Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

Move Your Story File Out of Your Head

Whenever someone asks if I have a story file, I say, “Yes,” and point to my head.

Portrait of a smiling senior woman reading a book at home Old-fashioned style Can Stock Photo Inc.  prometeusBut after attending two storytelling workshops in recent weeks, I have started a written story file. Retrieving stories from a brain that can’t remember why it directed me to walk into a room is iffy at best. I’ll probably miss the best one to illustrate the point I want to make. Having them stored in written form makes it more likely to hit on the right one.

What kinds of stories should go into the file? All kinds, because you never know how they may fit in. For example, here are a few stories from my file that haven’t made it into a speech yet, either because they weren’t available in my head when I was looking for them or I haven’t raised a point yet that they fulfill.

Story 1: I was climbing up a tree-lined mountain trail with a 50-pound pack on my back. I was 11 years old and 80 pounds soaking wet. And I was soaking wet. It had been raining since my Boy Scout troop began the climb. The rain turned to hail. The hail turned to snow, then back to rain. Rivers of water pushed rivers of mud beneath my feet. I slipped and fell, my cold young hands buried in the nearly freezing muck. I began to cry. Our scoutmaster, my dad, pulled me up by my collar. “Real men don’t cry,” he growled. “Get moving!”

Fast-forward 41 years. My 19-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. We rode the muddy river through hell, up the mountain and back again. One night we nearly lost her. On my way home from the hospital, a river of tears broke the dam. I was crying so hard there may as well have been a blinding thunderstorm outside the car. But the storm was behind the wheel, not in front of it. Unable to see, I pulled onto the shoulder until the storm passed, thunder erupting from my vocal chords as my body shook in violent spasms.

Real men do cry.

OK, that’s actually two stories that make a point. Perhaps I can find a couple more and actually make a speech from it. The next two don’t make a particular point, yet.

Story 2: My wife and I were concerned my dog, Galadriel, would be a danger to our newborn twins. Galadriel by then was about 7 years old and never liked children. She had to be locked up whenever children visited because she would attack them. A day or two after the twins came home, some friends came over to meet them. Galadriel knew the couple and liked them. But when we sent them down the hall unescorted, Galadriel scooted past them, sat at the entrance to the twins’ bedroom, bared her teeth, and growled. It was only when my wife and I came down the hall that our friends were allowed in the bedroom. Those were her pups now.

Story 3: Matt and Peter Viaggio lived across the street from my two older brothers and me. We were good friends. Except when we were fighting each other, which was often. At those times, our parents would forbid us from seeing or playing with each other for a week or a month, depending on the seriousness of the fight. After a few days, however, we were sneaking in play time. I don’t think we fought while we were on suspension—but we would as soon as the suspension ended!

Those three stories are among the first dozen to go into my story file. With more than six decades of memories, there will be many more. What’s in your story file? Have you written them down or are they still bouncing around your head? If they’re in your head, do you remember why you walked into the room?


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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Write It, Speak It Available for Download

Book cover for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They'll Applaud!Hello Family & Friends!

My new book, Write It, Speak It, is available today, Tuesday, April 5, as a FREE download as my birthday present to you!  Share with your family and friends! Let’s make free download history!

In three chapters, Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll Applaud, gives you the tools you need to produce a more effective, powerful, and memorable speech. Chapter 1 discusses the rules and good practices of all effective writing. With that foundation set, Chapter 2 sets out the ways in which speech writing differs from other forms of writing, and how spoken language allows you to make your words come alive. Chapter 3 provides you with techniques to write more powerful and memorable speeches through storytelling, timing, and rhetorical devices.

Tom Pfeifer has been a professional communicator for more than 30 years. In Write It, Speak It, he uses research and personal stories to show how you can write speeches they’ll applaud.

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Start with Your Speech Skeleton, Add Some Tasty Skin

Imagine your body without a skeleton. You’d be a blob of loose skin covering a glutinous glob of quivering gelatin. Just as your body’s skeleton provides a framework to your body, you need to provide a skeleton to your speech.

Smiling skeleton in tophat raising a glass of red wine.There are a number of ways to frame a speech, but the basic framework is framed in threes. You have:

  • An opening
  • A body
  • A closing

Within that opening, body, and closing framework, you want to:

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Then tell them what you told them

The opening is the most important part of your speech. You have about 60 seconds to entice your audience before they begin reviewing their shopping lists or fiddling with their smartphones. Professional speakers do not start by thanking the person who introduced her, or even telling the audience what she is going to tell them. Instead, a professional speaker will put some skin on the opening with a story, a rhetorical question, or an outlandish declaration that grabs the audience’s attention and encapsulates the theme of the speech.

I started a speech once by shouting, “I’m great!” with outstretched arms. You can bet I had the audience’s attention with that.

It also can be a joke that relates to your theme:

“Speeches are like the horns on a steer. There’s a point here and a point there, but in between it’s mostly bull.”

If I’m giving a speech on success, I might start with a rhetorical question: “Have you ever failed?” Or better yet, I would engage the audience’s brains right away: “Think about a time when you failed. (Pause) Got it? Was it really a failure?”

Once you have the audience’s attention, you can tell them what you’re going to tell them. “Today you’re going to learn how to turn your failures into success.”

Then you’re ready for the body of your speech. It’s the ribcage, with tasty ribs.

A good body also uses the power of threes. Our brain is geared to remember and respond positively to a series of three. A 2014 study determined that a series of three persuades, but four or more provokes skepticism.

And here’s where stories are a must. A 2011 study underscored what storytellers have known since the beginning of human communication: stories sync the storyteller’s brain with the listener’s and invokes empathy.

So using the power of threes and the power of stories, you want to serve up three tasty ribs with three personal stories that illustrate the theme of your speech. In a speech on turning failure into success, you will want to tell stories of when you failed and how you did—or could have—turned them into successes.

Now you’re ready for the close. It’s the second most important part of your speech. It’s where you serve up the call to action, or leave them laughing, or satisfied that they’re learned something. Therefore after you tell them what you told them, dress up your skeleton with a strong closing. For example, in the speech on failure and success, you might ask your audience to think back to the failure they identified at the beginning of the speech. Did they turn it into a success? How? If not, can they see now how they could have turned it into a success?

Opening, body, closing. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. That’s the skeleton. Add skin and dressing with stories, rhetorical questions, and thought-provoking statements. Now you have a skeleton ready to come out of the closet and play to your audience.

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Related Posts:

This Is Your Brain on Stories

Donald Trump Targets Audience’s Emotions

Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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