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


Use the Power of "Signature Stories" to Enliven Your Presentations
by Chris King

It is hard to believe that there are still presenters who, when introduced and take the platform, will start their presentation with a, “Thank you. I am so pleased to be here,” or they tell a joke or a story that bears no relationship to their topic. Yes, you usually are pleased to be speaking to the group - or you should be! And, yes, laughter helps to build rapport with your listeners, but please don’t use a joke to elicit it. Saying all of that, I now want to stress the importance for presenters to take the time and effort to develop strong and effective signature stories. Why and what is a “Signature Story?” Read on!

What Is a “Signature Story?”

A “Signature Story” belongs to you - just like your own signature does. It can be a personal story about your own experience or experiences. It can be a story about someone else’s experience - just don’t use well known stories that have been around forever. We have heard them time after time (the Kentucky Fried Chicken story and the Roger Bannister story, for example). It can be an original story that embraces the topic and/or points of your presentation. Or, it can also be a traditional story or fairy/folk tale that has been updated to fit your presentation. I have used all, and with proper preparation, they have all worked to my benefit.

Why Use “Signature Stories?”

Remembering that our “Signature Stories” need to be riveting and topnotch, we will find that as long as we make them unique and “our own,” our listeners will react and remember us and our stories. Good stories are easily internalized, so we as listeners will be able to think back and remember the points made in the presentation. I also enjoy hearing a good story again and again. I remember and love re-hearing Zig Ziglar’s cafeteria story; Jim Rohn’s Girl Scout cookie story; Stephen Covey’s use of the traditional “Golden Goose” story; along with many other stories told by these leading motivators and other powerful presenters.

Developing the Personal “Signature Story”

  • The advantage of developing and using your own personal story is that it is “unique” to you. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t seem plausible and even bring to mind similar stories that your listeners have experienced - actually, this is even better, because they will relate more to you and your topic. It is OK to embellish a bit, but my warning here is to share your struggles rather than your triumphs. People like to hear about times when you are the “bug” rather than the “windshield.”
  • Don’t be afraid to expose some of your weaknesses or fears. I have a story that everyone loves called “Bat in the Bathroom.” It gets lots of laughs and many of my listeners rush up after my presentation to share similar challenges with nature’s creatures.
  • One other caveat about personal “Signature Stories” is that you are not using them for your own therapy. I have heard speakers who think they are touching the hearts of their audience, when they are actually making them uncomfortable. I tell a positive story about my son’s bout with cancer, but it took me several years before I could tell it without crying. Once I had control and started to tell it - it is called, “I Believe in Miracles” - I have had many relatives of cancer patients thank me for sharing it (and years after I have told it).

Personal “Signature Stories” about Other People’s Experiences

  • These can be motivating stories about an historical person - please, not Thomas Edison! Do your factual research about the character, the times in which he or she lived - what they wore, what they ate, and other details you won’t use, but need to know yourself. Then craft a story (for the ingredients of a good story, see below) that has meaning and pizzazz.
  • These can also be stories about someone you know or have known - be sure, if they are still living that you have permission, even if you give them a different name. This type of story - because it isn’t about you - can tell of accomplishments and triumphs. Just remember that you never want to tell a story that you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling if the person it is about is a member of the audience.

Original, Traditional Stories with a Twist, or Fairy/Folk Tales

  • I fear that many presenters feel that “Signature Stories” must have been something that actually happened. Not necessarily true! I have a cockroach story that is based on the “Pied Piper of Hamlin” that I have told for years. I have also heard excellent presentations based on Aesop’s Fables - they offer a plethora of plots and morals, of course.
  • And, if you love stories and go both ways - as a speaker and storyteller, as I do - use the fairy or folk tales that mean something important to you. It will add such a good change of pace to your presentation, your listeners will sit up and take notice. And, love you for it too!

Ingredients to Use When Developing Your “Signature Story”

  • I would be remiss at this stage not to mention some of the ingredients that help you develop, prepare, and tell an effective, compelling story. A good story has a beginning, middle, and end. It must include conflict or crises, and a climax or resolution. It is not merely a descriptive anecdote it must have plot.
  • Make your stories short, punchy, and meaningful. Include pauses, drama, suspense, and not too many details. Think in images and create those pictures for your listeners.
  • And do visit my companion site,, for articles on just about everything to do with story and storytelling.


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