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Storytelling with a Bang: Help Others See Your Business More Clearly through Public Presentation

by Jill Foster on June 26, 2009

Earlier in the week, I entered a conversation here at Women Grow Business about my former career as a bellydancer — and its influence on my public speaking and audience engagement. Since then, several additional concepts came to mind. So here the conversation continues; and certainly share your thoughts in the comments (or tools and tips of your own that have strengthened your leadership through public speaking).

Re-purpose your best work and stories:
Develop a repertoire of personal stories on topics of importance to your business. As a dancer, I had certain songs and moves I’d return to time and again because they worked for me. And as a speaker, I have a similar set of stories I recycle to convey different ideas, beliefs or concepts.

It’s these stories that will make people care about your presentation and see the mission of your organization more clearly. Take the time to develop your stories.

Encourage participation:
I always knew I was having a good night when the audience got up to dance. It meant I had converted them from audience members to participants. That’s why as a speaker, I try to give the audience an opportunity to act. Whether it’s raising a hand, offering a comment, or demonstrating a concept, when you involve people, you win advocates. And that additional support is what often converts a presentation from mediocre to memorable. Presenters do better when they feel supported by the audience.

Open and exit with a bang:
People remember the way you enter and the way you leave. That’s why bellydancers use big, dramatic music at the start and finale of their sets. Similarly, many speakers try to open with a joke. Sometimes this works but when it doesn’t it’s really bad. My strength is telling personal stories so that’s how I start my speeches. You may be different. The key is knowing your strengths and using them where it counts.

You must have heart:
Every bellydancer includes a taqsim in her show. It’s the section of the set where she performs to one instrument — a solo flute, oud or acordian. Slow, sweet, mysterious — it cannot be choreographed and it cannot be faked. The dancer must feel it in the moment. The best speakers have similar moments. Martin Luther King Jr. had one when he told the world “I have a dream.” Hilary Clinton had one during her campaign speech in New Hampshire when she departed from the talking points and said: “this is very personal for me.” And I can’t help but wonder what other amazing speeches the world would have if more people opened their hearts to the audience. Because that is what it takes to change the world in your speech. [image Heart of Clouds by Tony Immoos, Creative Commons]

Finally, one last idea to keep in mind. And if none of these tips have helped, maybe this one will: Be thankful that you are not standing in front of your audience half naked, wearing a hot pink sequined bra and skirt. Be comfortable and confident in your skin and you’ll do fine!

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Guest post by Katie Kemple, producer of the Women Grow Business leadership series. With an extensive background in radio, television, and communications, she holds an Executive Master’s in Leadership from Georgetown University. Katie believes in the power of positive thinking (plus embracing failure as a path to success). She can be reached via twitter @kkemple and on her blog Love Your Layoff.

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