If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ll know I often talk about the fact that stories enhance your presentations. But how do you come up with good stories? Why is it that some stories are more powerful and memorable than others? And what makes some storytellers more charismatic than others?
At a recent Professional Speaking Association event in Edinburgh, the guest speakers were two of Europe’s leading experts on Storytelling and Body Language, Eamonn O’Brien and Stefan Verra. I have known Eamonn for several years and I met Stefan at a speaking conference in Florida last year so I was really excited to see them team up to deliver a masterclass on how to make your stories an experience that audiences will remember.
And they didn’t disappoint! Eamonn opened the session with a captivating and humorous story about a friend of his who had a disastrous and embarrassing experience when speaking at a convention. Eamonn is a brilliant storyteller, but the fact that he chose this particular story to share with an audience of professional speakers demonstrated that selecting stories your audience will relate to is the vital first step in engaging them.
After telling the story, he explained that the main reason the story worked so well is because we had a visceral experience when listening. Through his language and choice of words, we were able to visualise the story and put ourselves in the situation. The lesson: in order to enhance our storytelling, we need to help our audience to see more and feel more. A significant part of achieving that is how we appear while telling the story - our gestures, facial expressions and our whole body posture.
Body language expert, Stefan, then shared his take on how Eamonn’s delivery enhanced the story. Stefan explained that Eamonn was able to help the audience see more and feel more by not just sharing the facts, but by expressing emotion in the telling and adding a sense of fun and humour. According to Stefan, the more variety you have in your communication, the more engaging you will be, and the more people will find a connection with you. For example, if you just share facts and figures, you will appeal to some of your audience who like to receive information this way; however, if you vary it with emotion and add some humour you will connect with other people who relate more to this style of communication.
And of course, your body language helps to communicate the emotion and the humour. It was refreshing to hear Stefan reinforce that we should stop worrying about body language and simply use whatever movement and gestures we would use when telling a story to our friends in the pub. I agree with this to a point, although if you have a habitual repetitive gesture it can be distracting for an audience. Having said that, those distracting mannerisms generally take place when you’re worried or nervous about presenting; it’s highly unlikely that they would show up if you relaxed and spoke with your audience as if you were telling a story at the pub.
Stefan shared all sorts of interesting facts about body language but the three most important ingredients that will enhance your storytelling are:
1. Your smile
The more you smile, the more likable you are. When you smile people see you as non-threatening and are more willing to listen to what you have to say. And of course, a smile makes you appear more self-confident.
2. Your eyebrows
Your eyebrows are incredibly expressive and communicate the meaning behind your words. Allowing freedom of movement in your eyebrows will help to convey that meaning and ensure people are more engaged with what you are saying. Raise your eyebrows to create more energy, lower them to keep the emotions calmer. In varying your eyebrow movements, you keep the intensity high and your story becomes more interesting.
3. Your gestures
Using open gestures with your palms up helps to increase the energy in your presentation. Alternatively, a gesture with your palms facing down grounds you and generates a feeling of calm; this is a movement that projects confidence and competence and is a good gesture to use when you want people to believe what you are saying. Be careful not to be one dimensional; it’s the variation in your gestures and the changes between palms up and down that make your story vivid.
This is all great advice from both Eamonn and Stefan on how to make your storytelling more engaging, but how do you find the stories that you can incorporate in your presentations to bring them to life and really connect with your audience?
Consummate storyteller, Eamonn suggests creating a story file and continually being on the lookout for stories that can be used in your presentations. They don’t have to be big stories such as the day you survived an avalanche on Mount Everest; stories that are small and relatable are just as effective, if not more effective in engaging your audience and reinforcing your point. In order to develop a bank of stories you can draw on, Eamonn suggests identifying and keeping a note of the stories you tell on a regular basis. To get you started, he recommends that you set yourself a goal to find at least one hundred stories from 4 source categories (with the first being the easiest place to find a ‘bazillion’ stories):
a) Stories you tell often about yourself and others you know (from family, social and work sources, past and present)
b) Fun or amusing stories
c) Stories about large and small lessons you have learned or decisions you have made in your life
d) Stories about embarrassing situations
That’s a lot of stories to draw on! I have always struggled to maintain a good file of stories, partly because I write them in different notebooks or on scraps of paper or in notes on my phone. Recently I have started using Trello as a project management tool and CRM system as I like its simplicity and ability to hold all my required information in one place. So, I have decided to start using it to capture and save my stories ensuring I remember the good ones and always have a suitable story to illustrate my presentation points. Another alternative for logging your stories that many people swear by is Evernote. Whatever method you use to record your stories, you are more likely to use it if it is easy and it works for you.
So now you know how to find good stories from your own experiences, how to record them so you’ll always have access to them and how to deliver them using three key elements of powerful body language to enhance your impact.
If you want to find out more about Eamonn and Stefan you can do so at these links:
Eamonn O’Brien - http://www.thereluctantspeakersclub.com/
Stefan Verra - http://www.stefanverra.com/en/
The next dates they will be appearing together are:
Monday July 16, 2018 - National Speakers Association Influence 2018 https://www.nsaspeaker.org/attend/influence/
Friday Sep 7, 2018 - German Speakers Association Disruption Convention 2018 http://wordpress.p391701.webspaceconfig.de/event/gsa-convention-2018/
If you get an opportunity to see either or both of them in action, I highly recommend you jump at the chance!
Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.
Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to www.melsherwood.com or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_