Stand Up and - Toast! Once Upon a Time....

Storytelling is an art. And a very useful tool to capture your audience’s attention, to bring your presentations to life, and to make them memorable.

You likely remember the tale of Hansel and Gretel, and the lessons they taught us: remember where you came from (the breadcrumbs), and have a vision of your goal (home). The imagery of stories is what makes your audiences remember your point, more than facts and figures.

Now, I’m not advocating the “a man walked into a bar” joke-style variety. Unless you are a stand-up comedian, you still need a “red thread” that ensures that your stories are not a random collection of anecdotes. To be effective, stories should be used to support your points in a compelling way.

Personal Stories

If you are speaking to motivate, your own experiences, and those of your friends, are very effective. They also have the added benefit that you probably know them like the back of your hand. Still, don’t fall into the trap of reciting events, in the vein of “and then this happened, and then that happened.” Select the moment of your story that highlights your point, and construct a summarized lead-up to it.

And don’t use an urban legend and pass it off as your own. If you choose to use such a story, acknowledge it, for example: “You may have seen this on the Internet.” If you try to pass it off as your own experience, and someone has seen the story on a social media channel or checked it out on snopes.com or a similar site, you lose credibility, and the remainder of your speech will also seem inauthentic.

Business Stories

Unless it’s relevant to the topic you are presenting, stories from your personal life don’t matter in a business meeting. And stories from your professional life are only relevant when enhancing the purpose of your presentation, for example by highlighting your personal experience that led to the success of a consulting project. In business situations, start with a compelling statistic, either from an industry analyst or a benchmarking study, then back it up with a customer success story. Just make sure you have the customer’s permission!


Finally, name-dropping is not a story. During my undergraduate graduation ceremony at the College of William and Mary, the keynote speaker was highly ranked in the federal government. He spent half of his address name-dropping other heads of state and international leaders with whom he’d had lunch.  My MBA graduation speaker at the same university was “only” a state governor, yet he found a way to connect with the graduates, by highlighting our traditions into a speech that resonated with us – from the Yulelog ceremony to the story of each Senior ringing the bell in the historic Wren Building after the last exam was completed.

Remember that the best storytellers paint a picture with words – and select their stories carefully to support their message.


To understand different types of storytelling, read about the details of the storytelling project manual on the District 4 Toastmasters site: http://d4tm.org/Education/acK-Storytelling.html

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Claudia Cruz October 04, 2012 at 06:02 PM
These are great tips about how to connect with an audience. As a reporter, we don't usually share to much about our lives with sources; however, every so often we do find that in order to make someone comfortable enough to talk to us--on the record--we need to build that bridge, and sharing something personal can help. Thanks Birgit!
Birgit Starmanns October 05, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Hi Claudia, that's a great point about the role of reporters - and learning how to draw the line of how much (or how little) to reveal! Maybe worth a follow-up blog :)


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