much fun they are to tell.
Best-selling novelist Michael Connelly says, “I like stories that talk about
when the chips are down and the stakes
are high.” The premise of your story—
the underlying theme—must matter. Is
it big enough that I will care about the
outcome? And is it small enough that I
can see myself or my organization using
the theme of the story to better my
workplace or my life?
Does the story have an “unfolding”
WHERE TO FIND
quality to it? This is where we see the
problem. Journalist Thomas French,
who spent 27 years with the St. Peters-
burg Times newspaper, suggests this:
“Make the listener ask, ‘What happens
The power of unfolding is at
the heart of every story in his
estimation. Then, when the
payoff comes, we really feel
I’m often asked, “Where
do you get, much less
remember, all these stories you tell?” The
smart-aleck response is,
“Everywhere!” I really
events will take place
around me every day. My
job is to keep my radar dish up
and operating so that I can absorb
and remember them.
Another prize-winning journalist
and feature writer, Lane DeGregory,
says, “Look for the normal in the
abnormal and the abnormal in the
normal.” When you witness something and it prompts some power-
HOW TO TELL STORIES
Once you have decided on your three,
four or five main points, ask this magic
question: “What’s this like?” The idea
here is to recall a good story that represents your principle and allows the listener to see him or herself in the story.
University of Alabama instructor and
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick
Bragg reminds us, “Think about the
aesthetics.” Stories are multi-sensory,
aren’t they? Don’t just describe what
you saw. Think about what sounds are
associated with the event, what fragrances, what textures. Make me “see
the movie” as you tell the story.
The story will become the metaphor
for the idea you are sharing, and while
most audience members may not
remember the exact wording of your
point, chances are very good they will
remember the story.
You also should consider having
each of your points not only illustrated
by one “big” story, but also reinforced
by a couple shorter anecdotes that
amplify and clarify your big idea. If you
are a business speaker, use examples
from organizations both large and small
so you can reach every member of your
audience. I never want people thinking,
“Oh, great. So they can do this at
Google. Good for them. What about a
little person like me in a small business?
How can I use this idea?”
WHAT STORIES TO CHOOSE
Bill Gove, CSP, CPAE, one of NSA’s
founders, used to say that every story
needs three P’s: a premise, a problem
and a payoff. It’s darn good advice.
Choose your stories based on the
impact and usefulness they will have on
your audience members, not on how
ful emotion in you, stop for a moment
and ask yourself a few questions:
• Why did I just feel that way?
• What did that event mean at
a deeper level?