“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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