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Story Telling

* Tell stories. Stories are highly effective conduits for learning. This is because listeners relate the stories to their own past experiences and actually form new experiences which incorporate the emotions and ideas in the stories.

*Relive instead of retelling a story. Effective storytellers bring their characters to life through voice and physical presence, appearing to relive a story as they tell it. They use real dialogue to convey emotion, either moving the story forward or revealing a character’s strengths and flaws.

* Create a protagonist with strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Using archetype roles for a story’s characters boost emotional impact and save time. Listeners naturally want heroes to succeed and villains to try to obstruct them.

* Challenge the protagonist with a worthy opponent. The best, most believable stories have opponents well-matched with the protagonist. When villains are intangible evils, they can serve as effective foils to the core message. For example, complacency would be an appropriate villain in a speech inspiring people to take action.

* Introduce a mentor to humanize and arm the protagonist. Most mentors are family and friends. But they can also be inanimate objects like a computer, or even intangible entities like music.

* Craft a high-stakes climax. The more intense a story’s climax, the more it will engage the audience.

* Tell the audience the moral of the story. Most speakers overtly deliver the moral of their story.

* Tell stories using a three-act hero’s journey structure. In Act 1, the protagonist is introduced and experiencing an incident that casts him on a journey. In Act 2, the protagonist is subjected to escalating conflicts and accumulates valuable tools and knowledge in the course of each trial. In Act 3, the protagonist has been transformed physically, morally, or emotionally.

* Bring listeners into the story’s setting. Effective settings are specific in time, location, and atmosphere. For example, the speaker describes the season, weather, lighting, and even physical objects to convey a mood.

* Build a logical narrative structure by choosing the variety and progression of stories. While stories can be varied in many creative ways, it is important to keep a consistent theme and to reinforce the core message in the speech’s title.

Stories can progress in four ways:

  1. Linear–standard chronological order.

  2. Independent–multiple stories share a core message but have different characters, settings, and chronologies.

  3. Flashback–the speaker turns back the clock and then returns to a chronological order of events.

  4. Nonlinear–artful approaches like reverse or complex blends of chronology.

* Adjust technical depth to the message and the audience. Even when addressing a professional audience, speakers must be careful to avoid overly challenging content. Listeners should not be made to feel like they are being lectured.

* Eliminate jargon. Jargon, especially acronyms and industry slang, can lose an audience and make the speaker sound less professional. Its use should be restricted to audiences who are clearly familiar with it.

* Choose messages with universal appeal. Speakers should choose stories that appeal to both men and women. For example, metaphors should not relate solely to male-oriented sports.


* Get the first laugh fast to release tension, build rapport, and create likeability. Audiences want and need the speaker to release the tension that builds up before a speech begins. Making listeners laugh helps build a connection with them.

*Use humor in every speech. Humor serves to both inspire and entertain. It can even be appropriate during periods of mourning or tragedy, because laughter helps people heal.

* A speaker can get more laughs per minute with a sense of superiority, surprise, or release. Superiority-based humor often targets eccentrics or people who make bad decisions, and can range from gentle parody to scathing insults. Surprise-based humor may include such approaches as sheer absurdity or screwball comedy. Humor can also be used to release strong emotions. For example, sexual humor releases embarrassment.

* Remember to riff. Riffing is the use of clusters of jokes. The goal is to get a laugh, pause, then elaborate on the original humorous comment.

* Amplify humor with vocal, physical, and facial expressiveness. While silence is important in capturing laughter, exaggerated vocal variety, mannerisms, and other types of physicality can accelerate it.

* All humor should further the message. Speakers should avoid recycling jokes told by comedians, which rarely further the message of their speech.

* Pause and stay in character while the audience is laughing. While great comedians wait for laughter to subside, they remain in character without moving unless movement is part of the joke.

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