10 steps to creating a really strong story

Guest post by Jim Harvey

It sounds like a presentation trainer’s cliche, but it’s not. In business presentations, the story is the thing. There’s a skill and a structure to creating interesting and compelling narratives. A craft started in the verbal tradition by prehistoric man, developed by the ancient Greeks, sharpened by the French, the Italians, Spanish and British over centuries, is now made into a global, multi billion dollar industry by the Americans. Telling stories with a message is what people have always sought to do. And those who are good at it have real value in the places they live and work.

Children are brought up on stories with a beginning, middle and end. Adults expect a point, a message, interesting characters, love, laughter, joy, tears and pity, and are disappointed if they don’t get them. Then we go to school, university, college and work and all of the joy seems to disappear. And we get talked at. Why? Because people don’t apply the simplest of the story-telling crafts to the most important parts of their life. Story structure? Ignore it at your peril or understand that when you’ve got a strong story, everything else will follow. How do we do it then? Here’s a few thoughts:

  1. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ask ‘if I were them what would be interesting, useful and relevant to know and understand about this subject?’
  2. Brainstorm everything you could say on the subject onto a single piece of paper.
  3. Consult with key members of the audience about what it is they want to know, don’t want to know. Then decide what you absolutely have to tell them.
  4. Go back to your brainstorm and highlight those things that now will feature in your presentation and write your presentation objectives- In this presentation I will show X, Y and Z, and explain how we came to this decision. Then I will tell them exactly what I think they need to do and by when, to make the most of their investment.
  5. Build the storyboard- Act by act (See a classic 3-act structure) and keep on grinding until there’s a real rational, logical path through the presentation.
  6. Create a storyboard that tells the story with key scenes & content from each part.
  7. Create the visuals to support the storyboard.
  8. Add a high impact prologue (introduction) and epilogue (conclusion).
  9. Build your ‘script’ through rehearsal and repetition out loud rather than writing it out.
  10.  Write your script to the level you require (bullet points are best but in some very important or sensitive presentations you have to be scripted word for word).

Jim Harvey is the MD of Allcow Communications, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.

11 Tips for free PRO for your Toastmasters Club

Do you want free publicity? Then use these tips.

  1. Website –crucial; keep it simple. Free!
  2. Community adverts in newspapers; consistent. Call the editor and ask him for lead times; make friends!
  3. Facebook page
  4. Community papers – tell them success stories
  5. Advertise at venue (do they have a newsletter); leave back issues of the magazine at the venue (with contact details)?
  6. Members – advertise at businesses
  7. Speak to district and see what they can give you.
  8. Download free flyers from the Toastmasters International website
  9. Guest list; add everyone who contacts you to the guest email list (ask them if you can add them to the list)
  10. Follow up immediately to guests that have attended and that contact you
  11. Ensure club details are correct with WHQ!

16 Lessons from Dr Ali Backer

Ali Bacher and ,me
Ali Bacher and ,me

Dr Ali Bacher spoke at our Toastmasters conference in May. Here are a few lessons from him.

  1. Return correspondence within 24 hours
  2. Brevity – 2 pages (both speaking and writing)
  3. Workplace structures are meaningless (my version is that titles are meaningless)
  4. Look after quality people that make it happen
  5. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys
  6. Keep your door open
  7. Promote performers
  8. Give responsibility to people you have confidence in
  9. Give small gestures of appreciation
  10. Be honest – never lie
  11. Never break your word
  12. Always settle out of court
  13. Never record your feelings at the time, wait until you have cooled down
  14. To learn respect, set the example
  15. Fly economy class with your staff!
  16. You have a responsibility to transfer your skills
  17. Things don’t just happen; be proactive

10 things to never say to a customer

Here is a brief extract from an interesting list of 10 things to never say to your customer. It is from”the amazing service guy”. How many of these have been said to you?

