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AnalyzeMyCareer has helped us to better understand our employees abilitites....
Dan Lennon, MD

Life Lessons from The Movie Stars - #6

by Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

Develop Your Storytelling Abilities

When we think of Hollywood, what we usually remember most are the moving, dramatic, and funny stories that movies tell. The screenwriter Robert McKee says, "Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact."

All actors recognize the value of great stories and the importance of making them come alive. I teach business leaders and sales professionals to use stories to train, lead and sell.

Some people are born street-corner, back-fence raconteurs for whom storytelling is as easy as a smile. Whenever a group gathers around the coffee pot for the midmorning ritual, everyone is eager to hear their latest personal stories. An audience of one or a thousand will always prefer a trivial story brilliantly told to a brilliant one told badly.

Executive speech coaching has become an exciting part of my business. Often, a corporate speaker brings me sheets of statistics and says, "Here’s what I want to talk about."

"Why should your audience care about all this?," I ask. "Where is the excitement? Where is that currency of human contact, the STORY?" Then we set about turning the numbing data into stimulating descriptions of what it all MEANS. More than any words you say, people will remember what they ’see’ in their minds while they are listening.

Don’t depend on PowerPoint, slides, and overheads alone to tell your story. In a recent speech training session for engineers, I asked one man to tell us again what he had been saying, but without the help of his very expensive, four-color view-graphs. The entire audience agreed that he was much more effective and passionate about his subject WITHOUT his visual aids.

Am I asking you NOT to use these tools? NO! But first decide what you want to say. What are your points of wisdom? How can you illustrate these points best? Use your support materials to support your case. One corporate team walked out of my studio saying, "This makes so much sense. We’ve been putting together 40 PowerPoint slides, then deciding what to say in between them."

You need to connect with your audience EMOTIONALLY as well as intellectually. Look at the people you’re talking to, not at your notes. Keep the type on your slides to a minimum. Your audience is there to listen to your stories, not read them.

Relate your stories to the needs and interests of your audience. For example, if you’re talking to salespeople, tell stories about how your satisfied clients have used your product or service. Use their comments as exciting and vivid dialogue in your story. Follow the classic Hollywood formula:

  • Start with interesting characters.
  • Add sparkling dialogue.
  • End with an important lesson learned.

Remember, everyone resists a sales presentation, but few can resist a good story well told.


Patricia Fripp CSP, CPAE is a San Francisco-based executive speech coach and professional speaker on Change, Customer Service, Promoting Business, and Communication Skills. She is the author of Get What You Want!, Make It So You Don’t Have to Fake It and Past-President of the National Speakers Association.

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