Monday, November 18, 2013

Are You A Great Storyteller?

Soon we’ll be gathering with family and friends at Thanksgiving. And no holiday meal is complete without hot food and memorable stories. “Do you remember the time…” kicks off an endless series of childhood stories, family legends and embarrassing tales from the past.

Every family has one person who can captivate the room with colorful stories that make you laugh, cry or feel very uncomfortable. In my family, my father takes the storytelling cake. No one can match his skills when it comes to recreating visions of his Grandma Sally (who knew all the neighborhood gossip), his uncle who got sucked up into a tornado while riding on a horse, or the day he drove his new 1957 DeSoto sedan home from the car dealership (and taught himself how to drive a car on that first solo trip behind the wheel).

But you don’t have to have the gift of gab of a Daddy Gist (my father) to be a great storyteller. If you can tell a joke, explain why you like or dislike a movie or recall—in some detail—a sporting event or past experience, then you can tell a story to a friend, co-worker or meeting audience. The storytelling skills are the same (use descriptive words that make your listeners visualize what you’re talking about). If you are talking to an audience of one or 1,000, paint a word picture that lets them hear, see, feel, smell and get a taste for everything that went on.

I recently heard Mark Brown, the 1995 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, talk about storytelling. Mark (he is in the photo with me) said that every life tells a story and there’s always a message you can share. During the recent Toastmasters International conference in Daytona Beach, FL, he identified three ways to find stories to share with family, friends or business associates. Mark says:

1. MINE FAMILY STORIES – Keep your ears open at family events. During the holidays, family reunions or at the dinner table, someone is always telling a funny story.

2. USE POP CULTURE – Explain the impact that a movie, book or blog post had on you. “It’s all about lessons learned…and what you can share,” said Mark.

3. RETELL YOUR LIFE LESSONS – Everyone has had some experience that knocked some sense into our heads. Share what you’ve learned the hard way from your biggest mistakes. “Your life tells a story and there’s always a message that someone out there needs to hear. Sometimes a lesson we learned can be valuable and powerful to someone else,” said Mark. “You have no idea the impact you can have by sharing one simple story!”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

As Smooth as Pumpkin Pie

Are you a smooth talker? Do words just roll off your tongue like sweat rolling down your face on a sweltering hot summer day? If both answers are “no”, there are five things you can do to make your next speech, presentation or job interview come off as smooth as pumpkin pie:

1. PRACTICE – If you are not comfortable talking off the top of your head—impromptu style—don’t! Rehearse your key talking points ahead of time. Make sure you emphasize the points you want your audience of one or more to remember.

2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE – Do your homework (audience research) before you walk in the door. Know what issues your audience cares about and how you can help them solve that problem. Then, keep your job interview, speech or presentation remarks relevant to whoever you’re talking to. When you talk, you want your audience to listen. But they will only listen if you care enough to talk about topics/issues that they value.

3. EYE CONTACT – To establish a rapport with your audience, you must look at them. If you have prepared written remarks, memorize your opening and closing lines so your audience can see the sincerity in your eyes, your face and in your words.

4. PACING – Even if you’re nervous, don’t talk too fast or too slow. Rushing through your sentences can make you sound like a fast-talking used car salesman (they have no credibility). But don’t talk so slow that your listeners lose interest. Your voice should have energy. Get louder for emphasis and pause when you get to commas, periods and paragraph breaks. Vary the speed and the volume of your voice so you don’t sound like a boring, monotone Al Gore-type speaker.

5. SMILE – When I was a little girl, I used to watch the Buckskin Bill television show in Baton Rouge, LA. At the end of each show Bill said, “Remember, you’re never completely dressed until you put on a smile”. And he was right. Smiling lets your audience know that you are friendly, you like them and you care about whatever you’re talking about. Show off your personality, your emotions and your passion with a warm friendly smile.

Use these five tips during your next job interview, work presentation or community speech. I bet you will be impressive as a speaker and your delivery will be as smooth as pumpkin pie!