5 Reasons why it might NOT be best to lead with a story


“Always lead with a story”.

I wonder who gave him that advice?

It sounds feasible, even powerful.

Stories ARE powerful.

They engage, build credibility, create an emotional tone, set the scene.

And all of those things are what is needed from a speech opening.

But they are not the only options for a speech opening.

You can do something that really GRABS attention, if that is necessary.  And you will waste anything that is not aimed at getting attention and holding  it … like saying “hello” or testing the microphone.  But between those extremes there are many choices.  You can open with a quote, you can use a different language or colloquialism, you can use humour, you can ask a question.  You can refer to a person or event that has local interest at the moment you speak.

And you can use story.

But certainly not ONLY story.

Does this audience relate to story?  Do they value that emotional connection?  Perhaps they are sleepy after lunch.  A story, unless it is incredibly punchy, may be too slow.

Has something happened immediately before your speech that MUST be addressed?  Avoid that or, indeed, the elephant in the room, and you lose a powerful opportunity to connect and engage.

Is this a regular gig?  Perhaps you periscope your tips every few days.  If you open with the same signature story every single time and, congratulations!, you have regular followers, they certainly don’t want to hear it over and over again.  “For Goodness’ sake,” I mutter, “you promised me 5 tips on this thing, get on with them!!”  “And you don’t have to sell me on who you are, I KNOW you already!”

Please don’t open with a story unless you have it fine-tuned and powerful.  You need to know exactly what you are creating with the story, why you are using it, and have removed anything that does not contribute to that outcome.   This is especially true if you are trying to establish your credibility.  One tiny flaw, one tiny doubt in that story, one weakness and you have me doubting you, wondering about that weakness or doubt and I lose the trust you need me to have and you have to build it up again.  Those tips, that content, had better be good!

Make sure, too, that the story does actually serve some sort of purpose.  I understand that story creates connections, all on its own.  It also creates it own energy, no matter where you use it in the speech.  But we, your audience, are creatures with short attention spans, especially if we discovered you as we were flicking through the internet, or are sitting in your audience reading from devices.  Tell me a pointless story and you insult me and lose my attention.  I return to my browsing.  I gave you my time and attention in hope of receiving something of use, or an experience worth attending.    Reassure me that that is what I am getting by having the purpose of the story absolutely obvious – at some time soon!!

I say “Thank you” to the man who provoked me to write this article.  I like him and I value his content.  I was just sad and irritated to see him devaluing himself by taking advice that wasn’t suitable to his uses.

“Lead with a story”, by all means but not ALWAYS!



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Speaking from the heart

I suspect this was well-rehearsed and yet seemed so natural, so conversational.

Do you want to speak to inspire?

We could all do well to learn from this man and the presentation –


a mantra,

storytelling skills,


structure …

Three vital elements of story for speakers

[Quick public speaking tip]… and the moral of the story is ….

storytelling (1)We are wired for story.

For hundreds of years, we passed on our culture, our values and the understandings necessary for survival, verbally, using story.

Our stories had a moral. All of them. There were lessons to be learned and we knew they were valuable.

We are wired to look for the moral, the point of the story.

What an opportunity to tell a story and have your audience expecting the point you are going to make!

What a shame then, if we tell a story and don’t make a point. What a waste.

And what a let-down for the audience.

The moral is – “Don’t waste your stories”.

[Quick public speaking tip] Data and story

hans_rossling_TEDI teach a lot about using stories. Stories are incredibly powerful speaking tools.

I coach clients to choose stories that support a point, that supplement data and that make data come alive.

But not always.

The image above is, of course, Hans Rossling presenting data. It comes from the Superflux blog And Hans has a wonderful ability to present data – but in this case to a TED audience who respond well to his particular style of data wrapping.

Sometimes an audience is different.

It expects the data, thinks in terms of data, has an inbuilt radar that rejects the stories behind it as irrelevant.

Sometimes, the data tells its own story. It builds engagement on its own because both presenter and audience know the story behind it. It is a language, a communication, all of its own.

For that audience, probably, stories will have their place, but the story placement will need to be very judiciously chosen, using criteria that are very different from those for an audience, say, that needs to have data wrapped up in story… or the visualisation that Hans Rossling has made his own!

Quick tip? … as always … know your audience… and for me as a coach – part of the coaching process it to remind clients to check in mentally with the culture in which they will be speaking.

Public Speaking quote – adding soul to your data

Maybe stories are just data with a soul.

~ Brené Brown

Are you using stories to make your data more attractive and effective?

Storycatcher – making sense of our lives through the power and practice

Making Sense of our lives through the power and practice of Storytelling
by Christina Baldwin
Christina Baldwin’s work on Story…the art, the practice, the importance of telling and re-telling stories in our lives is a stunning masterpiece. Woven beautifully with fragments and selections of her own stories, Baldwin once again instructs, enchants and inspires the reader about the critical nature and importance of the individual stories of all of us. Whether it’s to build community, heal generational wounds, create stronger organizations, leave a legacy, or simply to pass on information, Baldwin’s narrative builds a compelling case for the power of “storycatching.” A magnificent read…and a wonderful gift to give. What will be the questions you carry to ask of yourself and others? A must-have!!