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Want To Be A More Confident Speaker? Tell A Story

You might get stage fright when you have to present, but chances are you’re already a natural storyteller.

Want To Be A More Confident Speaker? Tell A Story
[Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-020211-E]

Don’t like public speaking or giving presentations? You’re not alone–most people don’t. We’re fighting our primeval fear of ostracism whenever we stand up and begin to regale an audience. But chances are good that you like telling stories and sharing experiences a little more than you like delivering a keynote or running through a slide deck; after all, some 65% of our daily conversations are made up of personal stories (and, well, gossip).

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So if you could use a bit more confidence for your upcoming speech or presentation, storytelling can give it to you. Not only do stories make for more effective, memorable experiences for the audience, they can also make delivering them easier on you. Here are five reasons why.


Related: Four Quick Tips For Speaking More Confidently


1. You’re Already Good At It

Quick check: Are you a human? Yes? Great! Your ancestors have been sitting around campfires for tens of thousands of years telling stories. Our brains are wired for story; it’s part of who humans are as a species. Marketers know this, Hollywood knows it, and neuroscience bears it out.

We are all natural storytellers, and when we deliver stories, we smile, show emotion, and radiate authenticity. Not only is authenticity engaging and persuasive, but you’ll feel infinitely more comfortable and confident when you’re up there just being yourself.


Related: The Ancient Storytelling Secret That Every Leader Needs To Know


2. It Will Stop You From Rambling

Stories provide structure. Nobody likes a presentation or speech that lacks focus or a point, but every story, by definition, has a natural, built-in structure that can anchor the rest of your presentation. Stories follow a natural, linear progression of A leading to B and then, uh-oh, a crisis at C! Followed by recovery and success at D. As the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut pointed out decades ago (facetiously yet correctly), stories are effective because they follow recognizable arcs:

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Beyond being compelling, these fundamental narrative structures make it easy for audiences to follow along and comprehend your message as they listen to you. We’ve all sat through enough bad presentations to know that good ones are the exception, so anything you can do to make your audience’s brains work less hard will make them love you.

3. Stories Are Easier To Remember (And Be Remembered)

It’s for the same reason–their comprehensible structures–that stories are easier to remember than a series of points or ideas. Stage fright often stems from fear of making a mistake or forgetting to say something. Telling a story, especially a personal one, doesn’t take a lot of memorization or practice; you already know it and you may have already told it dozens of times.

Stories are also much “stickier” than facts, words, or even visuals. We’re much better (according to one Stanford researcher, 22 times better) at remembering figures, stats, and corporate jargon when it’s incorporated into a narrative. So don’t ditch your data–just wrap it up in a story.


Related: This Is The Emotionally Intelligent Way To Handle Stage Fright


4. Starting With A Story Will Relax You

So, it comes naturally to you, provides structure, and is easy to remember and share. Sounds like a great way to open your presentation, right? The very start of your talk is the time when you’re most likely to be nervous or stressed, but it’s also when you need to hook your audience.

When we tell stories, we’re conversational: We smile, use good body language, make eye contact–everything that builds trust with listeners. If you start your presentation like that, you preempt any chance of anxiety or presentation jitters to get the better of you. Instead, your audience immediately starts to give you positive feedback; when you see them smile, react, look engaged, and lean forward in their seats as they listen to your story, your own confidence will inevitably rise.

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5. You Have Plenty To Choose From

We all carry around a lifetime’s worth of stories–both personal and professional–probably more than you’re even aware of, and you can draw on just about all of them. At its most basic level, a story is “something that happened to somebody,” so think about all those “somebodies” you can tell stories about: yourself, your customers, your company, your product, your colleagues, or your competition.

Before your next presentation, set some time aside to brainstorm the stories you already have available from your life. Find one that ties into the topic of your presentation–and, ideally, look for one that’s personal. Talk about overcoming a hardship or about a life lesson you learned, and build that into the presentation.

You’ll feel great about it, and your audience will, too.


Darren Menabney lives in Tokyo, where he leads global employee engagement at Ricoh and teaches MBA students at GLOBIS University. Follow him on Twitter at @darmenab.

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