He (let’s call him Tony) wanted to ‘wow’ his audience and he only had 2 minutes to do so.
“I tried to learn my key messages by heart”, Tony said with a stern and serious face, “but it just feels so unnatural”. He sighed. “I really want to be authentic, you know. And not perform an act”. Slightly disheartened, he continued: “Two minutes! How can this be so hard, it’s just two minutes!”. “And”, Tony continued, “you’re obviously going to tell me now I can’t read the text from paper either”. (I did tell him that, yes).
I asked him: what is it that you actually want to say? Just tell me.
He responded: “I read this beautiful poem the other day… which reminded me of why I do what I do, and why the topic of this pitch is so incredibly important to me, and should be to others, too”.
Great! I said. Start your pitch with the poem.
“What?!” he said, “there’s a room full of very (very) serious people and I am basically about to ask them for their money. The last thing they want to hear is a random poem I like”.
Tony ended up starting the pitch with a few lines of the poem followed by a personal story of why the topic of his pitch mattered to him. He let the audience in, he connected at a human level first, and, he took them by surprise in the very first seconds. All perfect ingredients for a successful presentation. He then had their full attention and curiosity to deliver his key points. In addition to this, Tony’s three concerns:
- Not being authentic
- Not being able to memorise his text
- Not wanting to read from a script
were all addressed by that simple (yet so complex) little formula: telling a story.
We love stories
In communications, marketing, business and politics, we have gotten used to hearing personal anecdotes squeezed into serious policy speeches or sales pitches. If done well, the use of storytelling can indeed make for a truly inspiring and memorable speech, pitch, or presentation.
Make it a conversation
The point here is that it’s not just the audience that benefits from storytelling. Training yourself, when preparing your speaking moment, to “think story” can be hugely helpful. Approach your speaking slot as if it were a conversation: the audience is your conversation partner, you are going to tell them a story. Your story. Bonus: (re)telling a story is easier than learning a text by heart and makes for a far more natural way to deliver your message. It helps you stay calm and focused. And that’s worth a lot for an activity that shows up on many people’s What I’m Scared of Most list.
Practise & prepare
Practise lots! And you’ll get the hang of it. If you need more training or like to practise this in a structured way, do get in touch with Center Stage.