“We’d like to help, but it’s our company policy…”
“You’ll have to talk to the corporate office about that.”
“No one else has complained about…”

How many of them have you said yourself?

The full list is here.

43 Dos and 35 Don’ts of Public Speaing

In some ways, public speaking has changed dramatically over the last 100 years, but in others it as barely changed at all. 

Read about 78 lessons in public speaking from 1916 that are still as relevant today as there were in 1916.

These lists are from the book Talks on Talking by Grenville Kleiser. It was originally published in 1916, and it is amazing how almost 100 years later, the principles hold.


  1. Don’t rant.
  2. Don’t prate.
  3. Don’t fidget.
  4. Don’t flatter.
  5. Don’t declaim.
  6. Don’t be glib.
  7. Don’t hesitate.
  8. Don’t be nasal.
  9. Don’t apologize.
  10. Don’t dogmatize.
  11. Don’t be slangy.
  12. Don’t antagonize.
  13. Don’t be awkward.
  14. Don’t be violent.
  15. Don’t be personal.
  16. Don’t be “funny.”
  17. Don’t attitudinize.
  18. Don’t be monotonous.
  19. Don’t speak rapidly.
  20. Don’t sway your body.
  21. Don’t be long-winded.
  22. Don’t “hem” and “haw.”
  23. Don’t praise yourself.
  24. Don’t overgesticulate.
  25. Don’t pace the platform.
  26. Don’t clear your throat.
  27. Don’t “point with pride.”
  28. Don’t tell a long story.
  29. Don’t rise on your toes.
  30. Don’t distort your words.
  31. Don’t stand like a statue.
  32. Don’t address the ceiling.
  33. Don’t speak in a high key.
  34. Don’t emphasize everything.
  35. Don’t drink while speaking.
  36. Don’t fatigue your audience.
  37. Don’t exceed your time limit.
  38. Don’t talk for talking’s sake.
  39. Don’t wander from your subject.
  40. Don’t fumble with your clothes.
  41. Don’t speak through closed teeth.
  42. Don’t put your hands on your hips.
  43. Don’t fail to stop when you have ended.


  1. Be prepared.
  2. Begin slowly.
  3. Be modest.
  4. Speak distinctly.
  5. Address all your hearers.
  6. Be uniformly courteous.
  7. Prune your sentences.
  8. Cultivate mental alertness.
  9. Conceal your method.
  10. Be scrupulously clear.
  11. Feel sure of yourself.
  12. Look your audience in the eyes.
  13. Be direct.
  14. Favor your deep tones.
  15. Speak deliberately.
  16. Get to your facts.
  17. Be earnest.
  18. Observe your pauses.
  19. Suit the action to the word.
  20. Be yourself at your best.
  21. Speak fluently.
  22. Use your abdominal muscles.
  23. Make yourself interesting.
  24. Be conversational.
  25. Conciliate your opponent.
  26. Rouse yourself.
  27. Be logical.
  28. Have your wits about you.
  29. Be considerate.
  30. Open your mouth.
  31. Speak authoritatively.
  32. Cultivate sincerity.
  33. Cultivate brevity.
  34. Cultivate tact.
  35. End swiftly.

47 Phrases to avoid when speaking

This list is from the book Talks on Talking by Grenville Kleiser. It was originally published in 1916. While many of the phrases have fallen into disuse, it is amazing how many are still being used today! What do you think we should add to the list?

