How to Use Storytelling in a Speech

Learn how to use storytelling in a speech from media coach TJ Walker in this Howcast public speaking training video.

So, how do you use storytelling when giving a presentation? This confuses a lot of people; they get scared and they say, TJ, I’m not a natural born storyteller. Well, bologna. Everybody tells stories; that’s how we as human beings communicate.

Now the key when giving a speech or a presentation is not to think, oh, I have to start with a big grand story or end with it. No, you need a story for every single major point you’re trying to make if you want people to remember it.

What is a story? All it is is a conversation with you, another person, about a problem where you were, how you felt, how it was resolved. That’s all it is. And we do this all the time over the phone, in the hallway; then we stand up to give the formal speech and we throw away the story.

Don’t do it. You have stories within you. For example, when I’m doing media training with executives I try to convey the message point that nobody’s born knowing how to speak to the media; it’s a learned skill. To illustrate that I tell them a story.

Now I don’t tell them I’m going to tell them a story; I just launch into, twenty years ago I was an aid for a member of Congress. The phone rings one day, and it’s a reporter from the Hill and the reporter says, TJ, tell me about HR1400, the legislation your member of Congress is supporting. And I said, well, the legislation is unclear; it’s being cleared up in committee, and when it does people will realize it does X, Y, and Z. So I hung up the phone; I was quite proud of myself. I was the spokesperson for this member of Congress. The reporter was quite happy and said thank you very much. I went home that day; I packed my suitcase. I was going to Hawaii the next day–at taxpayer expense. I was working for a Hawaiian member of Congress. So I packed my bathing suit. I packed my sunglasses, the tanning oil. I come in the next day carrying my suitcase, put it down, and there right on my desk is the newspaper. I look at it; there is the story about this legislation and in the first paragraph, According to spokesperson TJ Walker, ‘The legislation is unclear.’

Page B57 was the rest of my quote, saying all the good things about it. Well, a couple of minutes later the buzzer rings, the Chief of Staff says, TJ, why don’t you come on in. TJ, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is you’re all packed; the bad news is you’re not going to Hawaii. You’re not going anywhere. Get out; you’re fired.

So I learned first hand that anybody can make mistakes with the media. Because of how I gave a complex answer I ended up with a quote that made me lose my job. So if you’re not completely comfortable, and you don’t know how to deal with the media, you’re in good shape. It’s a learned skill. I learned the hard way, and as Warren Buffett said, ‘Smart people don’t learn from their mistakes; they learn from other people’s mistakes.’ You can learn how to be great with every media interview without making mistakes that cost you your job.

Okay, so that was a story; it took less that two minutes so say, but it illustrates the key point that nobody’s born knowing how to be great with the media. I’ve used a story to illustrate the point; it makes it more memorable. You can do the same thing.