The story is the life blood of your keynote. The story paints pictures for your audience and we all know we remember things by storing pictures. The stories you tell have to be relevant of course. Please don’t fall into the trap of telling a funny story or joke at the beginning of your speech unless it relates to the message you are delivering.
Be bold with your stories
Your stories have to be your stories of course. You do not want to tell other people’s stories and pretend they are your own, you will very quickly loose credibility that way and even if the audience haven’t heard the story before, you will know. You should also try to avoid the starfish, cathedral builder, and frogs in a bucket of milk type stories. Again the audience may have heard them before so they switch off from the other things you will be telling them.
On the other hand your stories don’t have to be 100% accurate. This may well be a controversial statement but story tellers know that your story gets better every time you tell it.
You start with a true story and then embellish as you go along. When you get a laugh with one audience you focus more on that item to get a better laugh with the next. When the audience miss the point of one thing you leave it out the next time you tell the same story. By adding and removing words, phrases, sentences or even whole paragraphs your story develops to get the best laughs, the most exclamations or longest stunned silence.
I have told my stories many hundreds of times and, to be perfectly honest, I have no idea which parts of them are true and which I have made up along the way.
When I am telling a story, however, I believe it to be true. This is very important if you want to be convincing.
Sometimes when I am telling one of my regular stories, I just slip into automatic pilot and think about something else. It is easy to do because I am just repeating the same words I have said hundreds of times. This is a major mistake. I have to catch myself doing this and get back to focusing on the story otherwise the audience will not respond as they usually do.
Describe the setting
Use descriptive language when you are setting the stage for a story. Describe how hot or cold the weather was, the smell of the coffee or the feel of the ground under your feet. Paint a picture in the mind of the listener before you get to the key point of the story.
Tell the audience how you felt being in that position. Were you happy or sad, angry or frightened. Then use your body language to describe that feeling. You want the audience to feel the same so that they can experience what you experienced. In many ways good keynote speakers are also good actors so try to act out your story as your tell it to your audience.
You probably don’t have props on the stage with you but you can always use imaginary props. Describe a car in front of you for instance, if that appears in your story. Open the door to get in and hold the steering wheel, lean forward to switch on the ignition etc. Don’t just tell the story, take the audience for a ride.