By Vaibhav Vadera, Toastmasters International
Take a moment to imagine the scene. A group of high school students is listening to a motivational speaker. He tells a dramatic story of determination and overcoming the odds. So why were the students looking perplexed and whispering questions to their neighbors? The story was about the speaker’s close friend, someone who always walked his own path and became a guitarist for a famous band. Unfortunately, the young people in the audience didn’t recognize the name of the band. They were totally unaware of the punk rockers of the 1980s.
Although the speaker was highly experienced and skilled, on this occasion his stories weren’t tailored for the audience in front of him.
A search on Google immediately provides huge numbers of pages on why humans love stories and scientific evidence that shows your audience is more likely to retain factual information if it is presented with a story. A great story can tap into your emotions. It can be so enthralling that you want to tell your friends the same story…repeatedly. Stories can be riveting. You don’t need me to tell you that. However, when you are preparing a presentation, it is crucial to pick a story that will resonate with that audience. If you don’t, the most likely outcome is that they will disengage.
Image: Yay Images
To find the story or stories that will fit here are some tips.
1. Create your own gallery of stories
Before you start delivering your story, it is important to have a curated gallery of stories that you can choose from. Here’s one way to do this. Pick an emotion. Let’s take joy, for example. Take a moment to think about the most recent time you felt a sense of joy. Then write this memory down. Include everything that happened before you felt that joy, and everything that happened after you experienced that feeling. (It may help to ask Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?)
Guess what? You now have a relatable story about joy.
Next, practice telling this story. Record yourself and see if you can deliver it in a more engaging way. Then think of another time you felt joy and build another story. Repeat the same activity with different emotions both positive and negative. By the end, you will have a few stories that illicit different emotions that you will be able to tell over and over again.
Once you have a gallery of stories, you can pick and choose different stories to include as part of your next speech. This will give you the option of altering the story for different audiences if you are planning on delivering the story on more than one occasion
2. Imagine you are in the audience
Now that you have a gallery of stories, you can start thinking about your audience. Consider who is in your audience and their values, interests, and challenges. Try to really empathize with how they may be feeling. This will help you to decide what story best fits them. Notice how I said “them” and not “me”?
Think about why should they listen to you. What is in it for them?
For example, when I am speaking to an audience of men, I am going to tell raw, personal childhood and adulthood stories to show that is it acceptable to display emotions as a man. However, when I am talking to business leaders, my stories are going to be geared around overcoming hardship and being resilient despite facing uncertainty.
3. Adapt your stories
If you are still struggling with finding the right story that will have a lasting impact on the audience, then try mixing existing stories up. Try telling the story in a different way, perhaps from a different perspective or with a different narrative structure. Let’s take for example the classic children’s nursery rhyme ‘Humpty Dumpty.’ As you probably recall the original goes like this:
Humpty Dumpty sat on the Wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All of the king’s horse and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
What would happen if we took the same classic story and retold it from the perspective of one of the King’s men? Here is one version.
I noticed Humpty sitting all on his own
Suddenly he toppled and we heard a big groan
My friends tried to help him, he looked blue and battered
We tried and we tried, but he was totally shattered.
And if the story was told from Humpty’s point of view?
I was in need of a break on such a hot day
I sat on the wall, but my balance gave way
A crowd came rushing forward to see what they could do
Too late I’m in bits and I might be toast too
This may be a nursery rhyme example, but the point is still valid. The same story is told in different ways. Don’t assume you are stuck with delivering your information in the same way. Mix it up, try a different angle. You may be surprised by the results.
4. Trial your stories
You might not know the right story to tell straight away. You might not deliver it with the impact that you had originally intended. You might struggle to get started with a story gallery. That’s all ok! Don’t be hard on yourself.
Sometimes, it is a process of trial and error to find just the right story or a combination of stories. You can practice with recording yourself in front of a camera or in front of friends. You probably will have moments when the audience might not understand a joke or a reference and that is completely fine. Just pause, compose yourself and carry on. You will get there eventually.
Lastly, take the opportunity to share your unique, deeply personal stories. You’ll find that there are numerous stories from your life your audience can relate to and learn from. Be courageous, be authentic and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Let your audience enjoy the gift of your story.
Vaibhav Vadera is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organization that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland.
Members follow a structured educational program to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings, and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.