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Storytelling Tips

Lesson 9 from: Become a Better and Funnier Speaker

David Nihill

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Lesson Info

9. Storytelling Tips

Lesson Info

Storytelling Tips

It's kinda always the magic in that, in telling some form of story, that allows us to grab peoples attention, or them to remember us. And a lot of the time unfortunately those little stories are at our own expense. Are something kind of embarrassing, and you might have taken that from Sarah's stuff sometimes. Sometimes it's a reflection of your own opinions or your own quirks, or something that annoys you or frustrate you. But just anything you like, you can just always find a way. And hopefully even during her talk you saw her using the techniques that we've been breaking down. Did you recognize anything in there? It's very much an endorsement of her own funny content 'cause she's always funny and likable. You're never gonna watch her speak and go away and go, "I didn't like that." And it's just likable, nice, engaging content always. And it very much is a crowd pleaser every time, 'cause I always seek to get the evaluations whenever she spoke at our event. Always fantastic. We were t...

alking actually with her yesterday. I was doing fundraising, it was a bit embarrassing for me, 'cause I was raising funds for people with spinal cord injuries. And I didn't tell you guys, it's kind of amazing I have a book in the first place, to me anyway, 'cause I'm dyslexic, and I don't make any sense when I do any form of writing. And I was sending out emails trying to raise funds for people with spinal cord injuries, and unfortunately for me I was emailing everybody I ever met basically, and at the end you know the way you end emails with kind regards, quite common in a business setting. I was mixing up the g and the t in regards, and I was writing kind retards. (laughing) To everybody I've ever met. (laughing) And sometimes I was trying to be office cool. Have you ever done that where you've just write regards? So I was just writing retards, (laughing) at the end, please give me money. Can you imagine how embarrassing that was for me when I found out. That a lot of the time is the key to things funny. Embarrassing for me, funny for you, sadly. So just think of that, whenever you're trying to create content. Something that's a little bit embarrassing for you, that at that moment in time it seems like the worst thing ever. In time that's kind of funny. So they often say comedy is tragedy plus time. That's obviously a little short form story. You can pretty much throw it into any context you want. So I want to do a bit about that. It always comes up, how do you tell a great story? I'm not saying I'm any wonderful, great storyteller. I've been studying these guys a lot. I've read pretty much everything I can on it. And I've done it in some pretty high-stakes environments. Whether it's in a competition, or it's in more of a social setting, or it's in a business conference. So I just wanted to show you pretty much anything someones told me, or tips or synopsized, that I know is kind of this 80, 20 way to do it. So we'll go through a few of these quickly. Now after that we're gonna get in, everything's gonna be delivery after that. After we see a few examples, so all the little tips, all the little hacks. And then after that we're gonna do and address any fears you have of public speaking. So if you have stage fright, how do you hide it? How do you get over a fear of public speaking? Sadly you don't, and I wish somebody told me that when I started all this crazy stuff about pretend to be a comedian. Just lay it out as it is, you're not gonna get over that fear. But it will be manageable and you will be able to hide it from people. I'm about to lay an egg right now. Do not like being on video camera what-so-ever at the prospect of it. But you guys probably don't notice, and you're like oh he looks fairly comfortable. I'm sweatin' it out. I'm really looking forward to changing my shirt already, to be honest for the most part. You just wanna hide these little things, and I'll teach you how to do that as we go through. And how a lot of the great performers I've met have done this or got through it. When you have to do it, you may not get over that fear. Probably won't, but it will be manageable. And if you need to look good on stage in front of your friends, in a business meeting, in any context public speaking where you speak in front of people, you look pretty good. We want to start with this, with the story stuff. These are the words of Bill Grundfest. He wrote Mad About You, and he's a multiple Golden Globe winning, Emmy nominated writer. Every great story in its entirety, in it's existence, anything you've ever seen, heard or watched, that you're like that's engaging, boils down to that magic formula. Who wants what, what stops them from getting it? Every episode of Friends somebody is trying to have sex with somebody, somebody's in the way, somebody doesn't get what they want, that's it. Every episode of anything you've ever consumed, every story, think of any movie. Somebody wants something, something's in their way. Do they get it or not? That's pretty much the cycle of every story you're ever gonna hear. And that's from a guy who's creating this content at the highest level. So just think of that. What am I talkin' about, what's tryin' to happen. I'm tryin' to raise funds for people with spinal cord injuries. What stops me from doing that, Dyslexia. What happens, well it's gettin' kind of embarrassing. I