4 Little-Known Mistakes Speakers Make with their Stories

CrazyPhoto1There are obvious mistakes some speakers make that destroy their stories. However, I’ve found that most speakers have pretty good stories that would be great if they eliminated some of the following little-known mistakes speakers make. After you listen to the following quick story, you’ll see 4 of those mistakes.



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.

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. The key is that you cannot rush and resonate. Take your time, feed off the audience’s reactions, and create an experience rather than a speech. That’s milking the moment.


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. That person is what I call the Guru.

If it’s a group of people, pick one person (Dr. C) and give him or her credit. Why just one person? Because a person relates to a person better than a group. Plus, an audience can picture Dr. C. and hear him saying, “You’re always too something to someone.” If it’s a book you read, give the author the credit. Just make sure you are not the Guru of your own story. This keeps us similar to our audience rather than special.


3. They don’t make the 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 the audible hum when I first said Dr. C’s phrase.  No matter who they were in my audience, they could relate.

I even ask my audiences, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt too something to someone.” Every hand goes up. Then I ask, “What was it?” I’ve heard answers like…

“I’ve felt too fat”

“Too serious”

“Too white”

“Too gay”

“Too standoffish”


So when it comes to the message about being “too good for it to matter (which I say later in the speech),” it’s something everyone can use. It’s universal.

 Whether you’ve climbed a mountain, run across America, or experienced something most of us have not, it’s critical to make your message universal so that we can relate. Even when you share your own specific experience, they (your audience members) can and should leave with a universal message.


 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.

The energy is different for each. For example, I take a breath and bring it down before I say, “I had a professor named Dr. C. who always used to say, ‘You’re always too something to someone.’” Later on (not included on the audio here) I bring it down even more when I say, “Since you’re always too something to someone, what’s the solution? How can you move forward? [long pause] Be too good…for it to matter.”

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?

What universal message do you have?

Who is the Guru?

Craig Valentine

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