Stories and Examples Reduce Public Speaking Fear

The fastest and easiest way to eliminate public speaking fear is to insert more examples and stories into your formal presentations or PowerPoint Slideshows.  When participants in public speaking classes are first introduced to this technique, many of them will often resist the advice thinking, “My presentations are technical (or numbers oriented or academic) so my audience isn’t really into stories.” When a presenter has this attitude, he/she is missing out on a fantastic opportunity to make their presentations easier to follow and understand, more memorable, and easier to deliver. Your audience not only wants examples, but they also expect examples to help them better understand your content.

Stories Make Presentations Easier to Follow and Easier to Understand

Technical PresentationsThe more technical a presentation, the more vital it is to include stories and examples. A technical presentation without examples is purely theoretical, whereas a technical presentation with examples is extremely practical. For example, let’s say that I’m delivering a presentation on last quarter’s financials for my company.  If I just give the audience the numbers… Last quarter, we had a 15% increase in revenue, but profit was down 1.2%, I’ve given the audience the technical aspects of the presentation, but the audience is likely to be unclear of exactly WHY the numbers came out the way that they did. So in order to give the audience a clearer understanding, I’d need to include the story behind the numbers. What happened to cause the increase in revenue and why did profit suffer?

The presenter could relay the explanation in a story by telling the audience how in the middle of the last quarter, the company invested in some new advertising that finally hit in the last month of the quarter. As a result, for the last few weeks, the phones have been ringing quite a bit more frequently, but not all of the new leads generated from the advertising have closed yet, so profit should return shortly. For example, Chris, one of our telephone sales reps got a lead two weeks ago from Microsoft in which he is in the process of negotiating a big $80,000 contract. He expects that contract to close in the next 10 days. We have another seven pending contracts that should close in the next 30 days as well.

The example clarifies the data and makes it easier for the audience to understand—even if they are unfamiliar with the technical side of the business. You don’t have to be an accountant to understand how the revenue can be up and profit down temporarily if you’ve just listened to the story above.

Stories Make Presentations Easier to Remember

When we give our audience a list of facts, figures, and numbers, most often, the audience will remember only a small percentage of the data that is presented to them. However, when we give the data in a story format, the data becomes much more memorable. For example, year to date, Joe’s closing ratio is 12.3%, Colette’s ratio is 21.7%, and Bill is at 7.5%. The average ratio is 13.83% which 3.8% higher than our 10% goal that we set in January.

So let’s test the theory. Without looking back at the numbers above, who had the highest closing ratio, and what was that ratio? If you were able to remember the number, then congratulations.  You are in a vast minority of people.  Most people forget numbers the moment that they hear them. Now let’s deliver the numbers in a story format and see if it’s easier to remember.

At the beginning of the year, we set a goal of have a 10% closing ratio for our sales team.  One of the ways that we wanted to accomplish this goal was to focus more on repeat business. Colette, who is one of our best sales reps, took this goal to heart, and she has really focused on working with her current customers.  For example, last fall, she worked with Jet Blue on a series of contracts that brought in about $50,000 in business in their New York hub.  Since they are such a good customer, she started working with them to do similar programs in one more of their hubs in Salt Lake City.  As a result, she was able to generate an additional $50,000 on the West Coast last quarter.  She increased her personal closing ratio to 21.7% because she is getting multiple contracts off of the same lead.

After reading that story, who is our best sales rep? What was her closing ratio? How much total revenue was she able to generate from Jet Blue?  If you were able to correctly answer these questions, you’re now seeing the power of stories.

Stories Reduce Public Speaking Fear

Just as a long list of numbers and statistics is hard for an audience member to remember, it’s equally hard for the presenter to remember.  As a result, when we stand up to recite a list of facts, we put tremendous pressure on ourselves in increase nervousness dramatically.  However, when we deliver the facts and figures in a story format, the delivery is much easier.

Basically, when we tell a story from our own first-person experience, all we really have to do is play the video tape in our head of what actually happened and just recite it as we remember it.  This takes away a lot of the pressure.  One of the most dramatic changes that class participants receive when they learn this secret is a dramatic reduction in public speaking fear.  In fact, if you can use stories or example to prove or verify your bullet points, you’ll wow your audience and pretty much eliminate your fear of public speaking.  It’s a win-win solution to public speaking nervousness.

This is an embarrassing example, but it really shows how this works.  I was hired to deliver a keynote speech for an association in Chicago, so on the plane trip into ORD, I wrote out the speech that I’d be delivering a couple hours later.  (Since I teach people how to write presentations pretty quickly, this is kind of a normal habit for me.)  Well, about three or four minutes before I was introduced, the director of the organization introduced me to the president of the organization and let me know that the meeting would be called to order shortly.  He said that he would start with a few points of order, but that I would be introduced shortly after the start of the meeting.  As I sat down in my seat, I looked over at the seat next to me, and it had a meeting agenda sitting on it.  As I looked down at the agenda, I noticed that it had my name listed as the keynote speaker, but the topic of my speech was total different than the one that I had designed on the plane.  My heart dropped, and I started to feel a little dizzy.  Panic was just about to hit me, and I paused, thought about the topic, came up with a few tips, and basically wrote the whole speech as I was walking up to the front of the room to deliver it.  When the speech was over, I got a standing ovation.  What made the speech work, though, was that I reinforced each of the tips with a simple real-life story of how to use it.  Every time I completed another story, my nervousness dropped.  It worked perfectly, and the audience loved it.

So give examples and stories, and you’ll feel more comfortable and your audience will love you.

Author: Doug Staneart, Date Published: September 5, 2011

Doug Staneart is president of The Leader's Institute ®. He is based in the Dallas, Texas Region. He is a specialist in corporate team building activities and custom presentation skills seminars.

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