On the art of storytelling: A Lesson from an Awesome TED Talk Story

Storytelling Lessons From TED 2010It’s almost as essential as breathing. Storytelling is by far and away the fuel that drives most meaning or purpose everyone, you included, get or share in life.

As a human, you are hardwired to use stories as your ‘go to’ means of making sense of your experiences over time, your relationships, how you envisage your future may unfold, and on it goes.

All of which should make it a no-brainer to lead with stories when giving talks to inspire others (ahead of likely forgettable details) in business or social settings. It’s a crowd pleasing and winning tactic, right?


…Although storytelling may seem like second nature to one and all, here’s a truism: not all stories are equal in their capacity to captivate, hold attention, or to become truly memorable.

A lot of what causes a stories to soar (or not) has to do with choices, moulding and then telling.

As Alfred Hitchcock put it so well in a televised masterclass interview:

If someone has written a script that includes a direction like ‘A man walks through the door’, the first thing he would want to know was “How? How did he walk through the door”?

Don’t you love it?

And this begs a few questions about the art of storytelling:

What makes one story better than another and if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration by seeing good storytelling in action, where might you look?

On the first of these, I’m afraid there isn’t a simple answer to this – largely because there’s no such thing as surefire formulae for awesome stories (as evidenced by the fact that such a minuscule proportion of the countless thousands of novels published year in and year out – which you’d imagine ought to include many a fine tale – ever catch on)…

…But, on the plus side, there are some general principles that you’ll find underlie stories that do wow.

And, in searching for examples of these in action, you’ll find many great for instances in TED or TEDx talks. And today’s post is about a lesson (or four) you can learn from one of my favourites of these, the fascinating actor, comedian and playwright Julia Sweeney (of Saturday Night Live fame).

Storytelling Insights Every Speaker Can Learn From Comedian Julia Sweeney

Lean in as I explain how Julia uses terrific craft to:

  • Hook her audience lickety split
  • Lure her audience into caring about her unexpected predicament
  • Keep your attention from start to finish, as a litany of bad to worse events unfold
  • Apply a secret sauce that turns a good story into an awesome experience

And here’s Julia Sweeney’s Talk…

Want Instant Advice on How to Tell Better Stories Every Time You Speak?

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.


Photo Credit: Chris Smith






About Eamonn O'Brien

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