Tell Your Own Story

by Stephen Boyd | January 31, 2004

In recent months, I have heard speakers use stories that have been around for decades (the Acres of Diamonds story and Alfred Nobel, for example). I’ve observed in each situation that the rest of the content was timely and relevant and I could sense these speakers were truly experts in their fields.

I suggest that instead of telling a story out of an anthology or a book of illustrations, or—even worse—one you heard another speaker use, you use your own story. Think about your own professional or personal experience and use that example. The material is uniquely yours and you are the expert on the topic. Get into the habit of writing down your experiences that have applications to the principles you talk about and teach to others. As the old adage states, "Don’t think it, ink it." In a few years you will have a wealth of illustrative material to draw from for your speeches.

If you don’t have years of experience to draw from, then "borrow" the experience from someone else in your area who does have many experiences to share. For example, if you need a case study to illustrate customer satisfaction, ask a colleague to tell you about his or her best example in working to satisfy a customer. Then tell the story in your speech and give credit to the source.

One other suggestion for avoiding telling old stories in a speech is to read nonfiction books. Often you will find stories that are not familiar to the general populace that can have marvelous application to your material. One that I am reading which is rich with illustrative material is Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.

When a speaker uses stories the audience has heard before, her or his credibility is needlessly affected in a negative way. The content of the speech may be "cutting edge" material, but the old story can take away the impact the speech would otherwise have. So skip the classic example and tell your own story.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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