by Kate Farrell
Success in public speaking depends on a direct relationship with your audience and nothing is better than storytelling to create that rapport.
The telling of stories is a tantalizing art—the magnetism of a good story is strong, drawing in the audience. Even if you share a hilarious tale worthy of a standup comic, you have crossed the threshold into a world of the imagination made of nothing but thin air. The very simplicity of the art is deceptive in its power to move an idea, create an experience, or produce a drama. A contributing factor is that the storytelling audience is a co-creator in the art.
It is the identification of the audience with the story that makes it unforgettable. Only when the audience experiences the story as their own, do they remember it as if they lived it. This is the power in the art of storytelling: Authentic, personal stories have the undeniable power to connect.
Telling a story is like painting a picture with words. Storytelling is an amazingly inexpensive art. There is really nothing else needed except the live human voice, listeners, and a clear story focus. Your inner concentration on the images embedded in a story drives your voice production to create the word pictures that every listener sees in his or her own way. It’s a triangulation of creativity among teller, story, and listener that resonates and continues to develop throughout the telling.
But how do you create an inner concentration strong enough to maintain focus in a live or virtual setting? How does the teller create the images that everyone can see? The following steps are designed to assist you in doing just that.
- Choose a story that is relevant to the topic at hand, that extends or enriches it. Look for a hook to bring immediate notice or use a transition as you begin.
For example, if the topic revolves around high school memories, you might startle your audience by saying, “When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to go into the convent instead of high school.” Once you’ve grabbed their attention, begin with a scene. Use sensory details to set the action, use a bit of dialogue, and continue with the tension, the conflict.
- As you tell your story, call up the images of each scene in your mind’s eye.
This is the key technique to having the story connect: As you visualize the events and project the scenes, your listeners will also see them and experience the action vicariously. You might literally “lean in” over a lectern or inside a Zoom box to increase the intimacy and speak directly to each person in turn.
- Return to the narrative and resolve the tension: What happens? What did you learn? How does the story relate to the overall discussion?
A professional story advances your career or makes a point about your expertise and could take place in an interview, public talk, or while teaching.
- Create the layers of meaning for this story, so you are ready to answer questions or expand further in a talk. What does this story demonstrate: about you, about the topic?
Preparation is important, so that you are able to touch on the major points before or after your story.
While delivering this story, project confidence, so that you communicate your credibility along with the narrative. Practice eye contact to include everyone in a natural, random way. Visualize each scene and project its reality with the steady quality of your voice. Keep your focus on the point of the story, rather than on its drama.
The teller speaks to and includes the audience in an interactive process of story-making. Storytelling does not really take place on a stage and the spotlight is not on the storyteller. It takes place within the imagination of the teller and of all those listening.
So, whether you are speaking in a lecture hall or on a teleconference, the power of story will enhance your talk through the time-honored, spoken word art of storytelling.
Kate Farrell, storyteller, author, librarian, founded the Word Weaving Storytelling Project and published numerous educational materials on storytelling. She has contributed to and edited award-winning anthologies of personal narrative, Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the 60s & 70s, and Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence. Farrell’s award-winning new book, is a timely, how-to guide on the art of storytelling for adults, Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories. Kate is offers virtual workshops for libraries and writing groups, as well as performing virtually as a storyteller.
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