The 6 Secrets of Story Telling

I love this story:   A highly paid IBM Director was touring a plant in South America and the 1100 workers were gathered at lunchtime to hear him speak.

At question-time, one of them shot up his hand and asked “How come you get  paid over 300 times what I get paid, yet we have the same family to feed?”

The IBM Director said “It’s simple. If you make a big mistake and lose your  job, you and your family suffers.  If I make a mistake and lose my job, everyone here can lose their job too and suffer.  That’s 1000 times the pressure that you are facing every day, yet I only get 300 times the salary.”

During our presentation skills workshops we encourage the use of stories as a good way to create understanding. Stories can bring a presentation to life, making it personally relevant for the audience and moving from the spoken word to images, tastes, feelings and smells.

There are some common threads with the great storytellers I know, in corporate and personal life:


Storytellers usually have some sort of basic structure.

Structure is something audiences know well in their subconscious. Think of the opposite of structure: it is a bit like watching a confusing movie that never seems to go anywhere.

At the very least all good stories should have a start, middle and end. You can add transitions (sometimes called bridging) to each section to maintain the flow, which pleases audiences greatly.


Storytellers all have a confident, assured delivery. Great eye contact, a calm measured pace and relaxed posture all help.


Storytellers can all think on their feet, to freshen stories up. Sometimes it’s the “ad libbing” that really brings a story to life.

This is especially true when it comes to involving the audience along the way. A nod to audience members (“John, you’ll relate to this bit!”) can work wonders for audience attention.


Humour often plays a strong part. It seems the ability to laugh at yourself is a safe and simple way to give the audience a laugh.

Great story tellers will often be aware of managing the audience through ebbs and flows which makes for greater variation and enjoyment.


It seems that great storytellers have an in-built filing system in their memory that they are able to call upon readily for relevant stories.

If you imagine that your memory is a search engine, then you can assign key words to each story for easy recall.  Or use the age old “Great Mansion” memory technique, where every one of say 30 distinct rooms has a part of the story in it.  For more on memory trying reading Derrin Brown’s book– it’s brilliant.


Although they may not admit it, great storytellers will often run through a story out loud or think it through in detail before first telling it. It is this practice that makes the story work.

That’s just a quick insight into story telling.  There is lots more to learn – try putting “storytelling” into Amazon and you will see a whole raft of books on the subject.

Some of the above common story-telling threads are easier to learn than others.

The bottom line is that the story must have relevance to the subject matter. Sometimes stories really don’t hit the mark in terms of proving a point or supporting the presentation, and that’s why the  fall flat.

We talk about stories in our presentation skills workshops in London and the UK.  Interested in your feedback or any further thoughts – post a response to this blog or call me and let me know what stories you are using and what effect they are having on your audiences.

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