Stories make the best speeches for beginners and experienced speakers
Try this method for preparing your speeches.
Base it on a story from your own experience, preferably a recent experience.
The speech will be in three parts
- Start with a simple statement of the point or meaning or significance of your speech.
- Tell a story which illustrates the statement, point, meaning etc
- End by restating the point or meaning.
In your preparation, there are two important parts.
- First, select the incident or event. (Check some suggestions)
- Second, work out a significance for it. (Check some suggestions)
The second part, deciding on the point or the significance, is what makes it a speech in terms of public speaking. It will probably be the hardest part of your preparation.
Use the methods employed by good storytellers.
- Look around at the audience – make them feel you are telling it to them.
- Set the scene – describe places, use facial expressions and physical movements.
- Use pauses to heighten the interest, particularly before the punchline, the final part of the story.
- Include conversation and report direct speech – the actual words spoken.
(Check out why if you want to)
DO use incidental time for preparation. Driving to and fro from work is a good time. Weeding the garden is an excellent time. Washing the dishes is a valuable time. Use time where your mind is reasonably free because you are doing a regular activity that doesn’t require much of your thinking effort.
DO put your speaking effort into communicating directly with the audience, rather than struggling to get the details perfect.
DO use silence to handle momentary gaps in your memory. Use a powerful pause.
(Check out why if you want to)
DONT write out your speech.
DONT use notes (one small palmcard should be your only concession to panic)
DONT apologise for any part of your speech or presentation
Use the timing lights to judge the length of your speech.
Aim to finish approximately when the red light comes on.
The green light indicates that you need to start closing off.
The amber light is a warning to complete the story and to end by restating the point.
When you finish, look around the audience and wait for the applause.
Some additional material you might find helpful
Suggestions for selecting the story
Best is something that happened in the last few days.
This is because it will be vivid in your mind, and you will be able to paint the scene with accurate detail.
Tell about your weaknesses and failures rather than your strengths and triumphs.
This gets the audience on your side, because it sounds sincere and helps make you credible and believable.
Go for stories that did one or more of these
- taught you something
- enhanced your understanding of somebody
- clarified some aspect of your life
- created an emotional response in you.
Suggestions for the statement of the significance of the story
Keep it short. Best is one brief sentence.
Make the final re-statement very similar to the opening statement.
Keep very brief any explanation you make about the statement.
Reasons for the DOs
Use incidental time for your preparation.
Most people have plenty of this time, but have restricted time to set aside for formal preparation. So, this will give you much more time to prepare well.
Your mind is likely to be more relaxed, and come up with a range of options because there is no urgent necessity to get the project finished right now. You can think more creatively and more laterally when you are relaxed.
You are approximating the attention style you will use during your speech
– i.e. thinking about the material in a relaxed attitude, rather than trying to fix the exact words you will use and learn them slavishly.
Put your effort into communicating with the audience rather than getting the words perfect.
If you give your attention to the audience they will give their attention to you.
When speakers forget an important point and struggle to remember it, they switch their attention into their minds to recover the lost information.
The audience see them switch away and the speaker loses contact and credibility.
The audience won’t know you have made a mistake in your story if you don’t tell them, so it isn’t important to get every detail right.
Use powerful pauses
Silence is a powerful tool for a speaker.
It adds impact to what has just been said, and anticipation to what is about to be said.
It gives variety to the speaking speed and to voice volume.
It gives the speaker a chance to think about what is coming next.
If you look around at the audience in a confident, relaxed style in the silence, they will think the silence is a powerful part of your speech, and you can let you mind work on the coming material.
Reasons for the DONTs
Don’t write out your speech.
This concentrates your attention on the wrong things. (Read, or reread the explanations for the DOs.)
It uses time that can be better used in thinking about the story in a relaxed manner.
If you haven’t written it out, you can’t take it along with you and allow it to spoil your speech.
Don’t use notes.
Using notes is actually an advanced skill which needs preparation and practice. Leave it for later.
Instead of using notes to keep track of your sophisticated, complicated material, make your opening statement very simple so it is very easy to remember for you and the audience.
If you can’t accept this advice completely, and must have notes as a reassurance against the terror of your mind blanking out, then use ONE palmcard about the size of a business card, and print on it in big letters a few words which capture the idea of your opening statement. But it is better not to use notes at this stage.
Don’t apologise for any part of your speech or presentation.
It distracts the attention of the audience from your positive message.
It diminishes your credibility with the audience.
It wastes time which would be better used on your positive message.
If you didn’t draw their attention to the problem, they wouldn’t know about it anyway.
(Very skilful speakers sometimes pretend to apologise for something in order to direct the audience’s attention to it. Try this out later in your speaking career, but for now leave it to the experts to risk it.)
Some reasons people give for using unsuccessful methods
I’m too inexperienced to give a good speech
Everybody has experience in telling stories. We tell them everyday to our partners, children, parents, friends and workmates.
I need some notes to help my memory.
You don’t need notes for the story itself, and that is almost the whole of your speech. Keep the point of your story very simple – one sentence is best. That is all you have to remember. Read this suggestion about notes.
I need to write out the speech to practise it.
The great benefit from using a storytelling approach is your direct communication with the audience. You will be speaking to them in a relaxed, conversational tone. You don’t need to get all the words right. A few slips and mistakes here and there don’t matter. Writing your speech out concentrates your attention on the wrong things.
I might forget something important
Big deal. So what? The audience won’t know you’ve missed it out, unless you tell them, so what’s the problem? You can always use a powerful pause before going on to the next bit.