What I Learnt From Completing The Toastmaster’s Advanced Storytelling Series

On Tuesday I completed the Toastmaster’s Advanced Storytelling Series, concluding with a story about Rosa Parks – one of the most memorable turning points in America’s civil rights journey.

It was so interesting going through the process of telling various stories (a folk tale, one of my own, a story with a lesson, an emotional story and one with a historical significance) and I thought I’d share with my connections what I learnt along the way…

Firstly, anyone can become an amazing storyteller – I can confidently say this because I thought it was a weakness of mine and now it’s a strength. Yes there are some people that are just naturally good at telling stories and captivating audiences, but trust me, it’s a skill that can be learnt.

It’s easy to remember a story – A story is effective in making your message stick in your audiences mind. I don’t think there’s any contention that a good story can be remembered for a lifetime whereas a boring presentation can be forgotten in an instant. However, I hadn’t really realised that this also translates to the person telling the story! This is highly beneficial for you as a presenter as you don’t need notes or slides to prompt you as to what you will say next, it really sticks in your mind.

A story can take many forms – It can be one of your own, it can be someone else’s, it can be made up or it can be a famous one that people know of . It can be humorous, it can be serious, it can be inspiring or it can be fascinating. There are so many options, however they all seem to be relatable in their own way.

Everyone loves a story – I have never had stronger responses to my presentations than I have to these 5 stories I’ve told at my Toastmasters sessions. One lady cried during my emotional speech (when I was speaking as if I was my pet dog), others laughed (at my rendition of my memorable but slightly disastrous Gypsy Caravan holiday when I was young) and people were captivated (at the story of Rosa Parks).

The keys to a good story are the same as with a good novel or movie.

Have a defined reason why you’re telling a story in the first place. Whilst they’re easy to listen to, there’s no point telling an irrelevant story! You need to determine what point you’re trying to make or what objective you have. E.g. Are you wanting to inspire your team to never give up, are you wanting to convince people to collaborate more? The story you chose will totally depend on the circumstances that are calling for it.

Be sure your story has a defined plot, which ideally has some conflict or a climax that gets resolved near the end. “Conflict” doesn’t have to be fighting, but some struggle or something perceived negatively.

Keep the characters to a minimum (ideally 2-3), otherwise it will confuse your audience and it make it harder for them to follow it.

Eliminate any boring or confusing aspects that aren’t essential to the main point of the story. This will help to keep the audience’s attention.
Use descriptive language and touch on the 5 senses to bring your story to life and make the audience feel like they are in the story – e.g. What’s the setting like, is it day or night, what do you characters look like, how do they walk, how do they talk, is there a smell in the air, etc

Use dialogue to make it more engaging – what I mean here is instead of saying: “Poppy pleaded with her mum about not wanting to leave the party” that instead you say: Poppy pleaded, tears welling in her brown eyes “I want to stay mum, I’m having fun. Please, can we stay?” Her mother snapped back “I told you we were only going to stay an hour, you never listen to me” as she grabbed Poppy’s hand roughly and dragged her away from her friends.

Still interested to see storytelling in action? Oprah Winfrey’s recent speech at the Golden Globes is a fantastic example of how to use a story to inspire an audience. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here. (Note: It’s just a coincidence that she also talks about Rosa Parks – I had already prepped mine before hers aired!)