Imagine it: You step into the spotlight and feel a buzz from the crowd.
You focus your mind in preparation for the words to flow. You begin to speak with obvious confidence. You finish and applause fills the room. Afterward, you mingle with your audience, answer thought-provoking questions, and pose for a quick photo or two to post to social media. People tell you how much your message resonated with them and how they feel it has the potential to change their lives.
Isn’t that every public speaker’s dream?
Before you can share in the glitz and glamour that a tenured, well-established speaker commands, you have to start by working in the trenches. One of the best ways to do this and amplify your game is to become proficient at telling your story.
5 ways to connect
You cannot succeed in life without communicating effectively. It’s not enough to work hard. It’s not enough to do a great job. To be successful, learn how to really communicate with others.1 Consider the five connecting principles that leadership trainer and best-selling author John Maxwell shares in his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently.
According to Maxwell, connecting
- Increases your influence in every situation,
- Is all about others,
- Goes beyond words,
- Always requires energy, and
- Is more skill than natural talent.
To connect with your audience, focus on sharing the experiences of your life through storytelling. Sitting around a campfire and listening to people speak isn’t much different from sitting around in offices, university classrooms, and at conferences. People love to listen, and they want to feel and understand your story. It’s a powerful medium to carry your message.
Storytelling in healthcare is a valuable and vital skill to refine. It can help you to build relationships, be relevant to your audience, and understand your vision and values.
Through a well-crafted story, your audience begins to feel that they know, understand, and trust you. So how can you craft a story that will capture your audience’s attention?
Begin at the end
“Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it,” says
Simon Sinek, a leadership author and speaker.
Great stories engage the audience with a purpose and a point. What’s yours? This is where you should start. Telling your story is largely introspective, so look at yourself and listen to the lessons you’ve learned.
Ask yourself such questions as
- How did you get where you are?
- What are some of your inspirations?
- What are the values that lead you through life?
- What are you offering and how is it different?
- How do you set yourself apart?
- How do you describe what you do for a living?
- Who would your ideal customers, consumers, clients, and audience members be?
Begin by collecting stories that showcase how you behave as a person or leader, and the times you stood for your values. This will bring purpose to your presentation and reveal your vision to the audience.
Your stories help teach and challenge your audience. Developing your storyline becomes easier as you get better at answering the above questions. It’s OK to share someone else’s story if you’re having a difficult time developing your own.
But do attribute it to another person, or qualify that it is a story you’ve heard. For example, you could tell an audience, “I want to share a story with you that I heard…”
Creating a plan of action or a “goal list” will help you achieve what you want from your speeches. As a speaker, you want to share your knowledge and advice, and desire to bill yourself as someone who is in demand and moving forward.
Perform an honest evaluation on yourself: Begin with your goals and you can get there faster. Write these goals out; if you think it then you can ink it.
- Where are you at right now?
- What are your strengths and opportunities?
- What are your weaknesses and threats?
Set yourself apart
“In a world where people have a lot of choices, the story may be the deciding factor,” says Nick Morgan, a speaking coach and author.
What makes you stand out?
You have something that makes you different from other people. Recognize and develop your strengths to connect with your audience. Use them to tell your story. Take into account how others may view those strengths when interacting with you.
Focus on sharing your strengths through storytelling. Consider using different storytelling structures:
Figure out your mono-myth. A classic storytelling structure, this is your hero’s journey. Use it to explain what has brought you to the wisdom you want to share.
A story within a story. Nested loops place your most important story at the center of your message and use other stories to elaborate or explain that core idea.
Map out your presentation with spark lines. With spark lines you can contrast the ordinary world with an ideal, improved version. You compare what is with what could be. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech is a great example.
Start with the action. Using a technique called in medias res, you start your story at the most exciting place. Then you start over to explain the beginning and end. It grabs an audience’s attention immediately, but it works best for shorter presentations.
Using one of the above-named structures will help you craft your story into a format that will help your audience to understand both your content and its context.
Crafting the story
Once you establish your goals and know how to stand out, it’s time to create your content.
Each story has to start somewhere, and it’s best to begin with an outline.
First, think of what you’re hoping the audience will take away. Don’t dive right into the first paragraph without mapping out the story. What are the main points and sub-points you want to hit? What’s your story arc? Create your outline based on those points, and then expand it from there.
Technology can deliver visual and audio stimuli that build emotion and engagement into the content you’re presenting. Its purpose is to enhance your presentation. Never use it as a substitute for an engaging message. A great storyteller doesn’t need PowerPoint, and PowerPoint won’t save a bad storyteller.
One of the most important things to do before a speaking event is to learn about the audience. Stories don’t need to be 100-percent rewritten for different audiences; however, you should customize at least 10 to 20 percent of your presentation to reflect the nature of each particular group you address.
Practice, practice, and practice more. To really engage your audience, make them feel emotion when you tell your story. Your goal is not to memorize your content word for word. By the time you’ve put the work into preparing, you may only need to go through the entire presentation a few times.2 If you can practice your presentation six to eight times, you’ll likely have it down pat.
Practice to perfection
“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect,” said Vince Lombardi, NFL Hall of Fame coach.
Storytelling isn’t something that comes easy to everyone, but it is a skill that can be learned and refined. Stories need to be engaging and telling them takes practice. Once you begin to think about your experiences and how to share them in an interesting way, you’ll be well on your way to crafting stories that will keep your audiences and organizers asking for more.
John Bennett, DC, is a chiropractor with extensive training in clinical nutrition. He started his clinic, Body Workz Wellness, to serve people by restoring and supporting optimal function and health. He is a frequent keynote speaker and coach of continuing education seminars for doctors and other healthcare professionals. He can be reached through drjohnbennett.com.
1 Maxwell JC. (2010). “Part I: Connecting Principles.” Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
2 Reynolds G. (2011). “How Much Should You Rehearse?” The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With Or Without, Slides. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.