Happy New Year, everyone! I’m back from a little skiing, a little overeating, and a little doing nothing. The perfect holiday break, in short.

Every year I publish a list of New Year’s Resolutions for speakers in an effort to get us all thinking early about how we can improve our presentations in the coming months. This year I’m focusing on storytelling.

1. I resolve to find the story in the data. We’ve replaced the old problem of a generation ago – information scarcity – with a new one: information overload. That means the single most important gift an expert can offer an audience is to sift information and tell us what’s important. But it’s not enough to merely tell us facts, because information overload has become so severe for many of us that we can’t remember facts unless they’re contained within stories. It’s the package that makes the information memorable. So don’t give us any more data; give us stories.

2. I resolve to tell stories, not anecdotes. Most speakers think they’re telling stories when they’re only telling anecdotes: I met this customer who said bad things about our product….. Real stories have a hero, conflict, and a story arc – the hero faces a conflict, or an ordeal, or a test, and changes in some way as she meets the challenge.

3. I resolve to use more emotion in my stories. Because it’s emotions that people find memorable, a speech lacking them is inevitably forgettable. Or, as the rhyming mavens would say, “if you don’t care, don’t share.” If you don’t have strong emotions to go with your stories, they will only be marginally better than data.

4. I resolve to use video to tell my stories. While nothing will ever replace a human storyteller, video is the medium of the age, and you’re killing your audience by not using it and instead using slides. So put away the PowerPoint, the Keynote, and the Prezi presentations and get out the video. If a picture is worth the mythical 1,000 words, then a video is worth 10,000 pictures.

5. I resolve to tell stories that make the audience the hero, not me. Give a speech to change the world, nothing less. And that means showing the audience how it can change the world, not boasting about how you did once. So figure out how to tell your stories so that the audience can imagine itself as the hero, and get inspired to act accordingly.

The gift of attention is an increasingly precious gift. Let’s all resolve to treat the gift of an audience’s attention with the respect it deserves in 2013.


  1. Great point, I recently heard about emotion on a PBS special “Super Brain”. Dr Tanzi highligted that one reason we can remember a incident from our childhood is because we associated emotion to it. It was a big deal a kid was swimming and the butterfly fell in the water!…

    Thanks for the reminder.

    I would like to hear more and if you could expound with example about using a story instead of anecdotes.

    1. Thanks, David, for the comment. And you’re right: just the other day a client was telling me about a speech he’d heard 15 years ago, and the only thing he remembered from the occasion was one of the stories the speaker told.

  2. This is may be slightly tangential, but since we’re on the subject of storytelling, and since nearly all of us are in the business of sales in one way or another, thought I’d share this book. I thought it was quite good.

    What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story by Michael Bosworth.

  3. Nick – been following your blog since our breakfast meeting in Austin two years ago. Loved these tips, especially around telling stories, not anecdotes. And I can even imagine myself trying to weave a “Finding Nemo” type of story on the stage – with a hero, a challenge and change. Now thinking about how to make the airline executives in the audience believe they are the Nemos… Great food for thought!

  4. Nick..frankly it has taken me 49 years to discover you.I have one question,which has been troubling me.Say i am addressing a audience,wherein 60 percent of them know English and the 40 percent know some other language and are not good in understanding English.If i have to convey some message,or speak to the entire audience,should i continue to speak only in English,start to finish,because the English understanding audience is more,or can i speak 50 percent in English and the rest 50 percent in the other language the balance of the crowd is comfortable with.Is it the right strategy or will i lose focus in such a situation,require your guidance in this regard plz…..BGS

    1. Hi, BG —

      Tough issue. You have to take a number of steps. The way to handle the issue gracefully is to talk about it with the audience. Say, for example, “Because we really have 2 audiences here, I’ll be making remarks first in English, then in (Language B). I ask for your patience.” Then, simplify the presentation so that you can get your message across (even though you’re repeating in Lang B) in a reasonable amount of time. Good luck.

  5. Wherever i speak…among’st close friends,with family or speaking to an audience and when i touch on anything emotional…tears just swell in my eyes..it is pathetic to say.I have to wipe the tears with my handkerchief often,this is one problem area i face.I have been thinking of ways and means to get over this problem,not been successful.To avoid this problem(not becoming emotional)i act and speak tough,just not to end up with this moist eye or will more practice solve this issue,Nick….BGS

    1. Focus your emotions before you meet or speak. Focus on a positive, less teary, emotion. Go into the speech or the conversation with this emotion uppermost. Then, breathe deeply and slowly when you can. This will help control your emotions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.