Saturday, June 20, 2009

storytelling: tell a story on yourself

UPDATE (8/8/2009): I'm so sorry to see that the video on which this post was based has been removed by the person who posted it--but here is an audio podcast so you can listen to this great talk. Go here for audio. Telling stories is part of the art of the eloquent speaker, but telling personal stories resonates even more. A personal story guarantees that your audience is getting original material, heightening their interest, and if you choose the story right and tell it on yourself--with surprises, slip-ups and ironic twists--you'll have a winning formula for holding attention. Best of all: Stories you know that well are stories you won't forget in the telling, making it possible for you to work without notes and therefore be more animated, enthusiastic and appealling.

Here's a compelling example of telling a story on yourself from Paul Nurse, a Nobel laureate and president of Rockefeller University, whose research in cell biology has helped advance understanding of how cancer cells work. Here, he's telling a story about his own family, an intensely personal story told in a personable way, to which any listener can relate. No spoilers here: You need to listen to the story, a remarkable, funny and very frank recounting, to learn how he spins a true tale.

I'd encourage you to think about a story you can tell in this way, especially if it discloses something about you that's pertinent to your audience. Before you do, it's important to take time to think through how you'll tell the story, what you'll emphasize or omit, and where you'll wind it up, as well as what larger point you want it to underscore. In this example, Nurse skillfully works in mentions of his entire family, from his wife and children (whose family tree project led to a surprising discovery) to his mother, sister and grandparents--a simple way to ensure that any one who plays those roles in the audience will be able to see themselves in his story. That's important given his audience at the World Science Festival which aims to reach non-scientific public audiences. His own surprise and discovery emerge as the tale unfolds, and he draws it together at the end by noting the irony that, while he's "not a bad geneticist, my rather simple family kept my own genetic secret for over half a century."

Related posts: Speaker on ice: When you need to wing it

UPDATE, July 11, 2009: This post was included in Andrew Dlugan's "Best Public Speaking Tips and Techniques: Weekend Review", a nod I'm always happy to have from his Six Minutes blog--another great read for those of you looking for news, tips and advice on public speaking.

1 comment:

Angela said...

I've found this blog in Andrew Dlugan's "Best Public Speaking Tips and Techniques: Weekend Review" and it caught my eye. I completely agree with an idea that personal story will make your speech appealing and aslo motivate and encourage the audience, especially if you share your own experience.

All the best,