purpose is.