don't know does that fit that arc? More or less it does, I don't know. I didn't think about it before until now. Ever in business terms, people are always like, "Can we circle back, can we circle back on that next week." And that sounds like something Sarah Cooper's gonna do a post about, like 10 ways to say circle back and leave me alone, but don't come back. But I would encourage you in storytelling land, circle back. So if you introduce a concept at the start, come back to it at the end. So people's minds look for natural conclusion. If you introduce a concept, I want to know what happened. So if you're telling a story and you're like, "And oh, I was in Brazil, and I met this guy," and then don't tell me anything more about it. My little perverted mind is like, "Did you sleep with that guy, was there any loving in there? "Did you get some loving, was it romantic? "I don't know, I want to know." See you basically introduce a concept at the start, and try and come back to it at the end. Sound crazy? If you put it in there, allow the audience to think about it and go all right what questions are they asking here, and is there a way for me to wrap it back at the end. So even in this talk in this class hopefully you'll see that I introduced a little concept at the start. I'm coming back to it at the end. Comedians are fantastic for doing this in every performance. If there's a joke at the start, they're coming back to that concept at the end, because they want you to know it's over. So your mind is like, all right we had natural conclusion on that, it's all over. So try and circle back. Would never encourage you to use that in business terms. Storytelling terms, always beneficial. They always say have a hero in the story, but just try and figure out who the central character is. So who are you actually talkin' about. If you have a story, who's it about, who's the main character? And just be wary, every time you introduce a new name, or a new person, and some of you when you email me short stories, there's loads of people in there. And I'm like, "Who's this, who's that, I don't know." So you really want to minimize it as much as you can to who do they need to know about in this story. "So, oh on the way to the cool event. "Where something cool happened. "I met this guy, and this other guy and this other guy." Do we really need to include that? Who's the story about? So if it's about your auntie shoving empanadas in all sorts of exotic places, as we got earlier on. The story is about your auntie. Is she the hero, I don't know? But she's kind of the central person to the story. So just ask yourself who's the central person to the story. Describe what they're up against. So what conditions are they facing? If I want to go into more in detail on me sending out emails and being embarrassed with dyslexia. It's more about what other challenges did being dyslexic create in my life. So, what impedes you from doing something? Maybe even writing a book in the first place. I mean for me, I didn't know where to start when I sat down writin' a book. So I was trying to use Dragon Dictate. Did anyone ever use that? The dictating service, that does not look like Irish people whatsoever. It was just, whatever I said, it was just giving me a whole new collection of words all the time. So me trying to write a book, was me being locked in a room shouting at a computer. Going like, "No Dragon Dictate, that's not what I said." So I was like, how am I gonna do this? So there's something you're always up against to overcome in a story, and you can go into as much detail as you want. All right, depending on how much time you have. A common question is always, "Well I'm doin' a business talk "it's only ten minutes, how much time "can I actually spend telling stories?" There's no real answer to that one, but I will tell you the ninth most popular TED talk in the world, and my favorite one by Shawn Ashor, super, super funny. The first four and a half minutes are him just telling the story about falling out of a bunk bed, and it has nothing to do with his talk, but it is amazing. And it's about 25% of his total talk, 23 to 25%. There's no real number on it. You can make the whole TED talk, if you were giving one, it could pretty much, the whole thing could be one consistent story. If it circles back, if it builds a lesson, if it has that central character, people will be fine with it. If there's something you have to say in there and your point is clear. So don't be like, "Oh, I don't know if I can do this." You can spend more time than you think on those little stories, if you think they're important to your topic. Businesses often make a big mistake in storytelling, where they're the hero in the story. You're not, you're the little sidekick. Right, Tonto and the Lone Ranger, or like whatever's going on with Star Wars, and Jedi's, and Luke, and I don't know, I don't watch enough television. There's always a sidekick. There's always a trusted sidekick for a superhero. The business is the trusted sidekick. So if you're trying to storytell on behalf of your business about your product. You're always solving a problem. You're helping the customer solve the problem. The customer kind of becomes the hero. What they were able to achieve on behalf of whatever functionality your product, or whatever problem it solves. That's the way you flow in the story in that. It sounds crazy but a lot of companies are like, "We're so awesome, we did this, and we helped this person." But the story's about the person. You're just a sidekick or the facilitator that enabled them to achieve something. So just