Storytelling is inherently powerful because it is deeply ingrained in our human nature, tracing back to ancient cave paintings and the tales shared around fires during hunting expeditions. In today’s business landscape, stories continue to hold tremendous power, even as they have transitioned to contemporary social media platforms. By leveraging five impactful storytelling strategies, you can cultivate profound connections with your audiences, establishing a lasting and meaningful bond:
Invisible wall exists between every speaker and their audience. You need to break down that wall to reach your audience, it’s the art of getting to “them.” To move from an experienced speaker to an engaging speaker, you need to understand that how you’re connecting is just as important as what you’re saying. 🧙♂️ Tell great stories. What establishes trust? Authenticity, simplicity, and creativity. All elements of a great story. An insightful story can persuade people from any walk of life. 🤹♀️ Ask powerful questions. Rather than pretend to be a know-it-all, ask questions to get them thinking, invite them to analyze how they think, provide food for thought, to make their own thought-based decisions. 🤗 Tap into empathy. Build your presentation around their needs. What subject really matters to them? What challenges are they facing? What do they need to make themselves successful? 🌜🌞 Use contrast and variety. “Serve” viewers a buffet of brief stories, contrasting a serious, investigative piece, delivered with intensity, with a fun human-interest story, sprinkled with banter. 🤷♂️ Embrace mistakes. Mistakes happen. No matter how much you plan, something unexpected and unpredictable is bound to occur. On the improv stage this fact creates magic. For an improviser there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Any communicator can practice this with any audience. 💯 Be real. Let them be real. Authenticity is the currency of a real engagement from an audience.
“I’ll be brief” adds two minutes to presentation, “we are running late, so I’ll be brief” adds five to ten. What can you do when your presentation space shrinks from decent 15 minutes to five? Be concise not brief
Craft your presentation or speech in a scalable way. Have 🌟 a memorable opening, 1️⃣2️⃣3️⃣ up to three points and 🎁 a memorable closing. One way is to have a summary version of presentation at the begging of your slides.
Reiterate your point (but don’t be boring). ☝ Tell them what you are going to tel. ✌ Tell it. 🖖Summarize what you just told.
Focus on the powerful closing. Your goal is not to show the last slide. Your goal is to make your point. So, reiterate it in 🎁 a memorable closing and make a pause 🧘♀️ to allow your final point to sink in.
Public speaking could be a misleading term, it is less about speaking and more about communication. Questions are incredibly versatile tools for making presentations more effective and engaging. Questions could be used for building intrigue, inviting audience engagement, helping you remember what to say and even calming your anxiety.
🙋♀️ Polling questions make the audience part of your point, shared experience is a great connection builder. It works well both in-person and on-line—”please raise your hand if you ever…” or “please vote with smile emoji if you ever…” Stand up artists and showrunners use it all the time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o34HSHzOt5c
🔀 Outline the talk using questions and regulate the flow of the presentation. List questions which could serve as prompts for what you intend to say. It will help you to navigate speech without memorizing it word-by-word. In turn, it makes speech more conversational and engaging—you are simply answering your audience’s unasked questions.
“You have to improve structure of the speech, also your body language, and vocal variety, and…” Have you ever felt overwhelmed by suggestions for improvement—clearly, well intentioned? They provide a good map of improvements. You should tackle them one at a time, by focusing on one thing to be improved and letting other things be as they are.
Want to improve vocal variety? Drop the speech writing and read a famous speech or letter. Interpretive reading is a great opportunity to practice your vocal skills and it is fun. Moreover, you could find many examples to learn from. My favourite is Benedict Cumberbatch reading Sol LeWitt’s letter to Eva Hesse, what is yours?
Want to improve speech structure and content? Guineapig it on colleagues, family, your dog! Don’t worry much about other features, like posture and vocal variety. Open Mic is a great model for testing material, which is used by experienced speakers.
Want to pump your impromptu speaking? Volunteer for Table Topic Sessions at Toastmasters Club Meeting, they are often open to guests, or attend (run?) a Table Topic Marathon. Your learning goal is to start speaking on the spot, so practice this and only this.
Want to give a helpful speech evaluation? Limit your suggestions to 1 or 2 points maximum. I prefer “3-2-1” evaluation scheme: three observations on achievements, two suggestions for improvement, one takeaway.
Practice makes you better. Just keep going. One step at a time.
