4 Little-Known Costly Mistakes Speakers Make with their Stories

Waiting to go onstage in Toronto to share my stories

Over the years I’ve trained thousands of speakers and personally coached hundreds of them and I see many of the same costly mistakes being made. Once we fix these mistakes, their stories connect with their audiences at much deeper levels.

Reference Story

To understand the 4 points below, listen to the following 4-minute reference story I delivered in Redondo Beach, California last year.

Check to make sure you are not making any of the following 4 mistakes with your stories.

Mistake #1 – They don’t milk the moment

After I gave my assistant’s line, “It’s because you’re black,” what happened? My audience started to laugh. So what did I do? I milked the laughter. Instead of simply going to the next line in my story, I stayed in that moment and looked at my hands and then felt the skin on my face while looking around as if to ask, “Wow, I’m black?” My audience laughed more.

“You can’t rush and resonate”

Whenever you milk the moment, rather than rushing to your next line, you have the opportunity to get more laughter or, in many instances, create more suspense or tension. You can’t rush and resonate. Take your time, feed off the audience’s reactions and energy, and create an experience rather than a speech. That’s milking the moment.

Mistake #2 – They make themselves the Guru

Believe it or not, you are not the one who taught you what you know. We did not fall off the Encyclopedia truck with all of life’s answers. As a speaker, it’s important to dig back into your past and discover who helped you see things the way you do now. Give that person the credit.

If it’s a group of people, pick one person (Dr. C) and give him or her credit. Why just one person? Because it’s often easier for your audience to relate to a person than it is to relate to a group. Plus, an audience can picture Dr. C. and hear him saying, “You’re always too something to someone.”

Mistake #3 – They don’t make their message universal

At first glance you might think my message is about being black or about race in general. However, it’s not. It’s a universal message about always being too something to someone. That’s why you could hear that audible hum when I first said Dr. C’s phrase.  No matter who they were in my audience, they could relate.

I even asked my audience, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt too something to someone.” Every hand went up. Then I asked, “What was it?” Over the years I’ve heard answers like…

“I’ve felt too fat”

“Too serious”

“Too short”

“Too stubborn”

“Too loud”

“Too handsome”

“Too republican”

Too democrat”

“Too standoffish”

“Too many kids!”

When it comes to the message about being “too good for it to matter,” it’s something everyone can relate to because it’s universal.

Whether you’ve climbed a mountain, run across a country, or experienced something most of us have not, it’s critical to still make your message universal so that we can relate.

I’ve coached a few mountain climbers in my day and we’ve made sure that, even though they’ve accomplished things most of their audience members will never even try, we still found ways to make their points universal. Even when you share your own specific experience, your audience members should leave with a universal message that hits home with them.

Mistake #4 – They don’t shift the energy

When I get to the end of the story and begin to make my point, it’s not enough to shift from an I-focused story to a you-focused message. I must also shift from the energy of the story to the energy of the point. Many times that involves moving from the action of the story to the conversation with my audience. It should indeed feel like a conversation when you make your point.

The key to the shift in energy is this; if your story is fast and loud, make your point slow and low. If you’re story is low and slow, you might consider making your point in a faster and more energetic way. Why? Contrast keeps the connection.


Final Thoughts

A story is not about the next line. It’s really about what happens in-between the lines. Don’t rush; resonate.

Your Turn

What moment(s) do you milk in your story?

Who is the Guru of your story? This is the person, place, or thing that gives you the advice that helps you overcome your conflict and win the day.


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Craig Valentine

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