Storytelling strengthen your speech

Are you working on a speech or presentation that just seems to lack that little bit extra that will make it zing?  Following are a few quick ways to add a bit of sparkle to a presentation that lacks something.

1. Review all your stories in the speech and see if you can start later in the speech arc.

The Iliad famously starts near the end of the Trojan War it epically describes.  Ever since then, smart writers have been poking and prodding their stories with an eye to figuring out what is the latest possible moment in them that the story can begin and still make sense.  So take each story in your speech, strip out the inessential detail, and begin it as late as possible.

2. Throw out your opening and write a more dramatic one.

The first few moments of a presentation are the most important, in that they frame the talk and either grab the audience or cede the mental real estate of the people sitting in front of you to random thoughts of lunch and leaving.  What’s the most dramatic way you could make your opening point, and how could the ante be raised on the interest it generates?  That’s the hook you need to have.

3. Write more two-handed moments into your speech.

Presentations are difficult to give and harder still to sit through, even if they’re great, in (at least) this one respect:  it’s hard for audiences to remember what they’re hearing.  You can help by providing moments of hierarchy and structure that are a natural part of everyone’s mental architecture, and thus easily absorbed.  “For example,” “first, second, and third,” “not this but this” – and the best of all, “on one hand and on the other hand.”  These are rhetorical devices that make it far easier for your audience to grasp what you’re saying.  Those sorts of contrasts and ordering devices help your audience hear, process, and file away what you’re telling them.  Give them lots.

4. Leave a little room for Improv.

A pro speaker will deliver consistency of message to audience after audience, because a pro is selling a brand as well as changing the world – and both are necessary.  But a pro will also leave room for each particular audience and occasion to help shape the message, so that it comes to life each time – and can grow and evolve at the same time.  So improve your speech with a little Imrov.

5. List your three most important values, go through your presentation, and eliminate everything that doesn’t speak to those values.

We know where the weak points in our talks are, don’t we?  That list of five ways to improve employee morale, the one you know is really four strong points and one weak one that you’ve never done the work on you need to.  Now’s the time. Throw it out and find a stronger one, so that all the points in your talk are of equivalent heft.

You’ll grumble at the work in the short run, but you’ll thank me when the audience rises to its feet and salutes your masterpiece with a standing O.  Good luck.




  1. I just finished reading your five ways of strengthening my speech… I teach a Bible Study and have encountered a lot of interruptions… rabbit trails. We sit around a table in a mobile home, and there is only four of us. I was thinking of purchasing your book, Power Clues. Do you have any other suggestions?

    1. Hi, Nicki — there are two ways to control the flow of a discussion such as a Bible study. One is through overt rules and a moderator — creating a set of semi-formal rules, in short, for how the discussion can go. Robert’s Rules of Order were created to control the flow of discussion in legislative bodies in this way. The other way to control the conversation is through body language — and that’s one of the things I talk about in my book, Power Cues. So you decide which approach you want to try, and best of luck

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