Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tell a Story

Read Chrystia Freeland’s essay, “How to Succeed in Business Journalism,” in the August 22d issue of The New York Times Book Review. I could quote here 2 or 3 full paragraphs, changing no more than a phrase or two, and make them directly applicable to public speaking.

I’m going to quote, instead, from Speak Up: The Public Speaking Primer, where I give advice to public speakers that is similar to Freeland’s advice to business journalists.

Humans are storytellers. We try to understand our lives and the events around us by creating stories. Until we learned to scratch symbols that represented our words, we told our history, our beliefs, our warnings, and our fears in stories, in parables, and in myths.

“We remember best what we hear or read in story form.” (p. 11)


“In our culture, we often believe we are oriented to the bottom line and that facts are the only reliable bases for decisions. Human brains, however, are not as well equipped to work mathematical of logic problems as they are to make judgments based on intuition and experience. . .

“An attorney asked me how he could get a jury to understand the complex financial instruments that led to the recent economic collapse. He said, ‘I spent days trying to work through them myself. Finally, one night at two a.m., I got it. So how do I reduce all the work I had to do into something a jury can understand?’

“By telling the jury that story. Tell them the process that led to your discovery. Tell them about the wrong paths you went down, and your frustration, and how stupid you felt. Give them a chance to empathize with you. They might not fully grasp all the complexities themselves, but they’ll feel a connection to you and to your side of the argument.” (pp. 75-76)

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