Bring your presentations and speeches to life with well-told stories

By Jackie Graybill, Toastmasters International

One way to keep an audience’s attention and make your presentation or speech memorable is to use stories to illustrate and reinforce your points.

Arresting narratives bring our attention to issues in a way that bald or stringent statistics fail to do. So, how can you enhance your storytelling so that they work for your business audience?

  1. Following the PIXAR formula

A good model come from the highly successful business PIXAR. Their story formula goes like this:

  •             Once upon a time
  •             Every day
  •             But one day
  •             Because of that
  •             Because of that (add additional “because of that” s as necessary)
  •             Until finally
  •             Ever since then

Practice your stories according to these elements, and you might be surprised to find out how many effective stories follow this formula.

  1. Start in the action of the scene to keep your audience with you

If you begin in the action and give just enough context to keep your audience from becoming confused, you’ll set yourself apart as a speaker and pique the interest of your listeners. Remember, just like a Hollywood film, you can jump back and forth in time with your story. Start with a dramatic scene and go back to fill in the details. Or try using something like, “later, the team would look back on this moment as ____,” filling in your own appropriate sentiment.

  1. Inject some intrigue

Beginning with a mystery and peppering more mysteries throughout your story creates intrigue, as your listeners want to know what happens and begin guessing at the answer in their own minds. A great start is with something like, “I have a confession to make.” Try working on your mystery skills with the kids in your life. They will enjoy it and you’ll be playing your way to better speaking and storytelling skills in the process.

  1. Keep it short

Do your best to cut out any non-pertinent details that don’t set up your story or drive the action forward. If you feel like you might be adding too much detail to a specific aspect of your story, you probably are.

  1. Create Metaphors

Using analogies, metaphors, similes, and other literary tools can bring interest and humour to your storytelling. Check out the book, ‘Metaphors Be With You’, by Dr. Mardy Grothe, for wonderful examples to incorporate into your stories.

6. Making the most of dialogue

Instead of just telling us what your characters have said, become those characters as they have a dialogue with each other. You can utilise the spatial physicality of characters as they talk with each other by shifting slightly where you stand and where you are looking.

  1. Practicing retelling scenes from film and television episodes

Not only will this help to develop your dialogue skills, but as you retell memorable scenes from the screen, you will also start to pick up storytelling techniques as well as learning what elements are best to include and which are unnecessary and don’t drive the action forward, thus slowing down the pace.

  1. Making the most of pauses

When speaking, a second can feel like ten, and ten seconds can feel like a minute. Accordingly, pausing can feel unnatural and uncomfortable, but it can also be a welcome gift to your audience, as it gives them time to absorb what you have said. Pauses can also be used to emphasise information, phrases or words in a powerful way.

  1. Engaging the senses

Our five senses have a powerful effect on our human experiences and when any of them are evoked, this can trigger audience members in powerful ways. To practice this skill, take someone on a sensory walk. This could be a description of a delicious recipe you made, a nature walk, or anything that includes multiple of the five senses. Just be careful with this powerful story element, as there are some things you may not want to bring up with your listeners (insert dog poop and other cringeworthy sensorial triggers).

Stories and anecdotes form an essential part of our communication at work. They can also help make putting a presentation together more fun. As my speaking coach Toastmaster Chris Nielson puts it, “play your way to success”.  It is time to make all our presentations and speeches more engaging and memorable.


Jackie Graybill 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

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