How to infuse public speaking with the power of storytelling—Part 1

Before I wrote my first article, and years before I published my first book, I developed a methodology for captivating an audience with what I called “story speeches”. The process of crafting an engaging presentation is no different than that of creating a compelling story on paper. In several installments, I will lay out my process.


As a speaker in front of an audience, you have an obligation to entertain your listeners and captivate their imaginations. The acid test will be thus—if no one in the room is looking down at something in front of them, fiddling with their device, or chatting with a neighbour, then you have accomplished that objective.

This approach does not come from traditional manuals on public speaking and presentation skills. It does not come from a study of formal rhetoric or logic. It is not advanced by Toastmasters or other groups devoted to developing communication skills. Rather, it derives from the ingredients of successful theatrical performances, feature length films, and compelling stories—namely, the power of drama.

The greatest way to engage the attention of a group of listeners is to give their minds something to work on. Audience members are captivated when a speaker paints a vivid picture in their minds with carefully chosen words and attention to details. With an exciting and compelling sequence of such pictures, the audience is taken on a wondrous ride through the speech. Each audience member, in his or her own way, will complete the pictures. They will be busy, engaged actively with the speaker. Their attention will be riveted.

The key for a speaker is not to simply talk, but to put his/her listeners into a setting, give them an experience, and allow them to make their own discoveries. By presenting the audience with a scene-by-scene journey to live through their senses, and more importantly their imaginations, you will be engaging the most potent communication tool of all—their emotions. People learn most effectively when there is an emotional component to an experience. The proper arrangement of descriptive scenes will arouse emotion in listeners through their personal investment in the process. A vivid and entertaining presentation is the most effective way of informing an audience. An entertaining presentation, laden with emotional appeal, will embed itself in the listeners’ memories for a long time.

Spoken words, attending to sensory details, create a sensory experience for the listener through the power of his or her imagination. Imagined experiences in turn arouse emotions. In arousing the emotions of audience members, you—the speaker—captivate them. That is the power of delivering sensory-descriptive words, or painting word pictures.

In the next installment, we’ll cover the subject of inspiration.

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