Storytelling Strategies from The National Speakers Association Convention

Craig Valentine
World Champion Speaker, Professional Speaker & Presentation Expert, Craig Valentine

I am attending the 2014 National Speakers Association Convention. Times flies when you are having a great time! #NSA14 is my 38th convention. Yes, I was very young when I first attended. You are guaranteed to hear some great stories here. Which leads me to share these tips on how to tell a great story, from one of the World Champions of Public Speaking, Rory Vaden. No doubt, Rory is attending #NSA14 too. He talks about being coached by one of my partners in World Champions’ Edge and the Lady and the Champs Speakers’ Conference, Craig Valentine. Of course one of Craig’s favorite stories is about how AFTER he won the World Champion of Public Speaking, he came to me for coaching. Every time he tells it …it gets better. Good stories evolve and improve. Thanks Craig and Rory! Together we make the world better one story at a time.

What Craig Valentine Taught Me about Storytelling
by Rory Vaden

Stories influence people. Good storytellers can speak to people, lead people, entertain people, sell to people, persuade people, and generally accomplish things through people. Bad storytellers cannot.

Some people are gifted at this and they can make people laugh and easily inspire them; it’s a talent worth being jealous of. I, personally, am not naturally “the life of the party.” However, when I was in the finals for the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking, I was mentored by the 1999 World Champion, Craig Valentine. Valentine taught me that there is a science and a step-by-step system to telling a great story that mimics the climbing of a mountain.

Characters: A key part of every story is the characters. Start every story by setting the scene and telling us about the characters in the story. Don’t just tell us their names. Tell us “who they are.” What are their most salient physical features? Where do they come from? What is their personality? And, most of all, what is going on in their head? Describe your characters and your scenes as if you were the author of a book. Tell us, what can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell? And what can you feel? These are the foothills of the mountain.

Conflict: The story is in the struggle. The story is not in the punch line. The best storytellers are the ones who explode and draw out the conflict. They talk about every detail of the seemingly insurmountable odds or the building excitement. Make sure that there is some conflict and that it is steadily rising. Don’t just tell the story, relive the story. Take us on the emotional roller coaster of highs and lows that happened all throughout the journey. A story without conflict is not a story; it’s a sleep aid. This is the climb up the mountain.

Climax: Every great story has one pivotal scene where all of the conflict builds to a resolution. It is one moment where all of the questions that are created in the conflict section are answered. Make sure there is a defining moment that tells you how the story turned out. This is the peak of the mountain.

Rory Vaden's Best-selling Book, "Take The Stairs"
Rory Vaden’s Best-selling Book, “Take The Stairs”

Conclusion: Now, the story is finished and the conclusion is the “what’s in it for me as the listener” part. A story that is entertaining or riveting is good, but what makes it great is when there is a take­away from the story that I can apply to my own life. Don’t just tell me the story and end it. Tell me what you learned. Tell me how to apply that lesson to my own life. Or as Valentine used to always say, “tell an ‘I’-focused story but deliver a ‘you’-focused message.” This is the descent on the backside of the mountain.

I am infatuated with breaking complex things (like self-discipline, sales, speaking, humor, leadership) down into simple things. Storytelling is another one of those skills that we incorrectly assume we are either born with or we are not.

When you follow the 4 C’s, not only will your stories will get better, but your ability to influence also will get better.

Rory Vaden is the Co-founder of Southwestern Consulting™, a multi-million dollar global consulting practice that helps clients in more than 14 countries drive educated decisions with relevant data. He’s also the Founder of The Center for the Study of Self-Discipline (CSSD) and as a “Self-Discipline Strategist”, his book Take the Stairs is a bestseller.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling,” “Do You Tell Your Own Stories? Why and How to Create Original Stories,” and “Your Presentation – Remember the Three S’s of Dynamic Stories” are just a few of the complimentary resources on to help you improve your storytelling.

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