Use the power of storytelling  in your life, career, and community


How to Get and Keep Audience Attention ... Use the Power of Story
by Chris King

It was 3 p.m. on a hot, summer afternoon. The non-air conditioned college classroom was jammed with CityYear participants who had started their active day before 6 a.m. I was doing a workshop on using the “Magic of Storytelling in the Community” when I noticed a few eyes closing and a few heads nodding. I said, “Let me tell you a story” and everyone perked up. Everyone loves a good story. How can we use the power of story to enhance our presentations?

Why should we use stories? The truth is that audience members probably will not remember our names, but they will remember our stories. Even if we have given them handouts and talked for many minutes on an important topic, participants often won’t remember the points we have made. But they will remember a point that has been illustrated with an effective story. We enjoy, internalize, and remember stories. That’s why fables, parables, folktales, and family stories have lasted for centuries. The Bible is filled with stories. Today’s Chicken Soup series, which is loaded with stories, is a top seller in bookstores.

Where can we find stories to tell? Stories are everywhere. By being observant and making notes of daily occurrences, we can find lots of material for our stories. For example, if you are doing presentations on customer service, you encounter examples of good, bad, and, hopefully, superior customer service on a regular basis. Our own lives and experiences offer a wealth of stories. Just remember, that the audience will enjoy hearing about your struggles and failures more than your successes. When I first started speaking, I remember a well-known speaker saying, “Some days, you are the bug, and some days, you are the windshield. People would rather hear about you being the bug.” It puts us in the category of vulnerability. The audience members relate with a “me too” bonding.

What makes an effective story? To be effective and memorable, a story — and not just an anecdote or description —has several components. First is the main character — there may be other characters involved, but there is one who has something to learn or overcome. You, the speaker and narrator may often be the main character. There is something blocking you or causing you trouble which turns into a crisis. It may be an outside force — for example, the weather, a catastrophe, or another person — or it may be you, yourself. A crisis can be any event that stretches the main character and brings about the climax when everything changes. For a story to be successful, the plot starts with a status quo, moves into the crisis, and following the climax, nothing is ever the same again. As you can see as a speaker how an effective story provides the perfect venue for making a point, imparting a life message, or teaching a lesson.

Where should a story or stories occur in the presentation? The positioning of a story in the presentation has a great deal to do with the type of story we choose to tell. Often a humorous story placed at the beginning — and I am not suggesting a joke — will evoke laughter which helps with audience rapport. Make sure that the story has something to do with your theme. An autobiographical story at the beginning of a presentation can also introduce you and your background to the audience (what gives you the authority and know how to speak on this topic?). During the presentation, what I call “ah ha!” stories can help with making many points, and also keeping the audience lively and awake. And ending with an emotional story will keep your presentation and you alive in the audience’s hearts and minds for a long time following your speech or workshop. To find out more about the power of storytelling and how to become an excellent storyteller, visit Storytelling Power HERE.

Start telling, retelling, retelling, and retelling. The more often you tell your stories, the more comfortable and the better you will become as a storyteller. So tell your stories to anyone who will listen — friends, family, peers, and co-workers. Watch to see how they react. Ask them for feedback. The stories will soon take on a life of their own and you can start using them to enliven your presentations.

Have fun!

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