Friday, May 28, 2010

Why Storytelling is a Powerful Tool to Engage Audiences!

I have been conspicuously absent from the blogging scene the past 2 1/2 weeks?  I wish I could say it was because I was off at some exotic destination, enjoying a much needed vacation.  :)  Sadly, my story is not that exciting.

In reality, I’ve just been focused on meeting some really important business deadlines.  That distraction has inhibited my ability to focus on writing.  The great news is I am back on the blogging trail.

In between business projects I have attended several educational events.  Among the highlights were several excellent presentations at SOBCon.  I’ve written about those (May 7 & May 8) in recent blog articles.    Unfortunately, I also participated in a couple of other events that were downright awful.  Plain and simple, the presenters were boring, and the content provided very little value to me.

So my question is what makes an educational presentation excellent?  Is it the quality of the education content?  Is it in the presenter’s delivery?  Or, is there some special formula that really contributes to getting audiences engaged?  What do you think?  Here are some of my thoughts…

Magic of Storytelling

When I was growing up, I was heavily involved in the Boy Scout program.  Fortunately my troop was excellent.  We were very active in the community, and most importantly, went on a lot of camping trips.  I had some of the best times of my youth on those expeditions.

One of my favorite parts of camping was (and still is) sitting around a campfire, and trading stories with fellow campers.  Add toasted marshmallows, hot cocoa, and s’mores and you’ve got a winner.  Somewhere along the way a great story would emerge from someone.  Listening intently, I would play each moment out in my head.  Time always seemed to fly by!

If you want people to remember you, tell them a story “A story is the shortest distance between two people.”  — Terrence Gargiulo

Reflectively, I realize now the attraction of those campfire experiences was more about audience engagement, and less about the quality of the stories.  The presenters (storytellers) had a skill at capturing our interest.

According to, an organizational development firm, “stories are the most efficient way of storing, retrieving, and conveying information. Since story hearing requires active participation on the part of the listener, stories are the most profoundly social form of communication.”

Bingo … there’s the answer.  Public Speakers, and educators, who use storytelling as a tool in their messaging, will inevitably engage their audiences.  Of course, that is assuming they have anything of value to say!   :)

When I think back on the best presentations I have experienced, they all included some element of storytelling.  I am not a huge fan of “lecture-based” learning, as my A.D.D. interferes with my ability to have any attention span whatsoever.  But… tell me an interesting story, and you will have my undivided attention.

Just bring on the toasted marshmallows …

What do you think?  Make sense?  Would love to hear your comments!

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Lukazewski May 28, 2010 at 11:07 am

I think storytelling is critical to engagement. I know as a willing listener, I can be captured through story, and if you can properly tie and idea or your focus around that story, not only do you reach more attendees, but they’ll be more likely to retain that information. It’s interesting, it’s entertaining, and it’s effective!

Thanks for sharing Michael!


Michael M McCurry CMP May 28, 2010 at 11:44 am

Hi Eric,

I am convinced now, that Storytelling is a front-line component to effective presentations.

Attendee engagement is the name of the game, and if you can get them caught up in the story you are telling then they become part of the presentation.

Thanks for contributing, Eric, as always.



Jenise Fryatt May 28, 2010 at 11:31 am

Thanks for another wonderful post Mike and welcome back! You were truly missed!!
Story telling is so central to really capturing the attention of an audience. I am particularly drawn to personal stories that reveal a true passion or strong emotion of a presenter. For me, the more someone lets me into their personal world, the more I become engrossed in what they have to say.


Michael M McCurry CMP May 28, 2010 at 11:46 am

Hey Jenise, Happy Friday to you!

Yes, I agree with you, the more a presenter lets me into their world, the more interested I become in what they have to say.

I appreciate your participation always in these blog conversations… thanks for weighing in!



Midori Connolly May 28, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Interesting take Michael…hmmm.
I’ve never really stopped to consider whether I’m telling a story or not when I deliver a presentation. Perhaps what has made my sessions successful is allowing the attendees to share their stories, or co-creating a new story right there in the room.