remember that if you're creating content that's not on behalf of you, it's on behalf of your company, that your company should not be the hero. Your company is not the main character. Whatever your product or service you're selling, that's just there to support the real cool person in the story. So a very easy way to create content if you don't have it, where you're trying to highlight people and storytell. Is to just get out there and find people who use your product, service, what are you solving. I mean in every job we all have, in any way, we're solving some sort of problem. So find somebody who you helped, highlight their story that they're awesome, and you just kind of helped them along the way. All right, and that's what a lot of authors do in the first place, you reach out. Who read the book, did it help you? Oh cool, let me highlight that case. Businesses are starting to do it more and more. Great companies like Airbnb, do it a lot. Lyft and Uber do it a lot with their drivers. They're showcasing what they achieve by working with their platform. They're not saying we're awesome, they're saying look what happened to this person from using our technology, our software. So just remember that. It's not super relevant in the world of public speaking, but it is if you're up there telling your company story. Just water it down a little bit, so the company is the sidekick. Clear lesson or transformation? So does any behavior change because of this? So I'm gonna show you a story example after this, and it'll be me up there onstage in a pretty high-stakes, and we'll break it down a little bit. But as your watching it you want to ask yourself, "Are these little elements in there?" And in the story I'll show you with me as well, I'm making mistakes in there. 'Cause I'm no guru at this either. But it's still a good enough level talk to change a few things in peoples lives as you'll see. But, there's always ways to improve it. So just be on the lookout for some of these things. Every story needs to have them. There's way too much, for me, information out there on storytelling. Just like tell the story. There's no wrong way to tell the story. But if you're gettin' fancy with it, just try and think about a couple of these things that you can build in. What's the incident that makes it take off? It's not the moment you had a fussy diet. It's the moment your auntie starts talking to you and tells you where in your case, she's going to put that taco. The exciting incident is the moment where the story kicks into action. All right, it's the moment your dad comes back from some convention, and he has new ideas about the haircut he's about to give you. Everything else is the setup to it, but what's the transformation in there? What thing happens, or what makes it a little bit more exciting, and how quick do we get to that. If you don't really have a moment of some level of excitement in the story, it's not clear to people that it's a story sometimes. So they think you're just kind of talking at them and they're not sure where it's going. So some incident that you're like, "This happened and then all this stuff happened", and that's when it gets a bit more exciting. That's when I get excited. A lot of things people don't do is start in the action. So they're like, they kind of treat storytelling like a resume, like "And I worked here, "and then I worked there, and I did four years "with this other company, and I went back to school, "and then I did this." And you're like, even as an interviewer you're like, "Oh God, get me out of here. "No like, I had that online already, I don't want that." So try not to do it as a very clear line. And if something crazy happens in your story, or you're climbin' a mountain or you're about to die as you're going up the mountain. You're about to get eaten by a tiger. Whatever is going on, start at the crazy moment. "It was me and the tiger and I could see his jaws "coming in on my neck. "It was Nepal, I thought this was a good idea." And now the backstory comes in. Like think of it like CSI Miami or CSI. Is there a CSI for everywhere? I need to watch more television. I watch one or two episodes. I was like I'm not watching this again. But the start grabs you. It's always like the minute it starts, "Someone's dead. "They're already dead. "They're already killing people in this TV show. "What are they doing, this is very violent." Someone's dead immediately, and then they fill in the blanks, right? So you're like, "How did they die?" That's the only thing, your mind is automatically hooked, like I'm bang into this story. I've literally only been watching this TV show for a couple of seconds, but you know as any movie you've ever seen, something's exploding, and then you're like "How did that explode?" And then they back trace all the story and then they circle it back. So the building blows up as a start, all these people die. You don't know what's going on. Now we go back and we see the cycle of the guys journey as he came to the decision to blow up the building or do whatever he was doing, and then at the end we're back to the first scene which is a building. So when I'm saying bookend your story, circle back, we're coming back. We introduced the concept, but just don't start at the bottom of the mountain. If the story's about climbing a mountain, start at the top and then explain how you got there. There's a big difference. Don't tell them you're about to tell the story. Please, 'cause although you see that a lot these days and you're like, "They say it's great to start with a story. "So I'm gonna start with a story, here's the