I often advise speakers to include a story in their speech, and for good reason. Humans respond well to narrative, and often absorb information better if it is packaged as a tale. Facts and figures can be difficult to embed in an audience’s mind … but a well-chosen anecdote can serve to lodge them in the memory much more reliably.
This is because stories have a structure which allows us to hang ideas and concepts off of it – making them easy to remember. If in your presentation you are describing a product or service, a positive story about someone who used it can help an audience understand its benefits better. Likewise, if you’re introducing an audience to a concept or idea, an anecdote related to it will render it concrete and accessible.
Taking advantage of our natural inclination and enthusiasm for stories is one of the most powerful tools in a speechwriter’s book. Every speaker could benefit from telling more stories. That being true, however, it’s worth considering going one step further: since stories are so useful to your speech, why not structure it like one?
All stories share a very basic underpinning. In their first section, they set-up a basic situation – including characters, events or environments – which are described and established. In their second act, stories disrupt this world with some sort of conflict. Experts sometimes call this stage the “complicating action” – something comes along which makes things harder or less straight-forward than they were.
The final stage of any story is resolution – the conflict is solved in some way, and a “new normal” established. If you are describing a product or service, perhaps it’s features solve a problem; if you are persuading your audience that an idea of yours is a good one, it may be that it provides an answer to the questions raised by whatever conflict you identify.
The point of all this is that a speech structured as a story is easily followed and remembered. Where an anecdote can illustrate a key point of yours, ensuring the audience takes it away from the room with them, a speech structured as a story provides a compelling through-line that an audience can follow across the length of your presentation.
The set-up/conflict/resolution structure is one of the oldest known to humans. As a public speaker, you are seeking to inform, persuade or educate. In this sense you’re performing a very similar role to a storyteller around a campfire. Since that’s the case, it often makes sense to structure your speech, too, like a story.