Do you have an example of a recent session you attended where you saw storytelling performed effectively? I’d love to hear it :-)

Midori Connolly, Chief AVGirl


Michael M McCurry CMP May 29, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Hi Midori,

There are many examples of great storytelling as a tool to enhance a presentation.

The one I can think of most recently was at SOBCon Steve Farber did his “Greater Than Yourself” presentation, which is told in the context of a business parable. It was mesmerizing!

Check Steve’s website out and learn about the GTY philosophy of leadership. You won’t be disappointed. The URL is

Thanks for contributing!



mike mcallen May 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Great post. I totally agree with your take. I can remember growing up and hearing my dad speak at all sorts of functions. He always would weave the topic into stories and kept the audiences captivated. I wrote a similar post recently so we Mike Mc’s are again on the same wave link. Glad to have you back!



Michael M McCurry CMP May 29, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Thanks Mike, for adding to the conversation.

Just read your post… awesome!



Terrence Gargiulo May 29, 2010 at 12:34 am

Thanks Mike…super post and I appreciate the shout. I love your emphasis on “audience engagement,” that’s the real magic. Stories allow us to co-create with others – they conjure and mix and mingle their experiences with whatever we are sharing. The power of stories lies more in their abilities to communicate implicitly and not just explicitly by encoding bid messages or ideas. Influence is a subtle thing and stories – through story listening and trigger works wonders for all.

“The shortest distance between two people is a story.” – Me (Terrence Gargiulo).

I’ve got a bunch of short two minute videos “conversation starters,”people might enjoy here’s a link to the channel:

Here’s also a link to bunch of articles, white papers on stories on Scribd:

Warm regards,
Terrence Gargiulo
Terrence Gargiulo
PHONE: 415-948-8087


Michael M McCurry CMP May 29, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Hi Terrence,

Welcome to my blog, and hope you will come back often.

Thanks for your comments to this article. Your blog was part of the inspiration to it. Audience engagement is the name of the game. What better way to get people interested than to personalize the experience with a story.

Thanks for all the links … I will check them out and by the way I am following you on Twitter now. Hope we connect often!



Carrie Ferenac May 30, 2010 at 9:03 am

I couldn’t agree more! Storytelling is vital for hour-long keynotes, five-minute video summaries, and everything in between. I loved the image of the campfire– I will definitely quote you in the future… Thanks for a great post… and looking forward to connecting face-to-face in Montreal for PCMA’s Education Conference. Here’s to good storytelling!


Michael M McCurry CMP June 1, 2010 at 9:09 am

Hi Carrie,

Thanks for your comments.

I look forward to connecting with you in Montreal as well!



Heidi Thorne May 31, 2010 at 10:20 am

Storytelling is the reason we know anything about the ancient past and is an important part of our communication since the beginning. So using storytelling is a natural for education and any effort in which you must change hearts and minds of your audience.

This theory is also fully explored in Seth Godin’s terrific book, All Marketers Are Liars ( which he recently renamed to All Marketers Tell Stories.

This is the new paradigm for engaging customers and audiences! Thanks for sharing your story with us!


Michael M McCurry CMP June 1, 2010 at 9:10 am

Hi Heidi,

Wow, great point about the ancient past.

I will check out Seth’s book.

Thanks for contributing to the discussion.



Jeff Hurt June 4, 2010 at 7:34 am

Great post Mike.

Why storytelling? Because the brain relates to other people’s stories. We are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail. Stories provide the magical emotional hook that arouses the brain to learn.

Professor John Medina talks about the fact that in a presentation, regardless of the length, a story should be shared every 10 minutes because it engages the mind and helps the brain stay focused. Research shows adults check out after 10 minutes but presenters can keep grabbing audiences by telling narratives and emotional stories.


Michael M McCurry CMP June 4, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Hi Jeff,

So true, what you say about the brain. I am reading Dr. Medina’s book currently and will be writing an article soon with my takeaways from it.

I am actually going to try out that 10 minute trick for my next presentation to see how it works out.

Thanks for contributing.



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