story." And you're just like, "Oh my God, I want to leave right now, I'm out of here." So it happens a lot, just come out and tell the story. So when you telegraph your intention, just like a joke, you give people the opportunity to switch off. You're kind of giving them the opportunity to leave. Where as you want them just to come along for the ride, without you even thinking about it. And this makes storytelling sound complicated, and I don't want to do that because you already shared little awesome stories in there. But if you go read loads and loads of books, your gonna kind of boil it down to this, right. And even if you talk to the greatest guy there is out there, or one of them in the realm of storytelling, that's what he says, that's it. Storytelling explained, good luck with that. Who wants what, what stops them from getting it. You can break it down to that. It can be simplistic, and it can be very achievable, just tell your story. If you can start in the action, better. Don't tell someone you're about to tell it. And if you can do it with the last line first, makes a big, big difference. So what am I trying to achieve by telling this story? What's the last thing I'm going to say? So if I try and write a story, or I try and tell a story onstage in a pressured environment. Where I'm gonna be a bit nervous, last line first. So what happens at the end of this story? What makes it interesting, exciting? And then I try and fill in all the blanks to get there. So it's a nice little hack that'll force you to be concise in where you're trying to bring the audience. What am I gonna say before I walk offstage that makes it entertaining. And then you try and get back to that place. But it doesn't have to be that complex. So I want to show you a quick example from Jon Acuff. For my money, I think he's the best and the funniest business speaker out there in any realm. Wonderfully popular, and I was actually in the audience live when he was giving this talk. And even all the other speakers that were there, very high level speakers were just like "Wow, I want to be able to replicate what he's doing." Loves comedy, studies comedians all the time. Watches comedians all the time. But it's just a nice, simple, relatable story. He probably didn't do any of this. Most people don't, they just tell the story. But it's good just to be conscious of what makes it up. So I don't want to over complicate storytelling. You guys are all naturally storytellers, so am I. I come from Ireland that's pretty much all we do. "Let me tell you a story." "Ah you shut up, I've got a story then." And then someone else, "Hey wait no, I'm next." Like no short of people, unless you ask us to public speak, and then we run away from that all the time. Like, "No, don't do that." We're very good at public speaking. It sounds good, we're like, "Oh speaking? "Yeah I've got that covered, wait, public? "No, I don't have this part of the equation at all." So I don't want to make it sound complex with storytelling. 'Cause it's something we all do naturally. So I mean, don't kill yourself reading storytelling books, or going to seminars or anything, just tell the story. And if you want to get complex, I don't know any more than that, and I do just fine in all these story telling competitions. And it never gets more complex. Last line first, try and circle back if you can, and have some fun with it, and go why am I telling it in the first place. But this is a short example. Remember for our purposes, remember Ken Robinson's example. Like was all that in there? No, but it was still amazing right, more or less good enough and I want to show you this from Jon Acoff. But kids say hilarious things. Sometimes they say things that make you realize how fast the world is changing. One night at dinner my daughter said, "Dad, today at school, the internet was down. "We had to do everything old fashioned." (laughing) And I said, "What does old fashioned mean?" and she said, "We were supposed to draw "the state flag of Tennessee and we couldn't Google it up. "So we had to walk to the library and look it up in a book." (laughing) And I said, "With your legs? (laughing) "The whole way, that's like the Oregon Trail. "Did anybody get dysentary? "Were the pages of this book heavy?" Because the world they're growing up in, is different than the world we grew up in. Lovely right, nice likable story. There's 4000 people in that audience there. It's from Chris Guillebeau's conference, The World Domination Summit, a really cool event. But, very lovin', happy audience gave him a lot. But they were loving this, and it was very relatable. It's very human, he's smiling through it. It's not overly complex, but do you notice how he sets it up? Tells a story and then he's back out again, smooth as you like, like there's a lesson in there. Kids are growing up in a time in the world that's not compared to what we're growing up with. And now he gets into some problems. Overall that's not super visible, like Ken Robinson's. That story in comparison to what's his overall point of the talk, it doesn't matter. It's really good, he likes telling it, and it's funny. If we were telling it, we'd be quite happy with telling it as well. But he's doing a couple of extra things in there, that we haven't covered yet. So we took, remember those 80, 20 comedy writing techniques? So we were gonna use joke structure. He's very visibly doing that. We were gonna delay the funny words until the end, and use the rule of three. He's very much structuring it in sequence of threes and the funny word is always at the end. He knows exactly where it is.

