By Rebecca Pepper, Toastmasters International
When I was a small child my granddad told me an exhilarating, drama-filled story culminating in a wrestling match with a crocodile. Nanna presented the evidence – a pair of crocodile shoes! This story told to all their grandchildren has lived in our hearts and minds for decades and now lives on as we retell it to our children.
What was special about story and why has it lasted? Let’s explore the question of why stories last and the relevance to business.
In business, being remembered so that other also tell your story for you is the wish of every business owner. How can you tell a story so that it will be so memorable that people feel a need to repeat it?
Make it interesting for your specific audience
Each time granddad told the story it would change a little. He would pause in a different place, add or miss out the odd detail. When I asked why he did this he said: “The changes I make are always for those listening. Each time I tell it, the audience is different. Even with the same people, they may be a little – or a lot – older the next time I tell it, and so I adapt. I adapt to keep them interested. It’s all about them.
World Champion of Public Speaking, and business-owner, Darren LaCroix, says: take you out of it. In telling a story, it’s about the audience, not you. Whether your audience is your six-year old grandchild or a room full of CEOs, your information, your message, your story has to be for them.
Learning: Tailor every story to the audience.
Involve the listener
Through the detail of what was seen, heard and felt, the listener experiences the story as if they were there. It’s important to get the balance right. Give too much detail and you take away their involvement in creating the scene. Give vague or generic detail and they’re bored.
I once heard granddad tell the story without describing the jungle foliage or the sweat in the jungle’s heat. The story simply didn’t sparkle.
Learning: Add enough evocative imagery to pull in the audience
How to tell the story
With the story ready, it’s now all about the delivery.
The power of pausing
The pause is power for a storyteller. It is an invitation to your listeners to fully engage in your story and message. To be involved. To reflect. To answer the question you’ve posed. These are the points when your message is truly made.
Learning: Give your audience the time and the space to engage with your story
Varying your voice
Fast. Slow. Loud. Quiet. A whisper. Deep. High. All have their place in a memorable story. Use purposefully.
Learning: Add colour to your voice – avoid a monotone at all costs!
Not essential, but a prop can enhance the mood and the message. Granddad’s story will forever be remembered as ‘crocodile shoes.’ Did my granddad ever mention shoes in his story? No. But nanna did. As an important part of his storytelling, nanna’s props added a detail which added truth (?!!), humour and a lasting visual reminder.
Learning: Appropriate props can illustrate your story and help the audience remember you.
Making it all about them
It’s all about them. It’s all about your audience. This was my granddad’s key message. His stories changed because he watched his audience responses. He continually met their needs. He sensed the mood, energy and need and adapted accordingly.
Your message is important. But without your audience’s buy-in, it’s going nowhere. Focus on how to create a story that will live in the hearts and minds of your audience, and your story – your message – will last a lifetime.
Learning: it’s not about you or your business or your product – it’s all about the audience.
Business presentation can be brought to life and made memorable with stories and anecdotes. They can capture your audience in a way that dry facts are unlikely to do.
A good story will be retold by others and that’s great word of mouth marketing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Pepper is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org