One common comment I usually get from a Grammarian is to replace ‘very’ word with stronger alternatives, and there is no lack of good synonyms. However, it could be vital to avoid “badjectives”—adjectives so generic and broad that they have virtually no impact (as Joel Schwartzberg calls themhttps://www.inc.com/joel-schwartzberg/improve-communication-by-avoiding-badjectives.html). These are used so broadly, that they are trivialized and lost any meaning—all ideas are “great”, impact is “amazing”, products are “innovative”, name it. We use them for a simple reason, they are readily available, instant and easy to use.
Going from “adjectives” to more impactful adjectives is simple—just to ask and answer WHY? question and then choose the most meaningful. An example:
❌ Great job, Lisa!
❔ WHY was Lisa’s accomplishment “great?” Because it could lead to a new revenue stream.
📜 Being too scripted. An overly scripted speech sounds robotic and rarely captures people attention. Better to create a presentation and leave room for improvisation
🤐 Using too many filler words. Filler words—and, but, so, you know, ah, um—dilute your message and distract audience. Good news—you could improve signal-to-noise ratio by practicing. At Toastmasters we have special role ‘Ah-Counter’ to help people to improve
⁉ Using question inflections. Question could be a great tool to engage audience. Hovered, adding a question inflection to a statement makes you sound unsure of yourself. So, choose your questions wisely
💃 Swaying or standing too still. Body language is crucial for enforcing your message, however try to avoid two extremes—standing too still or swaying all the time.
🤩 Avoiding eye contact. Maintaining eye contact is vital for engaging audience. Online and hybrid meetings made it harder to keep eye contact. Two possible solutions—scan the faces through screen and look at the camera when you are speaking. Try and practice.
📊 Misusing visual aids. Visual aids are great, and online meeting offer new ways to use them. But please, refrain from walking them through the talk verbatim.
⌚ Mismanaging time. “I will be short” is THE worst opening phrase, as it guarantees overtime. Be on time, respect your audience.
Good vocal variety is the best tool in your public speaking toolbox. It helps keep the audience engaged, provide them with your meaning and emphasis, and activate pathos part of the rhetorical triangle. You could learn to use it effectively to enhance your presentation, just need some practice. However, preparing both content of speech and practicing vocal variety could be hard exercise. One possible solution is using existing text to read them out loud, similar to the Toastmasters legacy advanced manual “Interpretive Reading”.
One excellent source of “fake-it-until-you-make-it” texts is famous letters. Project Letters of Note compiled a collection of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and unusual letters. It is available in a book form of book and in an online-collection. It was extended by a Letters Live project, a series of live events where remarkable letters are read by a diverse array of outstanding performers. You could find many videos on project’s Youtube channel and use them for practice.
Words matters. Certain words can can belitle your ideas, convey uncertainty, and makes you sound unsure and wobbly. Other words exaggerate in such an extent, that they lose potency. Here are seven words to avoid:
🚫 Just belittle people, trivialize things and mask discomfort—”she is just an intern”, “I just want to say…” Just drop it!
🚫 Only as an adverb sounds judgmental and sarcastic—“If only you listened when I talk to you”
🚫 But is a fly in the ointment. “I like your idea BUT…” is conversation killer. Try to replace it with AND
🚫Should is a way of punishing ourselves and others for not hitting a mark or reaching a goal, which could well be artificial or impossible—“You should do it another way”
🚫Absolutely is a filler word with imbued with exaggeration. “Would you like pancakes for breakfast?” “Absolutely!” Ehm, “Yes” (or “No”) is enough.
🚫Always and Never (and their buddies Everybody and Nobody) are divisive and inflammatory. Few things in the world are permanent, and exceptions are ubiquitous.
You want your presentation to stick. Audience keeps your main idea in mind. People apply it in the context of their business. Public respond to your call to action. All this require working memory. There are three ideas how to boost your listeners working memory:
🦸♂️ Manage interferences. Your presentation could be too familiar with other presentations, which people encounters earlier or after meeting. Clarify what must be remembered and make it distinct.
🎛 Group together materials to boost working memory. Lower cognitive workload to boost working memory—when you task people too much, they’ll look elsewhere for something easier to process. Instead of “1001 items to remember” go for 3 main ideas.
🔄 Link new concepts to the familiar. Current formula for working memory is “attention + long-term memory = working memory”. Use techniques that attract attention and then connect the new items to concepts that already exist in people’s long-term memory. Metaphor is a great device to do this linking.