Storytelling Secrets: Other People’s Stories
(Day 19, Speaking Palooza 2019)

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July is Freedom from Fear of Speaking Month and to celebrate, I’ve invited a team of speaking experts to share their best tips and tricks for improving your speaking skills and overcoming speaking anxiety.

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Storytelling Secrets: Other People’s Stories

By Guest Expert Mark Davis

What follows is an excerpt from Mark Davis’s book Storytelling Secrets for Successful Speeches: 7 Strategies for telling stories people love.

Storytelling Secrets: Other People's Stories

Secret #4 – Other People’s Stories

When we tell a personal story, we captivate the audience. They are getting an insight that can be both intimate and emotional, and it brings them into a private world they feel respectful and privileged to be listening to.

Telling our own stories are the easiest; they are the ones we know the best. Our next best stories are those of the people closest to us: our friends and family

If we do the research, we will realize they can fit our talk perfectly. We can bring a personal experience of a third party to life and relate it to our presentation.

What are some of the general topics we can refer to? Just look at the personal stories of our lives, and those of our family and friends.


The best stories relate to a specific moment in time and include other characters and personalities. These make the stories compelling.

Consider the “firsts”

• Our first love
• Our first job
• Our first boyfriend
• Our first girlfriend
• Our first broken heart
• Our first school report
• Our first “A”
• Our first failure
• Our first child
• Our first wedding
• Our first date
• Our first sale
• Our first credit card
• Our first plane ride
• Our first train ride
• Our first overseas trip
• Our first crush
• Our first coffee
• Our first drink
• Our first language lesson
• Our first painting class
• Our first reaction to ballet or opera
• Our first note on the piano

Firsts are nostalgic, and the reaction of others is what makes the story more interesting.

And the best part of that is we can trigger an emotion. When there’s an emotional element to a story, the audience engages and pays attention as if it was happening in the present moment.

Pull Quote - Firsts are nostalgic, and the reaction of others is what makes the story more interesting.

My first love

My first love in high school was also the girl whose heart I broke. After eighteen months together, I left our country town for the big city, university, and adulthood. The relationship was great, we learned a lot, and we shared many experiences. When the time came and we were going to be living two hundred kilometers apart from each other, breaking up seemed to be the right thing to do. It was the hardest decision I’d ever had to make.
What is the hardest decision you have had to make?

My first child

Benjamin decided to have an adventurous journey into the world. After more than eighteen hours of labor, he was still staying put. The doctors accelerated the birth process as his heart rate was going up to dangerous levels. When he was born, he had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck not once, but twice. He was grey, and made a reasonable amount of noise as he entered the warm hospital room.

He spent three days inside the humidicrib under constant observation. His mass dropped further, losing 15% of his birth weight of 5lb 6oz before beginning to work out how to feed. Then, after having his first bath, he thought life was for living! He began to grow and develop like normally, putting on weight from that day forward.

Today, he is an independent young man, living in the big city and taking on the world.
Despite his dramatic entrance into the world, Ben has an easy-going attitude toward life today.
We can never let our past determine our future. If we do, it takes away our personal ability to control our destiny through choice.

What happened in your past and is stopping you from living the life you want?

My first credit card
When I was in my first year of university, I was offered and accepted a Visa card with a $1000 limit. At eighteen, I had little money and only a part-time job. It seemed like an easy option to get some cash. In the moment, decisions like this are focused on the present, not the future.

Travel beckoned. My father was living in Brunei, on the island of Borneo in the South China Sea and I visited him over Christmas for a few weeks. On the way home, I had a stopover in Singapore.

Now, this was in the days before credit cards had telephone authorizations, when they used the old “click-clack” imprint machine. Triplicate copies of each sale were issued for the bank, the vendor, and the customer. Generation X and Baby Boomers will remember.

I started the day with a brand-new CD player. It was amazing: a Sony Discman with Xtra-Bass for only $599. (This is about $1400 today)

We weren’t yet using the computers at university for our projects, so we had to type them out, so … $300 for an electric typewriter? Good deal.

My favorite music was less than $10 per cassette, so I got about fifteen of them. And a few CDs, too—another $100.

If you’re adding this up, you might be realizing by now things are getting out of control. With no rules and in a shopping paradise, I was in heaven. $1000 limit? Ha!

I then found a camera for about $200.

One more stop to go: Plaza Singapura—the Yamaha store.

