Have you tried telling stories when you speak?
The answer is probably yes, as all the greatest speakers use stories to their advantage.
But do you know how to create real impact with those stories? How to tell them so that they come alive, leave your audience thinking, and contribute to the personal brand you’ve been trying for so long to build?
Whether you’re super serious about becoming a motivational speaker or just trying to pick up a few fun gigs here and there, look no further for the key to making a difference for your audience. Storytelling is the skill to master if you want to create lasting results. You can present data, statistics, and scientific proof all day long, but stories are what stick in your listeners’ brains, establish relatability, and get your point across.
Storytelling might not come naturally to every speaker, but that’s why we’re here! Today we’ll go through how to create impactful stories as a speaker that really come alive for your audience. We’ll also cover another facet of impactful stories: integrating them into your personal brand. After today’s read, you’ll be ready.
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Creating impactful stories: where to start
What’s one of the greatest assets you can have as a speaker? A stockpile of stories. But not just any stories. We always recommend telling first-person stories because they show the most conviction and transparency. Repeating someone else’s story will often fail to create that special bond with your audience.
So how do you collect all these personal stories? Just start paying attention.
You don’t need some crazy tale like how you survived a grizzly bear attack, saw a ghost, or met Start by recognizing memorable, teachable moments as they happen to you. Write them down in your Notes app or in a notebook you carry around for the purpose. If it’s memorable for you, there’s a good chance it will be memorable for someone else. When you tell a personal story from the heart, your listeners will recognize your authenticity and feel more emotionally connected.
Once you have a solid collection of memorable moments, you can start figuring out how to integrate them into your talk. Try out your stories on your friends, family, mentors, etc. before you tell them onstage. They will have a much better pulse on which stories are relatable! Then as you integrate them into delivering your talk, see how the audience responds. Your storytelling will likely drastically change over time as you figure out which stories work best with your audience.
Always sandwich a new story in between tried and true content in case it doesn’t go over as planned. Some stories are great on paper or your website, but just plain terrible in a speech. If your story is a flop, keep moving on rather than wasting time trying to “save” it. Make note after the event is over and try a different one next time–no harm done.
You’ll rapidly find that different stories resonate with different audiences, so having a stockpile is especially valuable if you speak in a variety of industries. If you’re really serious about data and metrics (as we are), you can even make a spreadsheet to track your stories. As you collect data on which ones are the most impactful, you can keep track of which stories are most relatable to which audiences.
When it comes to structuring your storytelling, your best stories should go at the beginning and end of your talk. Your audience will want more stories if you start out well, and first impressions matter a lot in the speaking industry. Earn their trust with the first story (preferably something personal that builds empathy), and keep them thinking with the last.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, stories are especially useful if you’re using a lot of data in your talk. Nancy Duarte came on The Speaker Lab podcast a while ago to share how to explain or inspire through data…as you might guess at this point, the key to doing so is telling stories! Nancy recommends framing data with a three-act story to help it stick in their minds. A three-act story includes a beginning, a “messy middle” where a problem or tension occurs, and an end. You can hear more of Nancy’s advice for how to create impactful stories as a speaker on episode 262 of the Speaker Lab Podcast.
Making stories come alive for your audience.
For your story to create impact, it has to come alive for your audience. Presenting raw data without leveraging it with a story will fall flat with your audience. Fortunately, we did an entire podcast episode with Mike Pacchione all about making stories come alive. You can listen to his five essential tips in episode 263 of the TSL podcast, but we’ll summarize them here too.
- Prime the audience. Before you launch into it, let your audience know what’s coming next. This can be as easy as saying “Hey! I have a story.” Once you say that, people tend to start paying attention. The last thing you want is for your audience to miss the first half of the story and wonder what on earth you’re talking about!
- Use vivid details. Stories are such an impactful tool for speakers because they are memorable. To make sure your stories are memorable, use vivid details that stick in people’s brains. This tip comes with a caveat though–your details have to actually matter. Preferably, describe only important details that will come back at the end or lesson of your story. Using a fascinating, interesting detail will keep the audience listening to find out where it comes into play!
- Describe one of your characters in a sentence. When you tell stories about people, they need to have some sort of image in their head beyond a name or relationship. Don’t go overboard–one sentence about one trait is all that’s necessary. Your description should either inform the character as it acts in the story or be used ironically (after all, stories are a great opportunity for using humor in your talk too!)
- Have a “tension” that gets released. To keep your audience engaged, your story has to seem like it’s going somewhere. Work backwards from your point and find a way to create a little bit of suspense and complexity that unfolds into the lesson learned. This tension helps create the “messy middle” we mentioned earlier.
- Declare what the lesson learned is. The stories you tell are tools to help you make your overarching point. But sometimes, your audience might get hung up on a particular detail and miss the big takeaway. Stories should direct your audience to your message, rather than distracting from what you have to say. You have to tell your audience what they’re supposed to get out of your story so they follow along to your next point. With this in mind, make sure to summarize the “lesson” of your story, preferably in ten words or less. This is a great moment to use an impactful PowerPoint slide with big text.
If you’ve followed these tips, you will avoid the most dangerous pitfall of storytelling as a speaker: boring your audience. Including too many details, playing into the wrong emotions, and failing to connect to your overarching points are all common mistakes. With a little bit of intentionality and practice, you will learn to avoid these pitfalls effortlessly.
The best part about being an impactful storyteller as a speaker is that good stories don’t grow stale. You can keep telling the same story in a new way, keeping it fresh and meaningful for new or repeat audiences. The ability to create impactful stories that truly come alive for the audience will help you get repeat clients, something that’s hard to do for many speakers. Some event planners worry that you will repeat exactly the same talk in the same way and bore your audience. But if you have a reputation for life-giving, exciting storytelling, you’ll never have to worry about that!
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Storytelling and your personal brand
Speaking of your reputation as a storyteller, creating impactful stories goes far beyond the content of your talk. When you’re just starting out, stories are a great way to get a leg up in an industry even if you aren’t a big name yet. If you learn how to create impactful stories as a speaker, you will probably become well-known for one or two of them. You want those stories to be aligned with the picture of yourself you paint to the world, because your personal story is a foundational piece to building your personal brand.
Your brand is, after all, essentially the story you tell about yourself to other people. Integrating stories into your online presence connects you emotionally to the potential client who lands on your website. Remember, your personal story doesn’t have to be particularly exciting. Authenticity and relatability will serve you far better than inflating the events of your life to impress.
The story you tell as part of your brand is primarily directed toward your future clients. This means that when you build your website and other digital assets, you have to think beyond the stories you tell in your talk to connect with your audience, which we discussed in the previous sections. Event planners want to hire experts, so the story you tell in client-facing material should emphasize your expertise. Being relatable
The story you tell through your brand should also help solidify your niche, making you more attractive to the right clients. While many
You don’t need to compete in the Olympics or survive a near-death experience to tell compelling stories as a speaker. Stories are about relatability and connection, not impressing your audience.