Pitfalls of Storytelling

If you have ambitions to be a good business speaker you have to develop the art of storytelling. I was talking about this to a business owner the other day and he mentioned he’d heard someone telling a story as part of a presentation – and it was apparently rather dull! The story concerned Sylvester Stallone and his inspirational experience of getting the Rocky movie off the ground. My friend told me the presenter ‘went on’ for 20 minutes and quite obviously didn’t inspire this member of his audience.

This struck me as rather odd because that Stallone story is one that Tony Robbins tells…and it’s a great tale! Why then did it fail on this occasion?

I’d make 2 points here. First, there’s a big difference between telling a story and telling a story with skill. It’s an act and the best storytellers are spellbinding. I remember watching John Houseman tell a creepy story at the start of the John Carpenter movie The Fog – wonderful stuff. And of course those of you of a certain age will remember comedian Dave Allen, perched on a chair with a cigarette and glass of whiskey, delivering marvellous anecdotes. Ronnie Corbett had his own rambling style during his seated story-slot in The Two Ronnies, and study masters like Peter Ustinov and Peter Cook (again a YouTube search will unearth treasures).

The second point is you have to be careful using someone else’s story. Robbins explains that Stallone told him this story personally (that’s his connection). Audiences like authenticity and if the story really has nothing to do with you they’ll question your right to deliver it. Generally speaking, stories that relate to you personally work better. Perhaps one justification of using someone else’s story is as part of an analysis of storytelling?

Storytelling should be part of your presentation tool-kit, but be careful what material you use and develop the skill of telling it with aplomb.

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