I saw a DX-7 Keyboard and I knew: this was something I had to have. (No logic stopping me.)

I was working in piano bars and cafes for my part-time job. The keyboard was $1200. I didn’t even think twice.

I had no cash left for the subway back up Orchard Road, so I walked the 1.5 kilometers back to the Holiday Inn on Scotts Road carrying everything in 32 degrees Celsius (90F) with 80% humidity. I got to the room, dripping in sweat, just in time to pack my bag and head to the airport on the shuttle bus.

Arriving in Australia about ten hours later, I had a little more than my $400 duty-free allowance. I had to leave the keyboard at the airport for two weeks to make money to then pay the customs duty and retrieve my precious keyboard.

That day in Singapore, I spent over $2500 and it took me six months to pay off the credit card debt. It took so long to pay it back, I had to sell my other electric piano to avoid even greater penalties.

Pull quote - Lesson after lesson came out of this one experience.

What did I learn?

Eighteen-year-olds have no self-restraint.
Spending without rules creates chaos.
Credit cards cost you long after your purchases if you do not pay them off right away.

Lesson after lesson came out of this one experience. Painful at the time, it has helped me make wiser decisions in financial matters ever since.

These are all true stories. Personal stories are great.

But what about the other people in our life? How can we tell stories about other people and get the same impact?

Every story we have in this format, we can use to engage our audience.

Every persons’ stories will be different; they may have a different outcome, a new point to make, something they have learned from a similar experience.

After telling our stories, we can ask our friends and family to share theirs. With their permission we can use their stories in our presentations.

Put on our reporters hat, voice recorder in hand, and ask.

“Please tell me about your first…”

• Your first love
• Your first job
• Your first relationship
• Your first business
• Your first computer
• Your first phone
• Your first break-up
• Your first school report that was not perfect
• Your first “F”
• Your first invention failure
• Your first sleepover
• Your first nightmare
• Your first wedding night
• Your first date as an adult
• Your first car
• Your first house
• Your first credit card
• Your first plane ride
• Your first visit to the city
• Your first overseas trip
• Your first big rejection
• Your first coffee
• Your first cigarette
• Your first beer
• Your first ballet lesson
• Your first visit to the ballet
• Your first book
• Your first reaction to the ocean
• Your first reaction to snow
• Your first experience of another language
• Your first New Year’s Eve party
• Your first Christmas

What about the other information we can get from people? Well, we just need to ask.

Tell me about who, when, why, which, what:

• When you were young
• When you were a teenager
• When you started college
• When you lost a sibling
• What you learned from your father
• What the last thing you remember your grandfather saying was
• Why you admired your mother
• Who your favorite relative was
• Who inspired you at school
• Which direction you took after school
• What job offers you received
• How you dealt with rejection
• When you realized you had grown up
• Where you traveled first

If we asked ten people these questions, we would have plenty of stories to use. We could discuss the philosophy of a particular generation, or we could summarize the thoughts of employees in a business. We could even get inside the minds of homeless people living on the streets.

Asking questions is fascinating if we gather the information and then report on it in a useful way.

Who can we tell unique and interesting stories about?

Our father
Our mother

Pull quote - Asking questions is fascinating if we gather the information and then report on it in a useful way.

My father

I have a lot of stories about my father, from my earliest days. He was always playing sports, building things with electronics, and learning about computers.

What stories could I tell?

Learning to play Squash in my pajamas after his game ended at 9 pm.
Learning to type on a typewriter with ribbon and ink and colored paper.
Riding bikes around Canberra; learning to ride fast and to stop fast.

Stories from when I was a teenager are different. We lived with our mother about a six-hour drive from his home and I only saw him three or four times per year. Each time was the perfect environment for having adventures and creating stories I would treasure and replay in the months in-between visits.

Discovering the world of the VCR and movies on VHS cassettes
Playing games on the Commodore 64 computer
Sailing on the lake in Canberra
Learning to windsurf

My mother

My mother and I were close, and because I was the oldest child, I spent the most time with her. When my brother and sister came along, however, I was the natural person to take care of them. Proud and confident, I would answer the phone, help make meals, and be a good eldest son.

My mother taught me to be responsible with money. From the age of fourteen, I managed my own allowance, and bought my own clothes and snacks.

My mother encouraged me to get a part-time job. This made sense, because the only money I would have, had to come from what I earned.

My mother encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to university. I got it.

My mother worked hard for many years as a single parent. She supported and nurtured me, my sister, and baby brother.

