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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

Formatting Your Talk

Obviously, you were asked to speak because you have credentials and recognized expertise. You know the subject or you wouldn’t be there. The temptation for you, or any speaker so flattered, is to stuff the luncheon audience with information, drown them with facts. There’s no question you should provide a lot of information, but please don’t think that’s everything. No speaker was ever serenaded because he or she broke a world record for providing data.

What we get serenaded for is being interesting. By and large, facts and statistics are not interesting by themselves. We use that form of evidence to increase our credibility and to support our viewpoint. We all gravitate to it because that’s the way business is run. But audiences don’t pay attention enough to track statistics. An audience is much more moved by a story. That is what piques their attention and sways their thinking. That is what impresses them. If you want the audience to love you, tell a story.

A much loved truism:

Tell me a fact and I’ll learn.

Tell me a truth and I’ll believe.

Tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.

—Indian proverb

All the World Loves a Story

So find one. You won’t have to look that hard. You do have to look inside yourself, and decide you are willing to share. A story is always appropriate. The entire world loves a story—as long as it’s a good one and it’s well told. The story needs to support your viewpoint, but it doesn’t have to be a business story. As a matter of fact, it’s better if it’s not. But the point of the story should be consistent with the point of your talk.

Here’s what to look for in reaching for a story:

An event you lived through or studied about that moved you. The more impact it had on you, the more impact it will have on your audience. If your story involves kids, yours or someone else’s, you can’t miss. Why? Kids are universal, part of everyone’s experience. And they’re cute. The story can’t be a travelogue or merely a reminiscence. It must have tension, drama, and a “moment of truth” where someone’s decision causes success or failure.

How to Tell a Story

There is a right way and a wrong way to tell a story. The right way is to start at a point in time. Take your cue from the most memorable stories in any culture. They all start with some variation of “once upon a time,” the same way a fairy tale begins. Then let it flow.

Don’t explain the story (wrong way). Re-create it the way it happened (right way). Use dialogue. Add rich detail so the audience will see what you saw, hear what you heard, and feel what you felt. Then make your point, tying it back to your overall message.

Below is an example of the same story told both ways so that you can see the difference. It is the story of a father and his daughter. To make it easier to follow, it is written in the first person, as though you, the reader, are the father telling the story.

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