Tell Me a Story

I love a good story.

As a child, I could listen for hours to the tales told by my parents, grandparents, teachers and others. As I grew older, I sought out stories through novels, films or theatre. As a parent, I thoroughly enjoyed reading books (complete with voice characterizations) to my two daughters when they were younger. To this day, I am still not sure who had more fun, me or them.

Tell me a story

It is the same with most people. We all enjoy good stories. We simply cannot get enough of them.  Remember this point the next time you have to give a speech or presentation. Tell a story or two. They will engage your audience and help convey the points that you are trying to make.

For a great example of storytelling in a speech, I highly recommend the commencement address given by Steve Jobs to the 2005 graduating class of Stanford University. Before reading further, please listen to his speech.  It is worth the time.

There is an immense amount of wisdom in this speech. Essentially, it boils down to the following three messages:

  1. You cannot see how the dots will connect in your life looking forward; you can only see how they connected by looking backward.  Trust that the dots will connect in the future and you’ll have the confidence to follow your heart.
  2. Do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to do what you love. Keep looking for what you love to do and don’t settle for anything else.
  3. Our time on earth is limited.  Don’t waste it by living someone else’s life. Follow your heart. Stay hungry, stay foolish.

This is great advice for anyone, particularly new graduates. But how did Steve Jobs take this great advice and make it even more profound and compelling for his audience? He emphasized each point with a story. And not just any stories; Jobs used PERSONAL ones.

From dropping out of university, to his rise and fall and renaissance at Apple, to his close encounter with death, Jobs gave us incredibly vivid and personal vignettes of his life. These stories, in turn, made his messages powerful and memorable.

The next time you are in front of people, be sure to tell a story or two. And although you can, by all means, recount stories about other people, try to add a personal touch.

We might not have founded a multibillion-dollar company like Apple, but we all have stories to tell. Good stories. Find some quiet time with a pen and paper (or keyboard) and jot down some notes about memorable experiences in your life. Keep a file for your stories and pull it out whenever you have a speech to give. You just might surprise yourself at the tales you can tell.

Once upon a time . . .

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5 Replies to “Tell Me a Story”

  1. I have downloaded and listened lots of time, already this one, a great example, that also inspired me on my stories. Jobs is a very good example, he was a good story teller leader from very young age (even if not always easy and nice to his friends) but what a great speech this is! Great example!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International