And I really mean 101, nothing fancy. No once upon a time stuff here, no professional storytelling tactics. Just some basic tips for telling a story – as in, sharing a case example or an anecdote – during a talk. So here goes …

First, there has to be a point. Stories or anecdotes or examples must illustrate a point. And, as mere illustrations of a point, they fall under the category of “information” (see http://smartmouthtalks.blogspot.com/2011/03/putting-engine-back-together.html). As with any information you share to support a point you’re making, you’ll want to pick out and prioritize the stories you tell and the detail you share based on your audience (their needs, interests, concerns, etc.).

Second, you can’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t matter how short you think it is, it’s probably not that short. You’re going to need to figure out how to be concise, so you can neatly support your point while holding onto your audience’s attention. So here’s a quick recipe:

1-3 sentences of problem/challenge

1-3 sentences of dramatic tension/suspense

1-3 sentences of solution/outcome

This recipe is doable. I have had people trim their 10-12 minute, multi-paragraph stories down to 1.5 minutes and fewer than 9 sentences by using this recipe. Stick to the recipe, stick to what’s relevant to the point (and the audience!), and you can do it in less than 9 sentences, I promise. It’s good discipline!

Third, you have to practice stories. Just like you practice the rest of your talk. Making a note to self – either on paper or in your head – that you want to include “the Uncle Joe story” is not enough. You need to map it out and practice it. Otherwise you’ll find yourself adding unnecessarily to the length of your talk and potentially losing your audience.

Try these tips, and hopefully you’ll speak happily ever after …

Beth Levine

Beth Levine

Communications Coach at SmartMouth Communications
SmartMouth Founder and Principal Beth Noymer Levine is a Communications Coach who is emerging as one of the country’s leading voices on how to prepare and deliver speeches and presentations that actually work for both the audience and the speaker.
Beth Levine

Latest posts by Beth Levine (see all)