Yesterday, I heard an unbelievably moving and inspiring story.
Like all good stories, it kick-started my thinking while reaching deep down into my emotions. This was a client’s story. And though I coached her to help polish her delivery skills, she already possessed the ability to enthrall an audience.
It was a reminder to me of the power of personal stories.
To speak like that, your voice needs to come vibrantly alive for your listeners. To learn how that's done, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics."
Want to Speak for Leadership? — You Need Some Skin in the Game
As speakers, we often shy away from “inserting” ourselves in our narrative. But personal anecdotes are among your best tools for speaking compellingly and convincingly.
The reason is simple: Sharing your personal connection to your topic lets the audience know that you have a true investment in the story you’re telling—or “skin the game.” This isn’t just some content you’re delivering, in other words; this situation is something you’re personally connected to. This is something you’ve lived.
Once the audience understands that, your story begins to gain true power. Combine that awareness with these three great ways to use body language to speak with impact, and you'll truly be speaking for leadership.
What Your Audience Really Wants, and Why It Leads to Presence and Charisma
My client is a cancer survivor, and she was preparing to speak to physicians at one of the country’s leading cancer institutes. Against some very long odds that pointed to a terminal illness, she has achieved not only the absence of this particular malignancy, but continued good health for over 20 years. More amazing, she has thrived despite the rejection of conventional therapy in favor of a rigorous and targeted program of lifestyle, nutrition, and regular tests.
She’s not a physician, scientist, or nutritionist. She’s simply a patient who has something of considerable value to tell oncologists and others at the institute.
Her story is an ideal example of why audiences want to listen to you, in your own speeches and presentations, in the first place. It’s not for the delivery of information—a report or printout of a PowerPoint deck could take care of that. Audiences are in their seats because you’re there to talk to them. Your experience or expertise or excellence is on the dance card, and it’s the reason you were asked to speak—not somebody else: you.
You are what the audience really wants. Why then not bring yourself into the story if your topic allows? (And believe me, your topic allows it more than you might think!) You'll have all the charisma and presence for leadership you could desire.
The Best Storytelling Techniques Incorporate Drama!
There’s another reason sharing your connection with your topic is a good idea: credibility. Speaking abstractly about a subject is one thing; but revealing that you’ve walked the walk in this arena is quite another.
So in addition to the advice you’ve probably heard on effective storytelling—tap into emotions, incorporate surprise, use metaphors and analogies, speak in the present tense—ask yourself if there’s a place to bring in your experience. Can you personally testify to the accuracy of what you’re saying?
A story of my own: A few years ago, over the course of five workshops, I trained the entire sales force of a leading HMO. Every one of the 45 sales people, of course, were also customers of the health plan they were selling. And though they were all delivering the exact same sales presentation, some of these employees had moving stories to tell about how they or a loved one experienced the support services the HMO offered to patients with serious conditions. Those presentations would have been immeasurably weaker without those personal stories.
And don’t forget to incorporate drama in the story you’re telling! Look for it: the places where you or your team faced overwhelming odds, or the joy that accompanied success, or what this experience taught you about the human condition. Here are some other great ways to add drama to your speeches and presentations.
So don't leave home without yourself. Your story is interesting us already!
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