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Funny Tips
Class Video Guide

Ratings and Reviews


I always wondered why my favorite TED talks look so effortlessly off-the-cuff while commanding my undivided attention: Laughter. David's class taught me how "The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening." Applying stand-up comedy techniques to the art of storytelling makes information much easier to retain, and hence, easier to share with others. David handily makes the case for why the comedic structure is necessary and applicable in a variety of cases, ranging from business presentations to blog posts. After learning about the joke structure and funnel, I now hear/see them in action throughout my day. He also shares specific tips on how to "memorize" talking points while remaining totally flexible to last-minute time changes (e.g. "Your 20-minute talk just got chopped to 5 minutes. Go!") David covers specifically how to start your talk, end your talk, and where precisely to position your Q&A sessions to maximize audience reaction to the speaker. He supercharges this talk with so many actionable tricks and tips. Sarah Cooper makes a guest appearance sharing 4 tips that I found especially helpful for creating funny visuals. David's heartfelt honesty about the guts it takes to "get up on stage" - the vulnerability of it - really shines through. And now, I carry my "Funny File" with me at all times. This is a truly phenomenal class, both in content and delivery. Thank you for making me laugh, David and Sarah!

Kashif Rashid

Pretty brilliant. David is hilarious so he is definitely using his techniques. Its also easier to follow the class and want more when they are funny. I think most of the presenters on Creative live should be taking this class too . Make it funny so that learning becomes "fun"-ner

Philipp @PhotoAmmon Ammon

Brilliant lecture. David managed to keep me hooked, and I am pretty sure I will do so much better on whatever public speaking I have to do next As a photographer, I know this will help improve the way I look at talking about my work, and I think these kind of skills are vital to any artist. One little thing I didn't like about this was more of a technical issue. He uses videos as examples to the content he is teaching, but none of the CL links to the videos worked. I know its probably a copyright issue, but I would rather watch bad footage of the TV in the studio than nothing at all. Especially since I can't pause the talk and find the videos. Regardless, brilliant talk. Definitely watch it!

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