My mother was always available to listen as I navigated through my teenage years.

Each of these openings can lead to a ten-minute story and people will relate to them, because everyone had a

Pull quote - True stories are easy to remember. They are more interesting, because of the reality factor.

What if we run out of stories of our own?

Should we just make up stories? This is harder than it seems. True stories are easy to remember. They are more interesting, because of the reality factor. Remember, the most amazing and incredible stories are from real life.

Maybe we need to find people in our life and ask to hear their stories. Then retell them with their permission.

The best-selling books of all time tell the same stories. Audiences likes to hear the “old favorites” sometimes.

  • Thomas Edison and the light bulb
  • Leonardo DaVinci and his inventions
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity
  • Alexander Bell and the telephone
  • Madame Curie and radiation therapy
  • Mother Teresa caring for people in the slums of Calcutta
  • Princess Diana supporting the removal of land mines

We can hear famous stories every day, stories anyone can look up on the internet and copy from. This is lazy speaking and if we want to stand out, we will need to work harder than the average speaker.

Stories about other famous people are okay for us to hear, but there’s is a better and a more effective way to use them.

There are many unique people with unique stories, and we can often link their stories to the point we want to make in our talk.

Many of life’s lessons come from our observations of other people.

Who else can we tell stories about?

• Our siblings and how we felt about them
• Our school teachers, including most and least favorite
• Our football coach or sporting teammates
• Our ballet teacher and their strict discipline
• Our piano teacher and their love of music
• Our partners in the school prom or debutante ball
• Our first boss and what we learned from them
• Our co-workers in our first or any other job
• The school bully and how we related to them
• The wimpy kid at work everyone picked on
• Our girlfriend’s father and how that first meeting went
• Our boyfriend’s mother and how hard it was to get away from her
• The scary neighbor everyone was afraid of
• The priest or pastor at our local church or at school
• >The college professor who inspired us or put us to sleep
• The girlfriend’s ex we found out about too late
• The boyfriend’s ex and why he likes us so much
• The school principal and the meetings we had in his/her office
• The police officer and his/her role in shaping our teen years
• The shop assistant we saw every day before catching the bus
• The performer at the concert who looked into our eyes
• The janitor at school and how we teased him
• The telemarketer on the phone last night
• The pop-up chat person on the website we cannot escape
• The check-in person at the airport with the amazing attitude
• The bus driver who let us ride for free when we had no change
• The pilot who made us feel calm when there was turbulence
• The flight attendant who helped make us comfortable
• Our best friend and their trust in us throughout our life
• Our archenemy and how that turned around ten years later
• Our grandparents and their home and all its smells

Everything that happens to us is a story that is a part of our lives, and we can apply meaning to every story when we remember and retell them well.

Everyone we meet has his or her own story. When that story moves us or affects us, we now have a new part to share in our presentation. Telling that new story may just help everyone in our audience get the point and help the talk move forward.

Who else can we talk to and get new stories when we run out of friends and close family?

• Relatives
• Janitors
• Cooks
• oaches
• Fitness trainers
• Doctors
• Nutritionists
• Bosses
• Retirees
• Children
• Teenagers
• People with a disability
• Ferry drivers
• Pilots
• Coffee shop owners
• Waiters
• Nurses
• UBER driver
• Hotel Concierges
• Olympic athletes
• Tour de France riders
• Newspaper delivery boys

The source of new stories is all around us. Unlimited possibilities. There are no excuses when we have the way to start stories.

Now it is time to go and talk to someone and ask them to share their stories with us.

Pull quote - The source of new stories is all around us. Unlimited possibilities.

Storytelling Secrets is Copyright © 2016 – Mark Davis
Published by Melbourne Education & Training Centre Pty Ltd
All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce any section in any format online and offline.
You can order your own copy of the full book on Amazon.

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About Mark Davis

Mark DavisMark Davis is an Australian author and speaker based in Bangkok, Thailand. His experience and passion lie in writing, speaking and training people to experience their potential for greatness. He has published 5 best-selling books on Public Speaking and Sales and ghostwritten two more.

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About the author

This post is part of Speaking Palooza. Created by Carma Spence, author of the award-winning, bestselling book Public Speaking Super Powers, it is a month-long event bringing together a wide variety of speaking experts from throughout the English-speaking world to help you overcome the fear of speaking and become a better speaker.

Please see the "About" section above for more information about today's featured expert.