Why Stories Rule and Facts Drool When You Give Talks

Tell stories to win audience attentionHere’s a case in point about why stories trounce details when you give talks – paving your way to being a smile-inducing, crowd-pleasing speaker:

While I’m fascinated by history, my teenage daughter (like many of her age) rolls her eyes and mutters stuff like ‘Oh no, nuh-huh’ if I’m foolish enough to suggest museum visits when traveling overseas.

I don’t blame her. I was the same at that age.

So, when visiting New York recently with my family, I found a perfect antidote to the litany of boring written chronologies you’ll see time and again at historical sites – a Gangs of New York walking tour.

Result. It was a massive hit.

Why it Pays to Embrace The Power of Showing Ahead of Telling

My daughter loved it. And this was especially so for the stories about female gang members like Hell-Cat Maggie and Sadie the Goat (Sadie Farrell), who were tough as nails.

The first was a member of the Dead Rabbits Gang who liked to file her teeth into points and use sharp brass nail extensions so she could claw and bite adversaries with incredible ferocity! Here’s a little extract from Crime Space of her exploits:

The sight of Hell Cat Maggie clawing, biting and screaming was, apparently, enough to make even the most hardened gang member weep. And, at that time, gang fighting was not just a pleasant way to pass a boring afternoon. Any fallers were set upon and beaten to death. Maggie herself was known on occasion to tear the ears off her victims, pickle them in alcohol and keep them behind the bar where she was a bouncer. Well, that’s put me right off the pickeld eggs down The Queen’s Head.

Nice, right?

Meanwhile, Sadie wasn’t much better.

She was a thief, a member of the Charlton Street Gang and a pirate (who was quite keen on making folks walk the plank in later years)…

…And, she was infamous for her MO of charging at drunk men (aka marks) when leaving pubs and head butting them in the upper stomach.

Her accomplice, always a man, would then hit the wounded target with a pole or plank of wood and rob the unfortunate victim blind!

But Sadie had a few short-comings, including her temper, which tended to flare up after she had a few too many beers. And, on one of these occasions, she picked a fight with a six-foot-tall female bouncer called Gallus Mag and lost her ear in the scrap! But, later, having made a truce with Mag (who had kept Sadie’s ear pickled in a jar), she got her ear back and wore it on a necklace for the rest of her life.

Talk about visceral and entertaining (in a Horrible Histories fashion)!

Why Stories Bring Ideas to Life and Are Remembered

Now, here’s the interesting thing. Many days after taking this walking tour, my daughter not only remembers these stories…

…But, she took great delight in recounting them to others we’ve met during our vacation.

And there really is a great lesson in this for all communicators:

Unlike facts and details, which are easily forgotten or (if boring) ignored, stories engage and entertain. And that’s because they are experienced.

In other words, when you listen to a story, you become actively involved in what’s going on. Whereas, when you encounter facts and details, you’ll tend to receive and process what you hear in passive fashion.

And the upshot?

When giving talks or presentations, imagine you’re trying to win attention from a teen audience – who won’t warm to dull anything…

…And Try to lead with stories and back these up with occasional and limited numbers of facts (that matter).

Your audiences will likely get a great deal more from what you say and are far more likely to remember your words months versus minutes later.

AND guess what? It will be more fun for you as well as your audience.

If you’d like to learn how to tell a better story for you or your business, contact me at eobrien@thersc.ie. I’ll be delighted to help you.














About Eamonn O'Brien

Public speaking master, Eamonn O'Brien is the founder of The Reluctant Speakers Club.