“Tell Us a Story,” cried the audience! And So She Did.

Jul 26, 2013 by

Once upon a time, audiences throughout the business kingdom grew tired of hearing motivational speakers deliver presentations peppered with, “You can do it!” – “Go for it!”  — “There is no stopping you now!”  They also had grown tired of listening to business “gurus” expound on philosophies outlined in their best-selling management tomes.

Instead, they said they wanted to hear more authentic and “tried and true” messages when they attended seminars, workshops and retreats.  The audiences longed to hear presenters who could tell them compelling and entertaining stories about their corporate adventures – or personal obstacles they had faced and overcome.  The audiences wanted stories they could learn from and apply to their individual business situations.

And so a decree was issued and storytellers throughout the land were summoned to deliver their presentations and tell their stories at annual meetings, management conferences, and executive retreats.  They delivered their presentations and stories with energy, sincerity and enthusiasm!  The business audiences in the kingdom were happy with the new speakers and the presenters enjoyed telling their stories to appreciative members of the community.

 The End

 My little story doesn’t have a complex plot or numerous characters but it does reflect a trend happening in corporate America today.  It also highlights an attribute of successful presenters – the Art of Storytelling.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Wanted:  Gurus With Actual Experience” discussed corporate America’s move away from motivational and business “gurus” to address employee audiences.[i]  This transition is driven partly by companies wanting to ensure a return on the dollars they spend on conference speakers and the ennui expressed by employees for the typical topics covered by circuit speakers.  Event planners are starting to turn to students of history, explorers, CEOs, COOs*, CFOs*– and other speakers who can weave interesting stories and information about their business experiences or hands-on activities relating to corporate settings.

As a Presentation Skills Coach, I always encourage my clients to use storytelling to relay their experiences and “lessons learned” so they can build verbal bridges to their audiences. Here are some quick tips you can use to enhance your storytelling ability.

Storytelling Tips for Presenters

  1. Identify an interesting story that will intrigue your audience and capture its attention.  Your story should highlight the point you are making in your presentation and be relevant to your audience.
  2. Your story should blend with your key message – don’t digress from your presentation to tell a tale and then go back to your theme.  Be sure your story and your presentation’s central message are in balance.
  3.  Be aware of the length of your story.  Your story should not be too long and overpower the message of your presentation.
  4. Refer to fairy tales and fables for story themes.  We loved these stories as children and welcome hearing them even as adults.  Many of these tales have “learning moments” with a moral to their stories – many of which are appropriate for business audiences.
  5. Remember to use your nonverbal cues to enhance your story.  For example –
  • Use your hand gestures to emphasize a key point in the story.
  • Don’t forget your vocal quality – it can help make your story more dramatic and meaningful.
  • Move around and let you body movements underscore the story’s message.
  • Use your facial expressions to enhance your story – grin, smile, frown, raise your eyebrows, wink.   Your audience is not only listening to you – they are watching you and are in the grip of your storytelling ability.

6.  Select your words strategically.  You want to paint a picture for your audience with your story.     Choose action verbs and strong adjectives and adverbs that will grab the audience’s imagination.

7.  Be familiar and comfortable with your story.  A confident storyteller likes the story he is telling and wants to share it with his listeners.  Choose stories you enjoy telling and feel comfortable sharing with others.

  8.  Practice! Practice! Practice! the delivery of your storytelling technique.  A video camera is a presenter’s best friend.  All storytellers should videotape their practice sessions prior to the delivery of a presentation.


“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

*(CEO) Chief Executive Officer; (COO) Chief Operations Officer; (CFO) Chief Financial Officer


[i] “Wanted:  Gurus With Actual Experience,” The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2013, sec. Marketplace, B6.



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