Have you ever attended a busy, day-long conference, listened to a number of different speakers all of whom had something important to tell you, and after it was over find they ran together in a blur and you could hardly distinguish one from another?  Except for one.  Let’s call her Angela.  She spoke right before lunch, and you were hoping she’d be quick because you were hungry.  Yet, within a few moments, you’d forgotten all about your rumbling stomach.  Angela made a really deep impression on you.

She didn’t look particularly different than other speakers.  She wore an attractive business suit, her hair nicely framed her face, and she didn’t wear too much makeup or distracting, clanking jewelry.  She didn’t prance around the stage demanding that you look at her, speak too loud or too soft, too fast or too slow, or try to be a stand-up comedian whose jokes made you roll in the aisle laughing.  Her power point slides were informative but not unusual.  So what made her so memorable?

Actually, it wasn’t so much what Angela said.  It was the way she said it.  She had three or four points that were really important for you to remember and you got them all.  Even better, that evening at dinner you could share them with your colleagues without checking your notes. You couldn’t say that about anyone else you’d heard that day.

What was her secret?

Angela painted pictures.  Her medium was words and her method was stringing them together so that you saw visual images in your mind that made it easy to understand and remember her message.  Sometimes her word pictures were funny, sometimes touching, sometimes an ‘aha’ moment.  She had learned and perfected the art of storytelling.

Every great speaker tells stories.  They usually aren’t jokes of the “A man and a dog went into a bar…” variety.  Rather, like Abraham Lincoln, they tend to use stories that are vignettes of human behavior that deftly and sharply make a point.  Mark Twain never gave a speech without including half a dozen stories that both made his point and gave his audience a laugh, which is one reason he’s included in all the “Great Quotes” anthologies.  Today, when we prepare a speech, no matter what the occasion, we almost automatically think, “Can I make any of this funny?”

Accountants are not known for their sense of humor.  A client of mine, however, keeps his audiences riveted because he always couches his facts and figures in humorous, human stories that actually happened to him or to someone he knows.  He has learned the knack of describing personal experiences, memorable people he’s met, travel adventures, hopes and dreams for his family, etc., to illustrate sometimes quite complicated financial goals and practices.  He’s a storyteller, and he’s unforgettable.

Telling stories in your speeches makes you memorable on two counts.  It gives your audience a visual anchor which makes your material memorable, and it gives them an insight into your personality which makes you memorable.  The more your audience knows about you, the more they’ll like and trust what you say.  Storytelling is a sure-fire way to be remembered on both counts.