This one secret about story telling that will move your audience

Updated: Nov 2, 2018

Humans are hard wired for stories.

People have been sharing stories with each other for thousands of years. After a while, they started painting them onto cave walls to enshrine them in memory. Later, written languages developed and we committed them to papyrus and animal skins.

These days, we’re a little more sophisticated. We stand around the water cooler at work chatting to our co-workers, or we download an ebook, or we go to the movies to see stories told with multi-million dollar budgets.

We want stories. We want stories to touch us. We want stories to transport us away from the real world.

Stories are recognised as an integral part of speech delivery. The role of the story for speakers is to:

Touch the heart. Move the mind.

Let me repeat that. Touch the heart. Move the mind. We engage the listeners by touching the heart and making a point. By making this point, we move the mind i.e. the listener’s way of thinking.

What types of stories do this?

There are three kinds of stories that have a moral. They are:

  • the fable

  • the parable

  • the allegorical tale

A fable is a story that has a moral. The characters can be either objects or animals that have been given human traits.

A parable is a story that has a moral that contains human characters. We tend to think of parables as being from the bible, but there are many others to be found. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a good example.

An allegorical tale is similar to a parable, but it tends to be much longer. Parables are usually quite short, whereas an allegory is book or movie length. An example would be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Arts Centre Melbourne Victoria

So what are we telling?

Because of the length of our speeches, we’re telling parables, but don’t get too hung up on the terms. The bottom line is that we’re telling a story to make a point. Once again, we want to touch the heart to move the mind.

So what sort of stories should we tell in our speeches?

Original stories. You may have heard that story about Edison inventing the light bulb. Poor Mr Edison worked day and night, striving endlessly to find an element that could be used as the filament for the light bulb. He tried more than a thousand substances to make a filament that would burn for long periods.

When someone approached him and said, ‘Poor Mr Edison. You’ve failed more than a thousand times,’ he said, ‘I have not failed. I have successfully discovered a thousand ways that will not work.’

Whatever you do, don’t tell that story. It’s old. It’s worn. It’s weathered. (Plus, there’s debate about whether the incident ever happened.)

Tell an original story; the best ones are your own, personal stories.

Why? Because no one knows them. They’re unknown. They’re your stories. If you tell an old, weathered ‘light bulb’ story, some members of the audience already know the ending before you’ve even finished!

Disaster! You must tell the audience a story where they don’t know the ending. You want the audience sitting forward and wondering, ‘how does this end?’

Think of times in your own life where you’ve learnt a lesson from a difficult experience. There might be someone who said something or did something that gave you some guidance. Eventually you’ve come out of it a better and changed person.

What’s the moral of your story?

Let me warn you, the moral may not be obvious. It might not be what you immediately think it is. Ask yourself these questions:

What’s the story about?

What’s the story really about?

What’s the story really, really about?

Let’s take an example:

Donna starts her own business. Her father always wanted to own his own business, and she wants to make his dream become a reality. She studied art at school, but leaves it behind to open a cafe.

She works long hours. After a while, she takes on an employee named Mark. At first, he seems fantastic, but then she realises that Mark has been stealing from the business. She sacks him and almost goes bankrupt. Eventually, she turns the business around and makes a success of it. She sells the business and goes to art school.

So what’s the moral of the story?

First of all, it’s what you decide it to be. This isn’t set in stone. It’s what you determine it to be for the audience. This is a selection process. You enhance the parts that support the moral. You diminish the parts that don’t support the message.

On the surface, you could say it’s:

Don’t trust anyone

Hmm, that’s a bit negative. And is it really the moral of the story? Maybe the moral is:

Perseverance wins out in the end

Okay, that’s better. But is that really, really the moral? The moral could be deeper still. It could be:

Follow your own dreams and not those of others

Now that’s better. Much better. It’s a great message for the audience. Possibly even quite unexpected as they may have been waiting for, ‘So, you see, perseverance wins out in the end.’ Instead, they get, ‘Follow your own dreams and not those of others.’

The most common mistake I see is people trying to shoehorn a story to fit the moral of their speech. If you find yourself trying to do this, you may need to modify your speech, or your story. If you’re modifying your story, then you may need to diminish, enhance or alter some parts. (What’s that old saying? Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story?)

The power of story

Stories are powerful. You can use them for all different kinds of speeches whether you’re speaking to business leaders, community members, or kids at school.

Use stories in your speeches.

More importantly, use original stories in your speeches.

Most importantly of all, use original stories in your speeches so you can touch the heart and move the mind.

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