Stories are the stuff of persuasion. Experienced communicators hoard good ones like gems. Carefully crafted, they can engage interest, illustrate ideas and elevate important points. They are the nutrition that makes a presentation worth absorbing.
If you already use the unique power of stories in your speeches, here is a simple device that you can add to your storytelling technique, to make those once-upon-a-time
moments even more engaging.
Five rapid-fire facts
During your preparation phase, research and memorise five quick facts for the opening of your story. Then, when you stand before your audience, begin the story by delivering those facts in an off-hand, rapid-fire way; as though you are simply tossing out a few, arbitrary nuggets of gold. Then proceed into the body of your story.
This technique achieves a number of things:
- It creates the illusion that you are an expert on that particular topic - a passionately gesticulating encyclopaedia - thus enhancing your perceived credibility
- It changes the rhythm of your delivery, speeding you up for a moment, in order to add contrast to your pace
- It helps from a structural perspective. Because you deliver your five facts in a rapid-fire fashion, you set the scene for your story incredibly quickly and avoid rambling.
In one of my motivational presentations, How to Position Yourself as an Industry Expert
, I use the story of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster to illustrate a point about communication errors. The story had always worked well in delivery, but when I introduced the five rapid-fire facts
technique in the introduction, it raised the bar dramatically... And all it took was two minutes of online research.
The facts that I used were:
The shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight
- It disintegrated over the Atlantic ocean, off the coast of Florida
- The disaster was blamed on a faulty O-ring
- Seven people lost their lives: five men and two women
- While analysing the wreckage, they discovered that certain switches had been moved from their launch position. The switches were protected with locks and had to have been unlocked by the crew. This proves they were fighting to restore power to their section of the craft, even after the break-up - struggling to save their own lives.
These quick facts (the last one highly emotive), set the scene very swiftly. They create the impression of a great depth of knowledge. Memorising them was easy and delivering all five of them requires less than a minute; 60 seconds invested in enhancing the perception of my expertise. Then I progressed to my central point.
It works for characters, too
I use this technique when introducing characters as well. To illustrate a point about personal discipline, I refer to the average writing day of bestselling author Stephen King. To introduce him, I throw out these five rapid-fire facts:
- Stephen King is 65 years old
- He has written and published over 50 novels
- He lives in Bangor, Maine
- Every one of his novels has topped the New York Times bestseller list
- If you enjoyed the original movie version of It, starring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown, you'll be happy to learn that there are plans underway to re-make it!
...Then I proceed to make my point, describing King's working week, in order to illustrate my idea about personal discipline. The effect is that I appear to be an expert on this particular personality.
The next time you use a story to illustrate a point, or allude to a key person, try opening that segment with the five rapid-fire facts
technique. Learn your five facts so well that you can rattle them off verbatim. Then, don't be surprised when they accuse you of having an amazing body of general knowledge!