Public speaking is a challenge – whether it’s keynotes, panels or workshops.

The audience is usually extremely well-informed. They have easy access to content on any topic, whether it’s thought leadership, strategic insight or tactical execution.

In other words, they know it all and, in fact, could probably be speaking themselves.

As a speaker, it’s really tough to impress a crowd.

How do you get people to pay attention rather than casually listening while they scroll through emails and social media feeds?

Well, it’s easy: you tell stories, lots of stories.

To engage, educate or entertain, storytelling is compelling and absolutely necessary.

Without stories, peoples’ minds will wander. They’ll think about their dinner plans or how much work is waiting for them back at the office.

The best speakers use storytelling as hits of mental dopamine. If you tell good stories, the audience wants more of them. In other words, you feed the beast.

At a recent conference, I saw two speakers who leveraged storytelling.

storytellingMatthew Luhn (left), an ex-Pixar illustrator and “storytelling consultant”, began his presentation with a story about his family’s toy retail business.

The story evolved into how Luhn’s father always wanted to be an illustrator for Walt Disney. When that dream didn’t materialize, Luhn talked about how his father focused on his son’s aspirations about becoming an illustrator.

Luhn talked about making movies at Pixar such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo. Then, he wrapped up the presentation by talking about some of the keys to storytelling.

Here’s the thing: Luhn didn’t provide a lot of insight about how to actually create stories. In a room full of marketers, his presentation was inspirational and aspirational rather than delivering tactical direction.

And the audience lapped it up. They clearly wanted to be entertained and engaged rather than have someone tell them how to do their jobs. If they need tactical guidance, it’s everywhere: blogs, social media, YouTube.

It helps that Luhn has a gravitas. As someone who worked at Pixar for years, Luhn has the benefit of the doubt when he stands in front of an audience. He’s been there and done there when it comes to storytelling.

By telling stories, Luhn captivates the audience and, at the same time, delivers his thoughts and ideas.

Marcus Sheridan is another speaker whose arsenal features a steady flow of stories.

Sheridan takes a different approach than Luhn. He’s a natural storyteller who creates personal connections with people in the audience. He does it by asking people questions and their names.

And he tells stories about his experiences as an in-the-trenches marketer. Before he became a well-known content marketer and speaker, Sheridan ran a swimming pool company. When the global economy cratered in 2008, the bottom fell out of the swimming pool market.

Rather than letting his business sink, Sheridan decided to use blog posts and videos to engage and educate prospects. When someone had questions about swimming pools, there was content from Sheridan’s company providing the answers.

This allowed his company to outflank the competition and thrive when others struggled to survive.

With first-hand entrepreneurial experience, Sheridan has serious street cred. He’s authentic, believable and likable. Armed with these characteristics, Sheridan tells personal stories that have the audience literally eating out of hand.

When Sheridan finishes speaking, people walk away happy, educated and entertained because they’ve seen a master storyteller in action.

The next time you hear someone speak, think about how many stories they tell and/or how well they tell stories. The best speakers are gifted storytellers.


Are you a fast-growing company looking to attract more high-quality leads? I can help jump-start your marketing powered by storytelling. My services include the development of marketing plans, strategic messaging, brand storytelling,  and content marketing. Let’s have a conversation!

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