How To Add Stories To Your Next Speech

Stories are what can make a speech memorable
Stories are what can make a speech memorable
Image Credit: United Church

When we give a speech, because of the importance of public speaking, we really want our audience to remember what we have told them. There are many different ways to go about making this happen; however, one of the most powerful ways is to start to include stories in you speech. Stories are what cause your audience to start to build vivid mental images of what you are talking about. Stories allow you to introduce additional characters so that it’s not just you standing on the stage. Stories are what can make your next speech memorable. If stories are so great, then how can we go about adding them to a speech?

The Power Of Stories

What a lot of speakers don’t realize is that they are already very good storytellers. If you think about it, you tell stories every day. In order to make you an even better storyteller let’s explore three capabilities that will take you well on your way to becoming a better storyteller. Think back to elementary school: remember the “three R’s”: reading, writing and ’rithmetic? Now consider the “three I’s” that make up good storytelling: invitation, imagination and impact.

Everything Starts With A Good Invitation

Let’s start with invitation. When you are telling a story, what you are going to want to do is to find a way to engage your listeners by stimulating their curiosity and asking them to share in something exciting with you.

Use Your Imagination

Next comes imagination. The good news for you is that imaginations is easy. An example of tapping into your audiences imagination is getting them to imagine what happens before you visit the doctor? Or for a business audience, getting them to imagine when you’re waiting for the board’s reaction to your latest strategic plan? When you are telling a story that requires your audience to use their imagination, it will be your imagination that puts on a show. When you are using your audience’s imagination, who needs PowerPoint or technological wizardry?

Way back in 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy recognized the need for a new narrative to galvanize the space race. Standing before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, he boldly announced that by the end of the decade the country would be dedicated to “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” When he told this story, there were widespread doubts, and you need to remember that the fact that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had not yet even sent a man into orbit around the Earth yet. However, he electrified the collective imagination of the country. Speakers need to realize that Imagination is the direct access point to our creativity. When you are giving a speech, all you have to do is to say “Imagine this …” and people’s creative juices start flowing. By saying these words you will cause them to be transported to a different and vivid new reality without leaving their seats.

Make An Impact

Finally, we get to impact. As speakers, we want to be seen and to know that what we said made an impact on our audience. We want to believe that what we do has meaning. As a storyteller, what this means is that you need to be watching your audience closely to see how your content is affecting them. In 1995, South African President Nelson Mandela knew he had a real challenge on his hands as he looked for ways to shore up his government’s tenuous hold on post-apartheid unity. Adopting the strategy of “Don’t address their brains. Address their hearts,” Mandela was able to convince the Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team, who had been the country’s symbol of white supremacy, to join him. When the Rugby World Cup final was held in South Africa, Madela and the team symbolically broke all barriers by singing “Nkosi Sikelel Afrika,” the anthem of the black resistance movement, to a still divided nation and a worldwide television audience. The Springboks won the World Cup, and South Africa was able to move closer toward reconciliation.

Brilliant ideas that don’t have a brilliant human connection usually die fast. It is that connection which builds trust and cultivates relationships. When you see how you move others and are moved by them, you start to grow in stature and authority. Keep this in mind: what you’re saying isn’t for you. It’s for your audience.

Don’t Forget That It’s Always Practice Time

Try working stories into the next speech that you give to your next audience and note what happens. Become an “investigator” – not simply a content dumper. Take the time to ask, don’t tell. Watch very carefully how what you’re saying impacts your audience. Don’t make the mistake of leaping to the next point until you see people absorb the previous one. Don’t always assume everyone’s with you. Take the time to ask questions like “Are you with me?” or “How do you relate to this?” Be sure to slow down. Never race your narrative simply to get to the end. Always consider practicing on someone first. Use the time before you give your speech to create images to get the client engaged in your story: “Imagine this …” or “Picture that …” You can stop occasionally and observe your effect on everyone in the room. Make sure that you remember, your audience is your creative partner. If you give audiences half a chance, they’ll tell half your story for you.

What All Of This Means For You

The goal of any speaker is to find ways to more fully engage with our audience by using the benefits of public speaking. What we are going to want to be able to do is to connect with our audience and when our speech is over, have it continue to live on in their imaginations. One of the simplest ways to make this happen is to tell your next audience a story. If you can do this the right way, they’ll remember what you told them long after you are done speaking.

There are three key components to a good story in a speech: an invitation, imagination, and an impact. Every story will start out with you issuing an invitation for your audience to come along with you as you tell them a story. What makes a story really memorable is if you can find a way to engage your audience’s imagination as you tell them the story. President John F. Kennedy did this when he launched the U.S. space program. We always want to be remembered and so we have to make sure that the story that we include in our speech will make an impact on our audience.

Adding a story to your next speech is an easy thing to do. Adding a story that will have an impact on your audience and will cause your speech to be remembered long after you have given it, now that’s something that is much more difficult to do. However, if you can remember that every story that you tell needs to include an invitation, imagination, and to make an impact, then you’ll have created a memorable speech.

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

Question For You: How many stories do you think that you can include in 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

I’d like to think that every time we give a speech, we do a good job. Once we are done, we know that we’ve done a good job and delivered the importance of public speaking based on the crowd’s reaction to our speech. The audience welcomed you warmly, listened attentively, laughed in all the right places and at all the right things, and highlighted their approval with loud, sustained and enthusiastic applause. Finally – you are done and now you can go home. Hold on, not so fast. It turns out that your job is not over and in some cases may just now be beginning. How should a speaker go about accepting praise from their audience?