Jeff Davidson, Guest Author
Seven minutes. That’s how long studies say an audience’s attention span is for one given topic. If a speaker retains the same posture, voice, or focus, he has little hope of reaching his audience. To keep a high level of interest, many of today’s best speakers add short narratives to their presentations that reinforce a certain point or theme. Some of these stories are personal, some are funny. They all, however, serve to keep a speech dynamic and interesting.
Stories are an effective tool because they are something to which we can all relate. One of the most effective ways to grab the attention of an audience is to calmly say, “let me tell you a story.” Immediately, you’ve got them. The association they have with a story being an interesting and entertaining form of communication resonates so deeply that they might not even be aware why they are ready to listen, but the fact is, they will be.
Story topics can range from heavily emotional tales to the frivolities of everyday life, but in all cases they can further a speaker’s point while keeping the audience entertained and engaged. There are several different ways speakers insert stories into their presentations.
Emory Austin, from Charlotte, tells stories of a personal nature that lend insight into the life lessons she has learned. Austin shows portrays to her audience a life filled with experiences to which they can relate. With her comforting, compelling voice she immerses herself completely into the narrative to keep her audience riveted.
Dan Clark, from San Francisco, uses a similar approach by taking his audience through his battle with cancer. He relies upon evoking certain emotions in the audience members to open them up to an understanding of his particular point. Like Austin, Clark uses his personal tales to grab and hold his audience’s attention.
‘Lite’ Could Be Right
Many speakers take a light approach to story telling: some speakers talk about teenagers. This is effective because it is a topic to which everyone can relate. Whether audience members are now parents or simply recall their own teenage years, everyone feels a natural affinity between these stories and their personal experiences.
Tony Alessandra, from La Jolla, often uses quick ‟slice of life” stories that last only a minute or two. These stories succeed at grabbing the audience. Alessandra uses stories that are both entertaining and illuminating, a great way of getting the audience to remember his point. Audience members can take with them a short joke or a story that will serve as a catalyst for remembering the main point of the presentation.
All of these speakers present stories in different manners. Some are funny, some are sad, and some are personal, while others might only be little quirks of life. What they have in common, though, is that they all help make an entertaining and effective speech.
A Quick Example
Here is an example of a story I’ve used about not heeding the advice of others. It takes roughly four minutes to deliver this story to a live audience:
When I was 21 years old, I took a trip to Europe, and using the Eurail Pass, visited numerous countries over the course of 66 days. When I got to Switzerland, a bit tired of planning my own itineraries day after day, I signed up to be part of a small touring van. One of our stops was the quaint town of Zermatt, which was located at the foot of the Matterhorn, one of the tallest, most striking, and majestic mountains in Europe.
One afternoon, walking down from the hotel where we were staying, I didn’t realize that the trek back, after dark, would be a bit more difficult to navigate. The hotel concierge told me it would best to return before dark, and that the trail back could be difficult to navigate. I ignored the advice and stayed in town for quite a while; there was much to see and do.
As I made my way back a little after dusk, the trail looked easy enough to follow, but I had another 30 minutes or so to go. As darkness began to fall, somehow, somewhere along the path, I strayed.
Suddenly, I realized that I had ventured onto some minor path, which could not be correct because it was falling in elevation. Since I had walked down to the village, I needed to walk back up to the hotel. I scrambled around in the semi-darkness for a few minutes, and then heard the sound of rushing water. It had to be one of the many brooks that trickled down from higher elevations.
I came upon a sign that I could barely make out via the moonlight, which was impeded by so many trees and branches. I moved up close to the sign and looked at it from the most favorable angle in terms of illumination. As with most signs in Switzerland, it contained the same message in four languages. The first would be in French, the second German, the third Romanish, and the fourth English. I settled on the English message, which said, “Warning: This area subject to flash flooding. Move to higher elevation immediately.” That was all I needed to know.
I scrambled through the brush and the bushes as fast as I could, getting scratched and cut, here and there, but who cared? In a matter of about 90 seconds, I had made my way to higher ground, where the sound of the rushing water was growing more and more faint.
Gosh, that seemed like a close one. Eventually, I found the larger path, made my way back to the hotel, and related the story to my van-mates. So much for venturing off without a flashlight, map, compass, or any idea of what I was doing.
It would be easier and more effective to tell you this story in person, than to type it up and have you read it. Still, while you were reading, did you “come on the trip with me?” If so, then the story worked, for both of us!
To begin finding your stories, look no further than your own past. You can start by walking yourself through the memories of your earliest days. Review pictures, yearbooks, and school notebooks; there are stories in them all. Don’t worry about how they’ll fit in your speech or what point they could assist you in making. You will find that a good story fits into several different contexts and can be used in a variety of circumstances. The important thing is to begin to collect your stories.
Once you have amassed a library of these stories, you can begin to work on the best of them. You’ll find that you can recall them easily with only a keyword or two, so that you can carry them all with no more than an index card of cell phone screen. Then, when you’re preparing for a speech, you can pick two or three that fit easily with your topic and your audience. Your meeting participants will be appreciative.
Copyright © 2014 – Jeff Davidson. Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, aka “the work life balance expert” works with busy people to increase their work-life balance, so that they can be more productive and competitive, and still have a happy home life. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, and Dial it Down, Live it Up. He is a columnist for Association News, Accounting Web, CPA Practice Digest, Insurance Business America, The Practical Lawyer, Physician’s Practice, Public Management, and Human Resources IQ. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com.
Larry James is a professional speaker and the author of three relationship books, “How to Really Love the One You’re With: Affirmative Guidelines for a Healthy Love Relationship,” “LoveNotes for Lovers: Words That Make Music for Two Hearts Dancing” and “Red Hot LoveNotes for Lovers.” His newest book is “Ten Commitments of Networking.” Larry James also offers “Author & Speaker” coaching. Contact: AuthorsandSpeakersNetwork.com, P.O. Box 12695, Scottsdale, AZ 85267-2695. CelebrateLove@cox.net – More than 110 articles especially for Authors & Speakers at: www.AuthorsandSpeakersNetwork.com
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