8 Storytelling Techniques Used by Famous TEDx Speakers

Stories are powerful. They transport us to another person’s world, share with us their point of view and their outlook, and, in doing so, they change the way our brains work by changing its chemistry. According to Dr. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, this is what it means to be a social creature.

Award-winning storyteller and speaker Akash Karia did a study of over 200 of the most popular TED talks. He studied the structure of the speeches, delivery, and their messages. He discovered that each one contains a that helped make each presentation captivating. And this “magic ingredient” was present in all the speeches of the speakers. He concluded that the “magic ingredient” actually is the speakers’ mastery of the art of storytelling. Karia’s research tells us that there are core principles behind every impactful story.

A simple story can bring about a metamorphosis. Each start and end is a catalyst to change the trajectory of someone else’s career or relationship. Research indicates that good stories influence our neurochemistry and behavior. That is why storytelling is one of the best persuasion tools used by opinion leaders and other prominent figures around the globe. Storytelling is a powerful tool that can also be learned and applied and what better way to learn it than from the best TEDx speakers!

Storytelling Techniques:

It is not surprising that the best TED talks are anchored in storytelling, but when it comes to sharing this story as part of a presentation or speech there are key things to remember.

1. The Story is the Hook

A better chance of connecting and influencing people is to tickle their minds with “the power of vulnerability”. Forget the usual opening remarks of introducing oneself. Dive right into the story, your story. It is what will make you relatable and help grab the attention of the audience and keep them mentally engaged. Base it on a character that the listeners can empathize with, or to a dilemma that the audience can relate to.

2. The Dialogue Technique

As humans, we naturally crave interaction and drama. Telling a narrative devoid of dialogue is dull and incomplete. Where “Show don’t tell” is one piece of advice most writers say, a good dialogue can still drive home a point.

Films and shows like Pulp Fiction or Mindhunter are masters of dialogue. They have high tension-filled scenes that are iconic and show examples of how to use dialogue in storytelling. Use it to show character traits and express personalities. For instance, when sharing a personal anecdote, you can differentiate the dialogue of the other character by impersonating that person through their tone of voice and personal nuances–whether it is stuttering or having a unique accent. This draws a distinction in the characters in your story, helps the audience to conjure an image of the narrative, and understand the context of your speech.

Dialogue is also the most efficient medium for expositions and good dialogues help move the story forward instead of just idle moments of information dumps. In addition, tensions can gradually be built up using confrontational dialogues.

3. Utilizing the Power of Conflict

Personal stories that contain some form of conflict keep the audience curious about what is going to happen next. Build tensions through curiosity, intrigue, or danger. To feel the heart race or stop in anticipation, be at the edge of your seat not knowing whether the next scene would be the realization of fears or a wave of relief. Conflict stirs emotions and keeps people engaged and intrigued. And because it is a personal anecdote, the material is guaranteed fresh and unheard of.

4. Show Don’t Tell

This is one of the basics of storytelling in every format and medium. Instead of simply telling it as it is, great storytellers create visual images. Whenever they describe situations and characters, they give enormous details from the most trivial to the most important. It is just not physical attributes but also personality and quirks. And these are not just detailing for the sake of describing but those that also help in moving the story forward to get the point or the theme of the story across. The main goal is for you to create a mental picture for your listeners. By showing visual images in your audience’s mind, instead of merely telling, gives a fuller and richer experience of the narrative.

For example: Amanda likes to wear her favorite purple sweater with her huge chunky glasses and her old worn out white trainers. She’d come to school wearing a huge smile on her face and greeting everyone a good morning.

5. Tap into the senses

In order to pique the imagination of the listeners, the storyteller needs to tap into the five senses of the human body: visual, olfactory, kinesthetic, gustatory, and auditory. By incorporating all these senses in a story, audiences treat it like a movie experience through words. The best stories do not only make one laugh or cry but feel the deepest anger or imagine the vilest emotions through descriptions alone.

For example: One night, I woke up to a loud banging sound accompanied by a strong gust of wind that rattled the doors and windows of my apartment. It was pitch black but I could hear the heavy downpour and the loud rustling of trees from outside. Just as the lightning peeked through the curtains, I pulled up my sheets and curled up in a ball, praying that the storm would soon be over.

6. Be specific

Karia emphasized that being specific in terms of relating a story also has a massive impact on how your audience will perceive your story. Use characters, dates, or even a detailed scenario to establish the credibility of the story. The more specific the details are, the easier it is for an audience to engage with a story. The key reason behind this is that specificity helps audiences visualize what’s being said and creates impactful stories in turn.

For example: It was the first day of summer, I could feel the humidity in the air and the sun’s heat burning through my skin.

7. Stay Positive

While not all stories end in the happiest ever after, another element of storytelling that helps TEDx Speakers to influence their listeners is the element of positivity. Positive and successful stories bring hope to the audience because of their optimistic nature. By hearing these tales, people feel like they can find their own silver lining in any situation just as well as the speaker did themselves. Always end the story with a satisfying resolution whether it is funny, revealing, or moving.

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8. Story Structure and Execution

After ironing out the details of the story, now it is time to build them up and execute them. According to Karia, the classic structure of these stories often start with conflict, followed by a spark that inspires the character, prompts a change, and creates a takeaway. This makes the story organized and structured. Remember not to overstuff the listeners with details and build the talk around a single story instead of multiple plot lines that can be harder for the audience to grasp or understand.

The overall goal of the storyteller or speaker is to give, never let the act of storytelling entertain or simply make it sound like a boost to your own ego. Instead, make sure the audience can walk away with insights, perspective, context, and hope. Wrap your narrative around a central idea.

A simple story can have significant effects on audiences if you can make it interesting and memorable. The key is to link your life journey together with the critical moments in your life in such a way that someone else can derive something meaningful out of it. Your narrative should reveal something powerful, humble, and honest that other people can gladly partake in the story with you.

Interested in bringing your storytelling techniques to the next level? Check out our website for coaching, workshops, and free resources.

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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