Dr. Leanna Wen, the young, petite co-author of When Doctor’s Don’t Listen and tonight’s keynote speaker, sat beside me. She had just flown in from Washington, DC to address a highly educated and discerning group of colleagues.
Speakers fascinate me. Through my coaching business and as a faculty member for the Speak Up Conference, I work to build speakers’ confidence, message, and style. As I glanced over at our guest, I thought, Writing a book does not guarantee strong speaking abilities, and this is a tough audience.
The hotel ballroom buzzed with doctors and administrators chatting over dinner. Speaking to any group after a busy day and a big meal is hard, and she was addressing a group of her professional peers.
“Some people might not appreciate what I have to say,” Dr. Wen said as she leaned toward me.
I added “controversial” to my list of descriptors that make a speaking event challenging.
“Just say what’s on your heart,” I said and smiled.
Leanna walked to the stage with confidence, beamed a smile, and began, “I am going to tell you three stories about real people and what happened to them when they presented their symptoms to their physicians.” She had us hooked. The room grew silent, and my concerns evaporated.

Mastering the Skill of Storytelling

Leanna knew the secret of great speaking — the power of story. Even tough audiences love a good story.
Stories, like music, strike common cords of joy and pain, prompting our hearts to listen. Barriers come down, and truth bores deep into our souls. Stories make our talks memorable, bringing our points to life in 3D living color.
Every speaker can master the skill of storytelling.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
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  • Be personal. You tell your own stories best. Ask God to show you which story your listeners need to hear. Thank Him for the many defining moments in your life.
  • Be purposeful. Every person has many stories to tell. Know what you want your audience to take away from your talk, and choose well. Which one will encourage and illustrate your point best?
  • Be proactive. Gather your stories and create a place to collect the bits and pieces that come to mind. Comb through old letters, blogs, and Christmas newsletters.
  • Be diligent. Write out your story and ponder your choice of words, metaphors, and expressions for maximum impact.

Leanna shared stories from two of her patients, as well as what she had learned from her mistakes. Her third and final story was about her mother and the consequences of her failure to ask questions about the diagnosis.
When she finished, thunderous applause erupted and long lines for signed copies of her book snaked around the room—outward signs of her impact and the power of story.
The lesson is clear. Story grabs the hearts of your hearers as nothing else will, helping even young speakers stand out from the crowd.
Isn’t it time you told yours?

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