Do you tell your own stories?

This is something that I have heard so many speakers talk about, but I have only recently found out how powerful it really is.

I recently completed the Toastmasters humourously speaking advanced manual. This manual requires you to use humorous stories and jokes in your speeches. Almost every time, I got a better response from using my own stories, than I found by using a joke that I found, or from somebody else?s stories (not just for humour, but for making a point in general).

A story is a bit like a new word, once you first hear it, everybody seems to be using it (think the starfish on the beach story). Even though it may be a great story, it gets boring very quickly.

There are several reasons for this:

Your own stories or jokes

  • Have a personal meaning to you
  • Are easy to remember
  • Are original
  • Have a message that you can convey in a unique manner
  • Keep the audiences interest

Other people?s stories or jokes

  • Have been heard before (possibly many times)
  • Are not original
  • Tell somebody else?s message
  • Lose the audience

One of the best ways to use your own stories is to keep a story file. Whenever anything interesting happens, or something strikes you as interesting, make a note of it in your story file. It can be as simple as a word document. Here is an example (that did happen to me).


  • Recently, I was cycling up a steep hill (next to the Cape Point Nature Reserve)
  • I got tired and was about to stop when I saw a pack of baboons
  • I raced up the hill faster than I have ever done before


  • You can do anything with the right motivation
  • No matter how tired you are, you always can always find that extra energy

Now, when you are looking for a story to illustrate a point, it is a simple case to look through your story file. A story file is also a great place to look for ideas when you are getting stuck on a speech.

I also use my digital recorder to jot down ideas and stories when I think of them, and then add them to my story file later.

No time to prepare – how to speak off the cuff

Why do I need to practice speaking off the cuff. The answer is simple, because we do it all the time. Impromptu Speaking is one of the most important yet least practiced skill of verbal communicating. A few situations in which we speak in an impromptu manner are:

  • Speaking in a meeting at work
  • Speaking on the telephone
  • Introducing yourself to a new acquaintance
  • Being asked for your opinion on a topic
  • Unexpectedly being asked to say a few words at a dinner

Here are a few simple strategies that can be used to help you to speak off the cuff in an intelligent and informative manner. These strategies (or variations of them) can be used in most impromptu situations.

Past, present and future

In past, present and future, you tell it how it was, how it is now, and how it will be in the future. Not only does it give you three main points to speak about, but it helps you to structure what you are saying into a coherent and logical manner. Eg: When speaking at a wedding:

  • I first met John and Sue about 10 years ago.. (the past)
  • Today, they look great together. (the present)
  • I am sure they are going to have many good years ahead (the future)

Express an opinion

State an opinion and then justify with supporting facts. Eg:

  • Sugar is bad for you because the rise in obesity correlates with increased sugar consumption

Address cause and effect

State the situation; discuss the causes and the eventual consequences. This is a strategy that politicians are extremely good at using. Eg:

  • The lack of ability of the opposition to perform is delaying the decision making process…

Break the Topic into components

Break the topic into a few simple components and discuss them individually. This approach can be a combination of the above approaches. So you could speak about something that happened in the past, discuss the implications for the present, and express an opinion as to the best strategy in the future.

A few tips when speaking off the cuff:

  • Listen to what the other person said. If you are unsure, ask them to repeat.
  • Pause before answering. This gives your time to formulate and structure your answer.
  • Say what you want to say, and nothing else.
  • Stop talking when you are finished. You dont need to ramble on and on.

During the table topics session at a Toastmasters meeting, members of the club are called to the lectern by the topics master, and are asked to speak for between 1-2 minutes on an unprepared topic. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice impromptu meetings, and to listen to how others do it.

The best way to improve your impromptu speaking is to practice. Seize every opportunity to do so, practice. and listen to yourself become a more effective communicator.