Storytelling for public speaking


“Storytelling is the ultimate tool for communication” Yuval Noah Harari author of Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind.

To me, storytelling is the public speaking equivalent of a royal flush in poker -nothing beats it! There are many benefits to storytelling in a speech, especially a personal story, you don’t have to act out the emotions because you feel them when you tell the story and gestures and vocal variety come more naturally.

What must a story have?

Ok, so lets assume you know what story you want to tell and how you expect the audience to react and you have a great virtual speech set up. Lets get down the fun bit- delivering a story.

  1. Capture

The capture is a way to get everyone’s attention. Your audience is in their own head, with a million thoughts going through it at once. When speaking online the capture is particularly important as those watching screens are far more easily distracted than in person. The first 30s are crucial. These 30s must hook the person into your story. A bit like when an author writes a book, the first sentence and page are very important for storytelling! Get the listener curious, know your lines and deliver it well. Do not give away the plot.


You’ve got to hook the audience!

  1. Introduction

The introduction which includes the capture should be no larger than 10% of the story and only what’s relevant to the conflict. When storytelling keep 6 honest serving men like Rudyard Kipling: who, what, where, when, how and why but again, only use the ones that are relevant. Be specific with details to improve your stories credibility.


Rudyard’s 6 honest men

  1. Middle

Describe briefly the context – what is the present situation.

Now hone in on the conflict of the story. Build a mental picture for the audience by describing the scene and feeling using VAKOG.


Sprinkle some dialogue in and remember to be specific when storytelling.

Act out your conflict, us gestures and non-verbal communication. See Jack’s book review for non-verbal book recommendations. There must be a fight between opposing forces to make the outcome uncertain. There must be suspense and unpredictability. There are all sorts of conflicts in storytelling, character vs self, character vs character, character vs society, character vs nature etc. Emotionally we buy into stories with conflict especially if we can relate to them, communication expert, Nancy Duarte, calls this resonating.

  1. Final resolution/moral/core message

What has the main character of the story learnt, what is the spark and the moral of the story? What will your listeners take away!

Blow the socks off your audience with your sublime storytelling!

If you are interested in learning more about stories then check out Jack’s book review or the evaluation of world championship speakers.

Here’s a TED speech recommended by Nancy Duarte which includes short stories told well.

Thank you for reading. This blog post was written by Jack Irwin VPPR of Hamwic Speakers. For more blog posts click here:

Preparing for a virtual speech: 7 steps

Speech evaluation tips

Jacks top 7 books on communication

Evaluating World Championship Speakers