JD Schramm teaches Strategic Communication at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and helps MBA Students, researchers and leaders craft compelling stories to convey their messages in powerful presentations, keynote speeches and conversations. In this post, he shares his seven habits of concise storytelling, so that your next talk or presentation becomes a success.
1. Parachute right in
Start the story in the middle. Many times we feel like we have to do a lot of prefacing and give our audience a ton of background information. Instead, find a way to start the story in the middle, get the audience hooked and then let them catch up as you go.
2. Select your first and final words carefully
Your first words set the tone of your speech or presentation and the mood of your audience, so choose them carefully and intentionally. Certainly, the worst way to start a talk is “Hi, my name is John, and I’m here today to talk about X,” especially if you have someone introducing you. And if you feel there is still a need to introduce yourself, don’t tell the audience what they already know about you, for example from the invitation or program. Find pieces in your bio that are engaging and relate to the topic of your talk. Similarly, your final words are the last impression and the final message your audience takes away. So be mindful of what this final call to action is.
3. Find the right amount of details
Stories get a lot more powerful and engaging if you add details that address our senses, for example by describing what a place looked like, what people’s names were or what an emotion felt liked. However, if you go on and on and describe every single detail about a situation you risk losing your audience. Thus, find the right nuance of how much detail you share, so that it’s illustrative but doesn’t bore people.
4. One person – one thought
Eye contact is essential in great storytelling and the more you can hold the eye contact with someone, the more you build a connection and lower their resistance as a listener. So, when you are giving a talk, you’re not having a conversation with the room as a whole but with individuals. Aim to deliver one complete thought to one person in the room, have that moment of connection, and then turn your body to another person and deliver another complete thought.
5. Choose words that weigh more
Great poetry is so powerful because it puts a lot of meaning in few words. While you might not become Shakespeare right away, think about your word choices. Can you use words that carry more of an impact that a number of other words? An image, a reference, a photo or an analogy can also have the power to convey a lot more meaning than a lengthy description.
6. Use silence
When you look at sheet music, silence is written into a composition, because a composer thinks that in this particular moment the music is best represented without any notes. Especially when you listen to an entire symphony, a moment of absolute silence can be really powerful. And the same goes for public speaking. You can use silence to let people catch up to you. You can use silence to frame something, for example when you use a particular phrase or acronym for the first time. Or you can use it to get everybody’s attention again. Just a few seconds of silence, appropriately used, can add emphasis to your presentation.
7. Know your A.I.M.
Finally, and this should be your first step, is to make sure your communication is targeted at your audience and is effective at achieving your objective with the right message. Mary Munter and Lynn Russell created the simple A.I.M. framework that helps you do exactly that. Ask yourself the following three questions: 1. Who is my Audience? 2. What is my Intent – what exactly do I want them to do as a result of my talk? 3. What is my Message? Often we have a lot of information that we could share with our audience, but to be an effective communicator you need to distill which pieces of information work best with your specific audience, helping you achieve your intent. What is really effective is to give your audience just enough information to hook them and have them ask for more instead of overwhelming them with everything you know.
JD Schramm is a Writer, Educator, and Communication Coach. As Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at the Stanford GSB, he teaches various communication classes and is also the founding director of the Mastery in Communication Initiative. JD is a TED Conference speaker and has co-founded the LOWKeynotes program at the GSB where students create and deliver TED-like talks to share their vision to change lives, organizations, and the world.