Art of Public Speaking Tips and Resources

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Storytelling DON'Ts

When setting up a story in the art of public speaking:

Don't say the words" funny", "reminds me of", or "story". These words are so overused they alert the audience that a story is coming.

This causes audience members to resist your story rather than get caught up in your story. They say in essence, "Let's see you make me laugh." or "OK (yawn), here comes another story."

Don't say, "I heard a good one the other day..." for the same reason you don't say "it reminds me of..." The audience will resist and challenge you to make them laugh.

Never say, "I don't know if I should tell this one..." If there is any doubt whatsoever that a story is not appropriate for a particular group, leave it out.

In the art of public speaking, there are better ways to set up a story.

The best way to start a story is to get right into it. You should be into the story before anyone realizes it is a story. That way they are already deeply involved and don't have time to resist. You could say:

"There was this man ... "

"On the flight here ..." or "Driving in this morning ..."

Don't say, "A funny thing happened on the way to the meeting today."

"In the cab today ..."

"I was talking with ..."

"Let me take you back ...", "Come with me ...", "Imagine ...", "Visualize this ...",

These are a little different because while they do alert the audience that a story is coming, they also serve to get them so involved emotionally that any resistance is counteracted, or as with the "Borgs" in science fiction "Resistance is futile".

When getting out of a story, in the art of public speaking you never say, "But seriously folks..."

If it was a funny story you don't have to say, "Hey Stupid! That was a joke." Give them credit for some intelligence.

It also implies you were lying, so now why should they trust you and continue to listen?

To exit a story, don't say anything about it being over. Just make a slight change in delivery, tone, rate, expression, etc., and go on.

A change of expression on your face or a different pose, are both body language that can say, "We are moving on..."

In your notebook of the art of public speaking, here are some More Don'ts:

Use too many stories on the same topic. Each successive one will lose impact.

Tell a story where you are the hero. If you are the hero, make it appear that it was dumb luck that made you so (self-effacing humor).

If you are a bonafide hero, forget what I just said, but make sure you add a healthy dose of humility for best connection with the audience.
(Remember that "Connection thing" is central to the art of public speaking.)

Use terms foreign to the experience of the audience. Educate and excite the audience with new words, new experiences, new insights.

Die of printed page poison. Written stories must be changed to be recited aloud.

When you find a story that you like in a reference book, you cannot say it exactly as it is written or you will sound stupid.

You must knock out the he saids and she saids. People care about Dick or Jane, not about him or her, he or she.

Don't give a history lesson when telling a humorous story, because many of us think of history as long and boring. Humor is best when it is short and sweet. Put yourself into the story to make it believable, even if you are faking your being in the story.

Fake truth is essential to humor even if story is totally false.

After the punch line of the humorous story, most (not all) folks will "get it" and realize you were in the story just for effect, not in reality.

The exception to the need for fake truth is when you are telling an exaggeration. Then anything goes.


I had a terrible day at the beach. I came home with 14 harpoon wounds.

That exaggeration is pretty evident to anyone. Now to twist the humor, you can say,

"Fortunately, they were all in the fish I speared. Anyone for a fish fry?" Now you are the hero, too!

The art of public speaking involves keeping the attention of the audience, keeping connected, but not with a harpoon!

Antion & Associates Copyright 1998 - 2005

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