Release Your Story with Right-Placed Details


How many triangles are there in the illustration below?  Don’t read further until you answer that question.Triangle illusion

Two? Eight? More?

Note that I didn’t ask, “How many triangles do you see in the illustration?”

How many are there actually?

The correct answer is “zero.” There are only V shapes and 3 Pac-Men type figures.

At a recent NSA-MN Chapter meeting, David Mann, Actor/Director/Professional speaker, used this illustration to make an analogy to storytelling.

His point was that we don’t need to give ALL the details of a story, but that giving enough details, in the right arrangement allows the audience to imagine the story.  “The right facts,” said David, “can release the story.”

If you have too few details, or have them arranged poorly, people may misinterpret.

What could this picture mean?


Or, if you have too many details, people become confused.

An example of chaotic information:


Remember these images when you craft your stories and get just enough details in the right place to “release the story” and to allow the audience to “see and own their own version.”

Next week, I will share how I made these images on PowerPoint, for you PowerPoint geeks. :)


How to Make a Boring Topic More Interesting


“You can talk about ‘Succession Planning’” said the person in charge of the conference.  My first thought was Ugh! That sounds boring! Fortunately, the allotted time for the topic was only 5-7 minutes early in the morning and the audience was a couple hundred positive Toastmaster club officers.  I challenged myself to deliver useful content, on what I considered a dry subject, in an engaging way.

Have you ever needed to do that?  Perhaps you had to report on results?  Train prescribed content?

Here are 6 ways you can make that boring topic more interesting:

  1. Know the WHY for your audience
  2. Borrow ideas from others (research)
  3. Engage with relevant humor and stories
  4. Reduce Content
  5. Involve the audience
  6. Offer practical action steps

Know the WHY for your audience

Consider your material from your audience’s perspective.  Why is it important to them?  Spell out the benefits near the start.  For this presentation to Toastmasters, I was very familiar with the group, so it wasn’t too difficult to come up with the “Why.”

Why example:

Example of Why

If you do not know your audience well, consider conducting informational interviews.  Last week I had a presentation on business storytelling for a marketing subgroup of the Minnesota Telecomm Alliance, an organization I knew very little about.  About a week and a half before the presentation, I conducted short phone interviews with six of the attendees about some of the challenges they faced.  I was then able to focus on their “Whys” that my workshop could address.

Borrow ideas from others (research)

Informational interviews are one way to research.  Online searches are another.  You also can do “field research.” Once, when I was preparing to give a presentation to an association of school lunch administrators and workers, I decided to have lunch with my high school son at his school.  I honestly was amazed at how much better school lunches were than when I was a student.  For the talk on succession planning for Toastmaster clubs, I posted the topic on the Toastmasters International Members Facebook group and asked about best practices.  I got some great ideas and inspiration from the comments. You also can, of course, do a Google search.  When you do a Google search on a topic, don’t forget to do an image search for ideas (but don’t just copy and paste–there may be copyright issues).

Succession Planning

Engage with relevant humor and stories

Find something off-beat or funny that is relevant.  Look at opposite meanings, or different perspectives.  For the succession planning topic, I noticed that the word “succession” has the root “success.” Although that wasn’t funny, I got to thinking about the opposite of success, failure and it struck me that often, when something is a failure, it “sucks.” So, bad succession planning is SUCKSession planning.  This led to a funny visual that got a lot of laughs.


If you are having trouble thinking of relevant humor, don’t forget your own stories of failure (i.e. self-deprecating humor).  Stories do not have to be funny to be engaging.  You can tell a cautionary tale, too. “A fact wrapped in story is 22 times more memorable.”–Jerome Bruner, psychologist

Reduce content

You don’t have to tell them everything.  Prioritize the information.  Break it down into an overview of “steps” or “actions.”

Example of overview:


Involve the audience

Involving the audience can take many forms.  The easiest form is simply to ask questions.  If you have time, you can have the audience brainstorm, discuss, do an activity or write something down.

Offer practical action steps

The audience needs to use your information.  You can help them by giving them steps or practical ideas. For example, in the succession planning presentation, I offered several ideas to prime members to consider being a club officer. One idea was to pass out a list to the members with all the offices listed and ask them to cross out the ones they were unwilling to take.


Take these tips and go from boring to bravo in your next presentation on a “dry” topic!