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Why storytelling is important for public speaking

Ginger Leadership Communications
Our award-winning team of trainers share their tips for using storytelling in public speaking to help you connect with your audience on a whole new level.

This is your moment. You’ve got one shot at winning a new piece of business. You’ve spent weeks preparing your presentation, reading endless reports, digesting reams of data and rehearsing your pitch.

Knowing you have all bases covered, you feel ready for the big day. You deliver your slides with confidence and sit back waiting for confirmation that all the hard work was worth it.

But nothing happens. No big hurrah, no questions from the audience and NO NEW BUSINESS.

That’s a pattern we see time and time again with speakers of all levels, across industries of all kinds. Presentations, talks and pitches fall flat – all because people fail to really move their audience.

So, what can you do to grab your audience’s attention and make your public speaking more memorable? How can you have more impact and motivate people to take action? The answer lies in storytelling.

Some of our expert trainers share their insight…

1. Create a connection

Beverley Glick: At a time when our business and personal lives are dominated by technology, it’s more important than ever to connect with each other on an authentic level – and that’s what storytelling does. I like to call it the primal technology – the one that brought us together around campfires and still has the power to uplift, educate, inspire, and help us understand what it means to be human. If you aspire to be the captain of any kind of ship, you need to be in command of your story and be able to share what it means and why it matters.

Robin Bayley: There’s a Chinese proverb, “Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.” Telling stories allows you to emotionally connect with your audience and involve them in your conclusion. If it’s a conclusion they come to themselves, they’ll trust it far more than any slick sales pitch you could make.

Jojo Thomas: Stories have the power to both bind us together and shine a light on how fantastically different we are as human beings – the myriad ways we respond to danger or surprise, to good or bad fortune. To share, to witness, to celebrate each other’s stories is one of the great privileges of being human.

2. Find your stories

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes: Your personal experience of the world is what transforms a talk from bland and generic to moving and memorable. Stories make the personal universal because that’s how we make sense of the world around us. Those stories, big and small, can come from all aspects of your personal and professional life, adding emotional power to your public speaking so you resonate with your audience rather than switch them off.

Rona Steinberg: Resist the thought that you don’t have a story that people would be interested in. The biggest obstacle is to censor yourself before you even get started by telling yourself your story has to be big or important or momentous. Everyone has a story and often it’s the so-called little moments in life where we can access our greatest humanity – the chat with the Uber driver, the miracle of the snowdrops appearing in your garden, discovering how judgmental people are when you say you watch Love Island!

It’s all perfect and fertile ground for learning, smiling, crying. So have a lovely, indulgent think about your life and your moments, reflect on what’s important about them and before you know it, you’ll be sharing your stories with a captivated audience.

3. Show the transformation

Beverley Glick: Storytelling is all about transformation. If something doesn’t change, it isn’t a story. A great story always gives the audience a sense of what that change is and why it matters.
Robin Bayley: What’s the problem you want to address? If there’s no problem, or no villain to overcome, there’s no story. If you were a superhero, what evil would you want to battle against? That’s the story you need to tell.
Sarah Lloyd-Hughes: Think of a story as a journey you’re taking your audience on. Identify a problem and show us, rather than tell us, there is another way. You want to transport your audience through the transformation.
Some of the most moving talks use stories of transformation after trauma and hardship as a way to heal themselves and others. Crucially, they use the learning from those experiences in an incredibly powerful way – what Nadia Bolz-Weber described as “sharing from the scars and not the wounds”.

4. Getting started

Robin Bayley: A story is merely a way of taking an audience from A to B by the most interesting route. When working out what your story is, be brave. To quote Ernest Hemingway, “the first draft of anything is sh*t.” You need to get it down, or talk it out, no matter how difficult or pointless it seems. When you have done that, you have something to improve and refine so you can create a second draft and nail what you really want to say.
Klaus-Dieter Rossade: We often advise speakers to ‘add stories to their talks’ for a great many reasons. It also works the other way around. In my first session coaching a CEO who was ex-military, it turned out he had an invitation to speak at a TEDx event and a notion that he had something to say. No real theme yet, nor any message. I invited him to tell me stories from his active time leading teams in war zones all over the world. By asking him questions like “What’s important about that story for you?”, “What might your audience take away from your story?”, this unlocked a great deal of fascinating content and insight. A couple of sessions later, we had a fully developed talk on how everyone can deal with the threat of terrorism in their daily lives. The stories were the centre of his talk – this was a case of ‘adding a talk to stories’, showing talks can be born from the depth of the stories we carry with us.

5.     Start practising

Liz Balmford: As a person who generally wants to take the shortest path from A to B, my heart used to sink when I’d hear the phrase ‘storytelling’. I like a good drama on Netflix, but since I already spend way too long in meetings, the last thing I want is someone forcing me to sit there while they indulge themselves in something long-winded. Just get to the point! 
But I disagree with that version of myself now. Having tried storytelling in my own public speaking, I’ve witnessed the response of my audience. Far from being a waste of time, a well-structured, relevant story can connect an audience to my message – and to me – far more effectively and more deeply than the bare facts. Like a reformed ex-smoker extolling the virtues of a smoke-free life, I’m now a storytelling super fan!
Jojo Thomas: I remember thinking “I don’t have a story” and then testing something out round the dinner table and realising that a little snippet from my life was compelling, funny and relatable. It was a revolutionary discovery!

6.     Be inspired

A great way to see storytelling in action, is to watch some of the most memorable talks from speakers on a range of topics. Almost all the top TED talks use storytelling to make an impact and you can easily find videos of powerful talks that use storytelling in different ways.
Some of our favourite examples of storytelling include:

Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on how schools kill creativity – the most viewed TED talk of all time (currently over 60 million views).

Gill Hicks’ story of compassion and humanity, emerging from the ashes of chaos and hate.

Jill Bolte-Taylor, who uses storytelling to powerful and vivid effect in her TED talk My Stroke of Insight

Barack Obama always used stories to make his point – he was often known as ‘America’s Storyteller-in-Chief’. Take a look at his 2014 State of the Union speech.

Ginger trainer Susan Retik’s story about countering hatred with outreach following the loss of her husband in the 9/11 attacks.

Using storytelling in business

When presentations, talks and pitches fail to resonate, the stakes can be extremely high. Millions of pounds worth of business is lost, whole teams are disengaged and unmotivated, audiences quickly lose interest and start checking their emails instead.
That’s why storytelling is crucial for business. It can be your most powerful tool to make your public speaking stand out, it can free you of the need to rely on heavy data and dry facts to make a point, and it can transform your impact in your company, industry and beyond.
Storytelling is at the heart of Ginger’s training approach so you can expect to cover this in all our programmes. We also offer specialist storytelling courses such as Storytelling for Presentations, Turbo-Stories for Business, and TED-style speaking programmes. 
If you’re ready to share your story, please get in touch.

Ginger Leadership Communications

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