Stories: the Secret to Successful Speaking

Public speaking is the #1 fear.

No kidding. One of the worst experiences of my life was when I first stood up to speak in front of 200 people.

I corpsed, to use the technical term.

This happened 10 years ago at a magazine industry conference. The organiser had casually invited me to speak, and I’d casually accepted. It was the first time I’d ever spoken in public, and I didn’t think much of it until the day before the event.

I’d watched plenty of people speak from the stage, and there didn’t seem to be any special trick to it.

Thankfully, I remember little of what happened:

  • I remember travelling on the train there, and having the inspired idea to jot down some bullet points on a scrap of paper.
  • I remember the feeling of confidence I had, as they announced my name and I calmly walked through the crowd towards the stage.
  • And I definitely remember the ‘holy cow’ moment as I climbed up to the stage and saw all those faces looking up at me, expecting me to say something.

Hey, this wasn’t what I’d imagined!

I thought it would be like a friendly chat. I’d say something, somebody else would say something, then I’d reply with the answer.

I had no idea how totally alone you are on stage: how if you ask a question, nobody will answer. How if you lose your thread or start to bomb, nobody will step in and take over. The audience will just crash and burn with you.

I think I said a few sentences before I couldn’t speak any more.

I sort of gasped for air, I think, and made a few of those loud swallowing sounds that you make when you’re really nervous and can’t talk. Everybody knew I was dying, and they were just as embarrassed as I was.

Since then I’ve spoken many times and it’s never happened again. One of the main reasons it’s never happened again is that I became serious about telling stories.

Today, the best way to put together a presentation or a talk is as a series of stories.

Stories are fantastic for public speaking. They are your ‘secret weapon’. I know that’s an overused term, but it’s appropriate here.

Do you ever wonder how some people can speak for an hour without any notes? It’s because they’re working through a ‘playlist’ of stories they’ve memorised:

“So, I’ll open with the one about Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones. Then the story about Sylvester Stallone and his struggle to get Rocky made, and then after that the story about Greg Norman self destructing on the last day of the US Masters.”

hooked_3dIt’s very easy to learn a story. Once you’ve told it a few times it’s locked away in your head. You don’t need to write it down, and you certainly don’t need a teleprompter. You’re more natural, and you connect with your audience much better.

More importantly, you’ll never flub your lines – so people will remember your talk for all the right reasons!

If you’re interested in telling stories, get Hooked On You – our new book on storytelling.

Comments are closed.