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Media Skills Training

Storytelling: The Best Way to Engage an Audience

My kindergarten teacher would likely be surprised to learn that I became a broadcaster and communications coach, because I found a note in some family archives on which she wrote about me, “She whispers!” I somehow found my voice, and now I help other people find theirs.

One of the key points I teach about persuasive presentations is the use of stories to connect with your audience or to illustrate your ideas. Storytelling is an effective tool for engaging audiences in written and verbal communication, because inevitably, your audience relates much better to the people and events you talk about than your “Seven-point plan for… .”

Here’s how storytelling works:

  • First, it should be genuine. Use of self-deprecating humor and real-life struggles help people relate to you and tune them into your presentation from the start. But be sure the stories and struggles are authentic. People can spot a phony.

  • While keeping it real, it’s OK to change a few details to “protect the innocent.” Let’s say your story is about an employee who benefitted from your new tuition reimbursement program after a family tragedy. Either ask permission directly to use the employee’s story, or change pertinent facts, such as the employee’s age, department, major, etc., to protect privacy.

  • A story basically has a beginning, middle and end. But you can tell it in imaginative ways. Keep your story relevant and flowing logically. Avoid drifting off on a tangent. The purpose of storytelling is to illustrate and support your ideas, not to compete with them or to take up all of your designated time. Even if the story is exciting, you can lose your audience if you wander or your story drags on.

Make sure your opening grabs your listeners and that it’s clear why the story relates to the purpose of your presentation, and to your audience. In particular, be careful not to offend. And remember to tie the opening and closing together, connect the dots for your listeners. People may not remember all the facts you have given them, but they will remember your stories.

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