How To Lie In Your Next Speech

The ability to tell a tall tale can make a speech more memorable
The ability to tell a tall tale can make a speech more memorable Image Credit: Cat Branchman

Ok, so maybe you don’t want to add any lies to your next speech. However, do you think that I might be able to talk you into adding a tall story or two? Think about it, what is your next audience expecting from you? I would guess that they are going to show up and expect you to use the importance of public speaking to share facts and stats with them. This is all fine and good, but let’s agree that it can be a bit boring. If you want to spice things up a bit, and hold on to your audience’s attention, you could add an exaggerated story to your next speech. No, what you will be saying won’t be true, but that’s ok because everyone will know that it’s not true and that’s what makes if funny.

Adding Tall Tales To A Speech

When a speaker thinks about adding a tall tale to a speech that they will be giving, they should not get nervous. The reason is that they have probably been telling tall tales for their entire life. For most of this, this all started back on the playground when we were trying to impress our friends by making up stories about things that we had done. Kids say things like “I can hit that baseball so hard that it will land on the moon.” For all of this it’s a good start. However, when it comes to giving speeches, we’re going to have to be able to do better.

When you are creating a speech and you decide that in order to keep your audience’s attention you are going to need to add a tall tale or two, you are going to have to change the way that you put your speech together. Your challenge is to come up with something more than just an outrageous claim. You will now have to write a story that develops and supports your claim. This can be more difficult than the idea of a tall tale suggests.

The Process Of Adding Tall Tales To A Speech

It all has to do with how you go about beginning to add a tall tale to your next speech. One way to go about doing this is to get some practice. You can make this happen by watching movies such as The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) or Big Fish (2003) to hear a variety of tall tales being told. For more examples, your local library may have books of tall tales to use as examples, as well, but remember that your tale is going to have to relate to the material in your speech. You cannot simply copy a story from a book and change a few minor details. Something else that you’ll want to watch out for is that you feature tall tales and not folk tales. They are distinctly different.

If you need help in coming up with a tall tale for your speech, you can pick a random sentence from a book of famous quotations and see what sort of tall tale you can concoct using that sentence as a punch line. Additionally, you can write down five frustrating things that have happened to you recently. These can be ordinary problems, such as being stuck in traffic, spilling coffee on your suit, having no time to do the dishes, and so on. In order to work them into your speech, try to come up with preposterous solutions to these problems.

It’s All About Flavor

How you go about delivering your tall tale is as important as what you say. After you get done watching the movie Big Fish, try to copy the main character’s storytelling abilities that you’ve seen. Notice how they used tone, speed of delivery and volume, as well as their use of language. You should feel free to play around with accents … for a while. Later in your speech you should drop the phony accent but retain some of the accent’s flavor. What this means is that you can try adding a bit of drawl in places, or colorful phrases such as “Now, there comes a time in everyman’s life” or “She was a most intelligent woman.” When you are using a tall tale in your speech it is the perfect time to practice alliteration, homonyms, triads and other vocal variety techniques. As long as you are doing this, feel free to add surprises (for example, a song, a dance, a yell or an unexpected body movement). You need to remember that surprises are very much like pepper – just a little bit adds a lot of flavor, but if you add too much you ruin the result.

Many tall tales can become livelier with a little repetition. This is especially true for any content that is describing actions that can be illustrated by humorous gestures. It’s funny to set up a predictable sequence of events, or a predictable sequence of logic, and then twist the final link in the sequence. Among people who tell jokes for a living, the “Rule of Three” is popular. First, set up a joke. Second, reinforce the setup. Third, earn the payoff with a punch line that smashes the pattern.

Don’t Forget To Edit

So just how much of your speech should you give over to telling a tall tale? It turns out that a good tall tale is about three to five minutes long. After five minutes, your audience begins to lose track of the details or becomes overwhelmed by too many of them. When you are creating your tall tale you may find it painful to delete humorous lines. The good news is that a day or two later, when you read the speech again, you will realize the streamlined version is in fact better. If your story involves bragging, consider telling it in the third person.

You always want to videotape yourself telling the story. Even if you don’t have access to a fancy video camera, you might be able to do a limited amount of taping with another electronic device, such as a digital phone. Just taping a minute or two of your speech with the tall tale in it will help you to see which parts need extra “oomph” and which need paring down. Here’s a tricky point: you don’t want to be too childish, and you don’t be too adult. Your tall tale is meant to amuse adults; using childish language and too much fantasy (princesses, dragons, elves, etc.) can make your story sound like a fairy tale. You don’t want to start your story off with “Once upon a time” unless you are doing so ironically. On the other hand, we need to remember that tall tales work best when they have a certain wholesomeness. If you do want to keep adult humor in your tale – and there are times when this does work – just remember: any naughty references will be funnier if you tell them in the chastest manner possible. You need to strive to use innocent phrasing.

What All Of This Means For You

The goal of any speech that we give is to use the benefits of public speaking to both capture and then hold on to the attention of our audience. Doing both of these tasks can be quite difficult to do. There will be times that we can grab our audience’s attention only to watch it slowly slip away from us. In order to prevent this from happening to you the next time that you give a speech, you may want to consider introducing a tall tale into your speech. It will be unexpected and may be just the thing that you need in order to retain your audience’s attention.

We have all been telling tall tales all of our lives. We need to understand that when we decide to include tall tale in a speech, we need to write the speech correctly. In order to come up with a tall tale to add to your next speech, you can watch movies with them in it or you can go to your library and read books. Including challenges that you have faced will also serve as inspiration. How you deliver your tall tale also counts. Using repetition and creating a payoff can make your tall tale go over better. Make sure that once you’ve written your tall tale, you take the time to watch yourself deliver it and then edit it.

We want every speech that we give to have an impact on our audience. In order to make that happen, we need to find ways to get them to pay attention to what we are telling them. It can be easy for our audiences to become bored or distracted. By adding a tall tale to our next speech we may have found the way to both grab and then hold on to our audience’s attention. Give this a try in your next speech and see if you have found the secret to delivering a memorable speech.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: How may tall tales do you think that you could put into a single speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

We all hope that our next speech goes well. However, let’s face it – it might not. In fact, sometimes when we take the stage to give a speech it can turn out horribly badly. The number of things that can go wrong is almost limitless: we can trip, the mic can stop working, we can fall off of the stage, we can forget our words, and the list goes on and on. Having a speech go really, really badly can scar a speaker for life. We just died in front of a big audience – how can we ever go back up on that stage? It turns out that failing big is something that a lot of us have done. The good news is that you can recover, you just have to know how to go about doing it.