Find Your Storytelling Style to Engage Your Audience

Storytelling is an important part of being human. Stories connect us to each other; they create a bond. We all love to hear stories, but can we tell them? Whether you’re a business professional giving a presentation, or a simple lover of stories, Lisa B. Marshall, aka The Public Speaker, will tell you how to deliver a great story to keep your listeners riveted. 

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #339

Since delivery instructions are not part of the written story, you’re left to interpret it in your own way. And the first step in the process of interpretation is to think about the meaning of the words and the intent of the author. How does the author want the audience to feel? Go through each sentence and think about the message being conveyed. What are the key words and how might you want to emphasize them to accurately convey the right feeling? 

Was there a bigger reaction when you slowed down at that point in the story?

Say the words aloud. Try different alternatives to hear what works best—if time allows, read the stories to young children and you’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t. Just look at their faces. Was there a bigger reaction when you slowed down at that point in the story? Do you need to pause a little longer in a certain spot to let them fully digest the meaning of the previous sentence?  Do you need to speed up to increase the sense of anticipation? By delivering the story several times, you’ll begin to really know the rhythm of the story and make it your own.

Next, you’ll want to mark up a personal copy of the story to help you remember your delivery choices. Use line breaks to mark pauses between and within sentences. (I use one, two, and three lines to indicate the length of the pause.) Next you’ll want to indicate which words require emphasis. (Will you be louder? Softer? Trailing up? Trailing down?) You'll need to mark when to speed up, when to slow, when to pause, when to draw out a word, and when to increase and decrease your energy level. Also mark the pronunciation of any words you’re having trouble with. I’ve created my own system … all capitals, triple dots, triple underline, forward slash, backward slash, etc. All have specific delivery meanings. Over time, you’ll develop a system that works best for you.

Ultimately, your goal is to use your delivery instructions to help you to sound as if the words are your own and you’re simply telling (not reading) the story to a friend. That really is the biggest hurdle you’re going to face. Conversationally delivering someone else’s word choices—telling someone else’s story authentically—is difficult. In essence, you will need to learn the skills of a voice actor. And just like professional actors (and like my daughters when they play a piano piece), with time and practice you will create your own style of storytelling. 

Apply to Your Professional Life, Too

All the principles I’ve mentioned are useful in every walk of life. If you have to give a presentation, a speech, or a sales pitch, these skills are invaluable. Create your own pronunciation symbols to mark your notes before you speak. They don’t have to be as involved as those for a storyteller, but they will help you put inflection and excitement into your voice. This keeps people engaged and helps you point out what YOU think is most important, so they, too, will think it’s important.

And remember, turn something in your presentation into a story. Hook them at the beginning. Introduce a little conflict. Then resolve it. Use your voice to convey importance, excitement, emotion. Your talk will be “talked about” for a long time afterwards. It will be remembered. You will have made connections. And that’s always good for business.

This is Lisa B. Marshall, moving you from mediocre to memorable, from information to influence, and from worker to leader! I invite you to read my best-selling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview, listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk, and invest in your professional development via my online courses Powerful PresenterExpert Presenter, or Influence: Maximize Your Impact.  

As always, your success is my business!  


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.