Business Storytelling: Dress Up the Naked Truth

When I was a little girl, I had a very active imagination and would often tell “stories.”

OK, that’s just a nice way of saying I would lie.  I would lie to get out of trouble.  I would lie to get reactions.  I would lie just to make things interesting.

It infuriated my mother.

When she confronted me, I would vehemently deny the lie.

Then, she got smart.  She told me a story.

She told me the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”  It’s a folk tale about a boy who repeatedly tricks the village people into believing that a wolf is attacking his flock of sheep.  When a wolf actually does attack his flock, the villagers don’t believe him and his sheep are killed.  Moral:  Liars are not believed, even when they tell the truth.

That story struck a chord with me and I changed my ways.

If you are trying to get people to make a change, rather than being immediately direct, which might cause resistance to set in, clothe your message in story.

I’m reminded of an old Jewish teaching story, “The Naked Truth.”

Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the doors and was readily welcomed into the villagers’ houses. They invited her to eat at their tables and warm herself by their fires.

Dress up the truth.  Clothe statistics in story.  Decorate the dull.

Telling a story can connect with people emotionally in ways that a direct approach can’t.  Plus, people remember stories.  If they remember your story, they’ll remember your point.  I’ve had quite a few people tell me they remember a story I tell about my mom and the lesson I learned, “Listen from Your Heart.”

So, the next time you want to get a point across, tell a story!

Want to engage your audience with stories?  Want to learn the secrets of storytelling in business?  Do you want to create your own compelling stories?

Yes? Then, come to my Storytelling for Business Workshop on Saturday, February 25!  The Workshop tuition includes 3 90-minute sessions, materials, lunch and refreshments plus a free 30-minute follow-up phone consultation.  The Early Bird deadline is 2/5 for the $79 tuition (save $20).  If you register with a friend, the tuition is only $69.

Speaking from Notes: The Keyword Method

Which category do you fall under, when it comes to using notes for a speech:

1. The Forgetter.  You are afraid you are going to forget what you want to say, so you use notes.

2. The Writer.  You worked hard to get your wording just so and want to say it just like you wrote it.

3. The “Wing-it” Speaker.  Plan out what I’m going to say?  You’re kidding, right?

4. The Memorizer.  You memorize your speech, almost word-for-word.

5. The “Talking Points” Speaker.  You jot down a few key words to jog your memory.

6. The PowerPoint Slide Reader.  Please—don’t be THAT speaker.

I admit it; I have been in each of those categories.  What I have learned, is that each of the categories has some benefits and in my best presentations, I combine many of them, at least in preparation for a talk.  However, the approach that I have found to be most successful for me and many others is to use a “Talking Points” approach.


Step 1:  Write out your speech.  Pay careful attention to the introduction, the conclusion and the transitions.  Here’s a nifty trick to help you trigger your memory as you transition to different parts of your speech:  use the same word or phrase from the end of one sentence to the beginning of another as you transition. For example:  “There are only 3 things we have to fear:  1.  Bad men , 2. Bad decisions and 3.  Bad breath.   Bad breath is a bigger problem than you might think . . .”   The phrase “bad breath” triggers my memory for the next sentence.

Step 2:  Practice it a few times, revising it as necessary.

Step 3:  Write out key words and phrases.  You can also draw pictures/symbols. Try not to have more than 4-5 words per sentence or per line.  Use a big font if typing. Double space.

It might look something like this:

Step 4:  Set your written speech aside and practice from the keywords (OK to look back at first, but then resist the urge).  Practice your introduction and conclusion so that you can at least do those from memory—those are the parts people will remember the most.

You don’t have to say your speech the same way twice—No one will know if you use different words!

In fact, by allowing yourself the freedom to deviate from what you’ve written, you are less likely to “blank out” if your mind can’t think of the one exact phrase you had written.

Giving the speech

The MAIN THING to remember is:  Speak to People, Not Paper!  Don’t look at your notes and have your mouth moving at the same time.  Eye contact while speaking is important for audience engagement.  Look down.  Grab a few key words on a line.  Look up.  Speak.  Repeat.

The Eyes Have It: How to Improve Eye Contact When Giving a Speech

Eye ContactEye contact is the number one way to increase your engagement with an audience.  A few additional benefits include:

  • Increased credibility (people who don’t make eye contact seem nervous and possibly dishonest)
  • Reduction in crutch words (um, uh, er).  I’ve noticed that people are more likely to use crutch words when they look up or off to the side as they gather their thoughts.  Ever notice that people don’t say “Um” or “Uh” as much in conversation?
  • You will sound more conversational and, if you tend to talk too fast, you probably will slow down a little.
  • Your presentation will be more powerful.
  • Feedback from audience–people tell you a lot with their eyes!  You can adjust your presentation more easily if you make eye contact.

The MAIN THING to remember:  Talk to one person at a time.

Think of every presentation as a conversation.  You make eye contact when you talk with individuals, don’t you?  Your audience, whether it is 10 or 100 is made up of individuals.

If you just scan the audience (or worse yet, look just above their heads), you not only don’t gain the benefits of eye contact, but you also risk looking like an oscillating fan!  Sure, you can try to look at everyone, but you probably won’t connect with anyone if the group is large.

Here are 3 tips that you can use right away:

1.  Look into the eyes of one person for a complete thought (usually a sentence) before you move on to another person.  Connect with a few people sitting next to each other and then, slowly work your way around the room, connecting with a couple of people to your left, middle, right, front and back.  Don’t jump around or try to do this in any particular pattern.
Baby step:  Consciously try it for at least the first 3-4  sentences of your speech, and at the end.  You can expand on the skill on future speeches.

2.  If you are using notes, drill this phrase into your brain:  Talk to People NOT Paper.  Look at your notes to snatch up your next phrase or two, but DON”T talk while looking at your notes.  Look up and then talk.  Double space your notes.  Put then in a larger font (at least 14), or better, yet, reduce your notes to key word notes.  More on that in the next tip!

3.  Practice with a “fake audience.”  Take a few sheets of paper and draw crude faces on them (actually all you need is the eyes).  Tape them up on the walls, at seated eye level.  Then, practice your speech, looking into the “eyes” of your audience.

Have you found other ways to improve your eye contact?