June 13, 2008

How do you know when you've nailed it?

A quick "hello" and welcome to new readers who are finding me on Alltop!

Today I gave a short presentation on using stories in public speaking. I had an opening story planned out when I was preparing last week, but what better story to illustrate storytelling than that of our house fire? So I used the fresher story instead.

As my opening, I told the story building up to the point of waiting for the firefighters and discovering that our skin was burning.

There was a loud groan and some laughter when the group realized that they weren't going to hear the end of the story. At that point, they weren't even sure it was true.

I went on to talk about why stories are important in public speaking and how to use them, and then wrapped up with the remainder of the fire story (finally!), lessons learned and a call to action to use more stories in their presentations.

Why do I feel that I nailed this presentation? Because the audience was engaged the whole time.

Why was the audience engaged the whole time? The story and its relationship to the topic.

But not just any story: It was my story. It was a real story. And it was an emotional story.

A few tips for using stories in your presentations:

1. Use your own, or those of your clients or other people you know.

Using a stale story that's been circulating through e-mail or around the Internet is a surefire way to bore your audience. Stories connect the speaker to the audience; help them relate to you by using your own experiences as much as possible.

2. Use humor.

You don't have to tell jokes. Find the natural and organic humor in your story. Your audience will be able to relate much more to the real humor in the situation than to a canned joke.

3. Be descriptive.

Act things out. Describe colors, shapes, smells, tastes, and anything else that brings the story to life and creates a mental picture for your audience. (Yes, I acted out the fireball.)

4. Evoke emotion.

Tell a story that makes people laugh, cry, feel angry, feel excited, feel anticipation -- just make them feel something.

5. Prepare in advance.

Telling a story is an art. Your beginning, middle and end have to be crystal clear. If you forget part of your story or don't tell it in an organized way, your audience will be confused about how it applies to your topic. Your message will not be received. Practice your story!

Especially gratifying was when the speaker who went after me spontaneously added a story to the beginning of her presentation. Yes, she was winging it, but the story fit her presentation and it was a great effort to add some pizzazz to her opening.

How do you know when you've nailed it?

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