  1. I rise with diffidence
  2. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking
  3. By a happy stroke of fate
  4. It becomes my painful duty
  5. In the last analysis
  6. I am encouraged to go on
  7. I point with pride
  8. On the other hand (with gesture)
  9. I hold
  10. The vox populi
  11. Be that as it may
  12. I shall not detain you
  13. As the hour is growing late
  14. Believe me
  15. We view with alarm
  16. As I was about to tell you
  17. The happiest day of my life
  18. It falls to my lot
  19. I can say no more
  20. In the fluff and bloom
  21. I can only hint
  22. I can say nothing
  23. I cannot find words
  24. The fact is
  25. To my mind
  26. I cannot sufficiently do justice
  27. I fear
  28. All I can say is
  29. I shall not inflict a speech on you
  30. Far be it from me
  31. Rise phoenix-like from his ashes
  32. But alas!
  33. What more can I say?
  34. At this late period of the evening
  35. It is hardly necessary to say
  36. I cannot allow the opportunity to pass
  37. For, mark you
  38. I have already taken up too much time
  39. I might talk to you for hours
  40. Looking back upon my childhood
  41. We can imagine the scene
  42. I haven't the time nor ability
  43. Ah, no, dear friends
  44. One more word and I have done
  45. I will now conclude
  46. I really must stop
  47. I have done.

The A-Z of public speaking

The A-Z of public speaking in 26 phrases…

  • Have a great attitude on and off the stage
  • Body language and gestures enhance your message
  • Make connections with the audience
  • Delivery and content are key
  • Speak with energy and enthusiasm
  • Facts tell, stories sell
  • Get to the point
  • Use Humour to make connections
  • Inspire your audience
  • Use original Jokes
  • Know your audience
  • Record and listen to your speeches
  • What is your message?
  • Notice how your audience is responding to your speech
  • Speak at every opportunity (stage time!)
  • Is PowerPoint enhancing or detracting from your speech?
  • Q cards can be useful ? especially for a long presentation
  • Rehearse your presentation
  • Simple messages are easy to understand
  • Stick to time
  • Does the audience understand your message?
  • Use Visual, auditory and kinesthetic phrases ? address all the senses
  • When in doubt, leave it out
  • Use real-life eXamples
  • You are not the star
  • Zzzzz ? don?t put your audience to sleep

What would you add?

15 common mistakes speakers make

This list is from a brain-storming session we held at the recent World Champions Edge summit in Calgary. 

  1. No message
  2. To many messages
  3. Ingoring your audience
  4. No pausing
  5. ?chicken soup? stories (using other common stores and not using your own stories)
  6. Making yourself the hero
  7. Stepping on the laugh
  8. Explaining why, not how
  9. Not being yourself
  10. Making assumptions (about your audience)
  11. Being too serious
  12. Forcing (irrelevent) humour into your speech
  13. Repetitive gestures
  14. Winging your speech
  15. Not customizing your message to your audience


The 10 Truths of Public Speaking

In a recent post, I spoke about the 10 myths of public speaking. Here is the corollary – the 10 truths of public speaking.

1) You can never be over-prepared. The better prepared, and the more you practise, the better you presentation will be.

2) The slides are not the presentation. If you create your presentation and then your slides (if necessary), your slides will support your presentation, rather than be a substitute for it.

3) It is about what the audience can receive. If you focus on meeting the needs of your audience, rather than on impressing them with how much you know, you will have retain their interest.

4) Timing is important. Good timing keeps the meeting on time, it allows for you to say everything that you wanted to say, and it keeps the audience happy. Remember that most audiences start tuning out for the last few minutes of a presentation, no matter how long or short it is.

5) Preparing an effective speech takes time. The more that you prepare, the better your presentation.

6) Only use notes to jog your memory. Use notes (preferably q-cards) if necessary, but only to remind you of your key points. This allows for you to keep your focus on the audience, and not on your presentation.

7) You might need a microphone. A microphone ensures that you will be heard by everybody, and it allows for you to play with your vocal variety. Unless it is a very small room or group, you will probably need a micrphone.

8) Structure is important. A well structured speech keeps the audiences interest. It prevents them from getting lost and confused.

9) You would rather give a speech than die. Gun or microphone – which is it?

10) Try not to alienate anybody in your audience. I say try, because it is almost impossible not to offend somebody at some stage, but don’t deliberately do so.

… and a bonus

11) You can become a good speaker. Follow the tips above, join Toastmasters and you WILL become a good speaker!