This is the third installment of my reflections on public speaking (here are links to one and two) and I’m going to talk about stories today. Stories are amazing little things that help us frame the world around us. They typically explain the “why” of an event through a logical construction of events. Why did the jar break? Because my little brother broke it. Why did he break it? Because he was angry. Why was he angry? Because our mother punished him. Why did she punish him? … and on and on. Public speakers are a peculiar blend of storyteller if you think about it. The stories they tell are as varied as their purposes. In the classroom you typically speak in order to convince someone of something through a series of arguments. This something could be a persuasive argument about a hot political topic (choosing a side) or it could possibly be a research thesis that is stated at the beginning and either proved or disproved (by virtue of the research presented) at the end of the presentation. Yes, I’m simplifying things here (a lot) but stories certainly have a role to play in public speaking.
Many speakers engage their audience through telling stories. Stories can have an impact of their own and also relate to the topic at hand. They can be utilized to introduce a new topic or to demonstrate a principle already mentioned. In the types of speeches typically required in the classroom it would be strange to tell a story with no relation to your argument. The public speaker I saw recently told stories that had no relation to his argument and, as such, I was confused. So, while a story about your cat being stuck in a tree before being rescued by a firefighter might be interesting you should avoid the telling unless it involves your topic (perhaps something like “why taxes are a good thing”). Two things to take away here: stories are important and they should be directly related to your speech’s purpose.