Everyone has a story. Even those who don’t think they have a story – they have a story somewhere in them, waiting to be discovered. In this article, Dr. Thomas Harford discusses why stories are so important to public speakers and why every speech should have a narrative structure.
To tell stories is to be human, Dr. Thomas Harford begins. Nothing is quite as powerful as a well-told story for getting your message across.
Oral communication is one of the greatest life skills to have, Dr. Thomas Harford says. At his consulting company, Mind-Revise, LLC, Dr. Tom Harford helps clients master all parts of public speaking including anxiety reduction, voice enhancement, presentations, speech preparation, and voice pitch to name a few. “Part of communicating a great speech,” he says, ”is learning the fine art of storytelling.”
“When you’re speaking to an audience,” Dr. Thomas Harford begins, “whether large or small, your goal is to convey a message.” No matter if you are speaking to a large crowd with a goal to influence people, or speaking in a conference room to pass along an idea to your colleagues, or even speaking on the phone hoping to sell an idea to someone, you’re speaking to convey some kind of a message. “Stories are simply our natural way to convey meaning and get our messages across,” he says.
We respond to stories for several reasons, Dr. Tom Harford says. “Stories are naturally powerful. Narrative gives an audience a means of relation, of empathy. And we also know when a story doesn’t ring true, which is why a deep understanding of narrative structure is so important and effective.”
Dr. Thomas Harford says the best stories will have an immediate appeal that really connects the speaker to the audience. “These are stories that strategically convey meaning,” he adds. Many of the ways to add veracity to your speeches have to do with the way the speech is presented, such as specifically chosen words and tone of voice, but stories play a big part in making an emotional appeal to your audience also, he says.
Another important reason you want to tell a story is that you want people to remember your speech. “Facts and figures are great,” Dr. Tom Harford points out, “but people don’t usually remember facts and figures. A narrative beats a Powerpoint everytime.” This is because stories provide context for facts and figures. If your story is compelling enough and has enough detail, the audience won’t have any problem internalizing the salient points.
We all love a good story because we’re human, he says, and we all want to relate. Since stories make us more relatable and more human to our audience, it’s important to know how to craft your story for maximum impact. “Understanding narrative structure is key. That’s another story for another day,” he adds with a smile.
Dr. Thomas Harford developed an early interest in theater as a teen and worked professionally in theater and dance before returning to academic studies, ultimately earning a Ph.D. in English Literature. Tom Harford continued to work in higher education as both a teacher and administrator, eventually starting his own consulting practice, Mind-Revise, LLC, located in New York, NY which specializes in learning solutions for businesses, organizations and individuals.