Advice for enterprising speakers
How to Make a Good Story Great
W hen I was new to NSA, I approached a seasoned speaker, busi- ness card in my sweaty hand, panting like an excited puppy. “I’m a
professional storyteller!” I said, wagging
my tail and trying not to piddle on the
carpet. He gave me that look and said,
“We are all storytellers!” and walked
away. I replied in a whisper, “Yeah, but
not good ones.”
Before I was a speaker, I was a pro-
fessional storyteller. I know what good
storytelling looks and sounds like. As
speakers, this should matter to us because
our stories could be the difference between
polite applause and a standing ovation.
Stories are important because they show
instead of tell. They paint a picture that
invites your audience in. When I make a
point, people nod and listen. When I tell a
story, they don’t move.
Writing Your Stories
Stories allow us to be different from
any other speaker. Stories become your
brand. And if you think you are just one
story, you are wrong. You are the culmination of every experience you’ve ever
had. Please don’t limit yourself to one
good signature story.
Many of us fear the writing process.
So conquer that fear. Just write like you
talk; then take out the ums. Replace
ordinary words with better words. Take
out everything unnecessary. Don’t try
to write your life story; just jump to one
of the snapshots and tell me about it in
three paragraphs. The first paragraph
sets the scene with information we need
to know. The second paragraph describes
what happened. The third paragraph
tells the audience what you learned.
I know some of you hate scripting.
You prefer “winging it.” You say scripting is an insult to your audience. For me,
not planning what I’m going to say is an
insult to my audience. The story I have
written and labored over is a far more
powerful gift than the one I made up on
the spot. You don’t have to script your
entire speech—but you should script
your stories. And then practice telling
your stories as if they weren’t scripted.
Elements of a Good Story
So, what are the elements of a good story?
1. Come out of your comfort zone.
People remember different.
2. Don’t use other people’s stories.
3. Keep the story short. The shorter it
is, the more powerful.
4. Use flavorful words instead of
5. Show instead of tell.
6. Put yourself in the story.
7. Have a powerful opening and a
8. Make sure you understand the
point of the story.
9. Don’t just tell it. Act it out—relive it.
10. Tell their story and you will
become their hero. It is never our
information that sets us apart or
makes us unforgettable. It is always
how we wrap it. Stories are your
way to shine. And you already have
everything you need. So pick up
the pen and begin to write. The
world is waiting for your story.
Kelly Swanson is an award- winning storyteller, comedian, motivational speaker, author of Who Hijacked My Fairy Tale? and creator of Pride’s
Hollow and the quirky cast of characters
who are far more popular than Kelly.