The Power of Storytelling

Ten Primary Points of Speaking Presentations

I’ve noted before I’m a non-fiction writer concentrating more on creative nonfiction. A key part in writing, whether fiction or non fiction, is storytelling. That same skill set can follow through from your writing to your presentations.

I’m fortunate because I’m a photographer and use photography prominently in my writing, throughout my books and part of my speaking events. Therefore I have visuals to assist me in engaging my audience and increasing sales.

Amazingly enough, I’ve been in the position of equipment failures with no visual assistance. It is there that true speaking skills and capitalizing on your surroundings comes into play.

In this blog I will address the power of storytelling, some do’s and don’ts, and working with and without visual presentations.

1. Don’t read from a sheet of paper.  Reading is boring, the brain becomes numb and you lose eye contact with your audience. There needs to be inflection in your voice, drama, excitement, laughter, sadness, all the emotions you see in a good movie or play. Just as your books build a plot so does storytelling.

2. Take note of Q&A sessions. After my talks some people have come up and asked me if I took acting lessons or was an actress at some point in my life. That was a true sign I was doing something right. Use props, a chair, move around, and above all, be animated. Some of the questions also provide clues in the key ingredients of your story.

3. Presentation software. I use Prezi rather than Powerpoint. I find it has a deeper dimension, more artistic and more active. Use some text to break portions of the photo gallery in your Prezi presentations. If you do use Powerpoint be sure to include visuals.

4. Preventing speaking boredom. I like to follow the chapters of my book as it helps establish a momentum. However, to prevent speaker boredom, that is doing the same presentation over and over, pick a different theme with your storytelling. One of my most successful presentations was changing the focus to “Writing With Visuals” in that I gave a story of how each chapter developed, the backstory of my photo shoots and researching the data.

5. Shy in speaking. If you believe you are an introvert or not a speaker, remember this, all writers are storytellers and like writing it requires practice and education. Study other talented storytellers, watch podcasts or TedX talks on storytelling. You could also imagine you are telling the story to a friend or a small group of your fans.

6. Knowing when to promote. As I mentioned before it’s important to build the plot, the story, engaging the audience, developing that “What’s going to come up next?” moment. That’s when their mind is absolutely open and you can feed the core of your message. One of the mistakes authors make is too much promotion, especially in social media. It’s all about building your audience and fan base.

7. Bring passion to the stage. Writing is the loneliest job in the world, living in monkish isolation and taking incredible risks. Writers long for the magic, that spark that fills the page and that ripple effect in reaching others. Telling your story out loud is emotional literacy at its best. Harness the essence of your book, your subject and bring the passion to the stage.

8. Know your audience. As I mentioned in my intro sometimes the worst situations can bring the most creative results. I was invited by a friends-of-the-library group to do a luncheon speaking presentation. It was set in a church lunchroom in a rural Louisiana town that I featured in my book. Looking out the window, across the street was a prominent museum and cemetery that also graced the pages of my book. This was a group of avid readers, proud of their town and perhaps dreams of becoming writers. I kept that in mind while telling my stories. When I learned their TV was 20 years old and not compatible with my computer, I opened the talk with an apology that my Mac computer was being a snob and said, “Please, you want me to hook up with this?!” They laughed and I proceeded to tell them how surreal the day had become pointing out the window to the town’s beautiful landmarks that inspired me. I continued to share my love for their town, and how a wrong turn on a road trip introduced me to their tiny paradise. They were smiling, laughing and clapping on and off with every story told. I sold the most books ever that day speaking in one of the smallest towns.

9. How was the book born? Another story that audience’s generally enjoy is the story in how the book was born, the trials and tribulations, tales of depression to complete euphoria. In my first book, Hallowed Halls of Greater New Orleans, there is a chapter about a self-taught architect that built 30 Roman Catholic churches and schools. He never received any recognition. I briefly mentioned his name in a magazine article and my editor made a mistake when editing and left in a question, “Who is he?” Long story short, a family member called to speak with me and I became their own personal storyteller, but no place to tell the story. After repeated failures to get it published in magazines, I decided to dedicate an entire chapter to this architect and his family. It took nearly 10 years. The book is now owned by some prominent American Bishops, Cardinals in the Vatican, and Pope Francis himself. When I told this story to that small group, there was a unified gasp and a round of applause. I wasn’t grandstanding, I was just sharing a heartfelt story.

10. Heartfelt Stories. Heart, speaking from your heart in both writing and speaking presentations is probably one of the hardest and most gratifying. In the TEDxDrigo video listed below, Susan Conley speaks from her heart and invites others to do the same. From her own personal despair to championing her dreams, she is a master in the art of storytelling and reaching others. She begins with her childhood and how her incessant daydreaming helped her write. As a teenager it was discovering the lyrics of music and their poetic tales of woe and celebrations, and the story continues into adulthood and journaling the dark side of post-cancer blues. She builds her story by examining the power of a story, the inner life, the hope, fear and passion, creating connectivity at the simplest level.

Perhaps the perfect ending to this storytelling lesson is to watch this emotional journey of telling the story.