The Power of the Story

People love stories.  Throughout time, stories have been a powerful tool to communicate points and make them memorable.  This is illustrated time and again in almost everything we see on television.  We care more about a person when we know his or her story.

It will soon be time for the Winter Olympics.  The TV coverage of the games is so much more than just the contests and the results.  They work will work overtime to give us the back-story of the competitors.   They will take us behind the scenes.  They will take us to the competitor’s home town.  We will meet the competitor’s family.  

We’ll care more about the speed skating event if we know the story of at least one of the skaters. We’ll enjoy the skiing events more if we feel we know the skiers.  We might even watch curling, figure skating, or a luge event that we might otherwise skip, if we learn enough about a competitor to get excited about who will win. 

The same is true of most of the reality-based shows on TV.  On America’s Got Talent, it seems like we spend at least half our time getting to know the history and personalities of the competitors.  We get attached to them.   As a result we tune in, week after week.

Even classic game shows, like Jeopardy, use stories to hook you.  Notice where Jeopardy places the stories.  Not at the start of the show.  They want to grab you first with what you tuned in for.  At the opening, they jump right into the game.  It’s not until the second half of the “first board,” and after the commercial break, that they interview the contestants and introduce their stories.  It’s brief, but it’s definitely story time. As we learn more about the competitors, we like them more.  Maybe we pick a favorite to cheer for.  We keep watching.

So it is with any speech you might give.  The audience wants to know your story.  They want to identify with you.  They want to like you.  In addition, if you introduce other characters into your stories, the audience wants to hear their stories too. Characters are richer when the audience feels like they know them and cares about them.  And because of the magnetic power of stories, the points you make will have more impact and will be remembered longer.

That doesn’t mean you have to open with a story.  You could.  Or you might open with music, humor, a or a question that pulls the audience in.   There are many choices for opening a talk, it doesn’t have to be a story.  But eventually you should share your story to personalize and humanize your talk.

A story helps bring your talk to life.  It turns a lecture into a feature film.  It turns a book report into an experience.  It turns a speech into entertainment.  Are you breathing life into your talks with stories?  Do your stories make powerful points?  How could you enrich your stories?  Spend some time looking at every speech you give to see how you are enhancing your talk with story power.