storytelling for public speaking

The Secret to Bringing Your Stories to Life

What’s the secret for bringing your stories to life?

In this post, taken from my #1 bestselling book “How to Deliver a Great TED Talk“, you will discover the secret to bringing your stories to life:

Mastering Storytelling for Public Speaking

Mike Rowe is the host of the series “Dirty Jobs” on Discovery Channel.

In his speech on “Learning from dirty jobs” ( Rowe talks about a job where he has to castrate sheep. Examine the following portion of his speech:

“In the space of about two seconds, Albert had the knife between the cartilage of the tail, right next to the butt of the lamb, and very quickly the tail was gone and in the bucket that I was holding. A second later, with a big thumb and a well calloused forefinger, he had the scrotum firmly in his grasp. And he pulled it toward him, like so, and he took the knife and he put it on the tip. Now you think you know what’s coming, Michael — you don’t, OK? He snips it, throws the tip over his shoulder, and then grabs the scrotum and pushes it upward, and then his head dips down, obscuring my view, but what I hear is a slurping sound, and a noise that sounds like Velcro being yanked off a sticky wall…”

Did you feel grossed out by the description?

Did you perhaps scrunch up your face in disgust, as I did when I heard that portion of the speech?

Did that scene play out mentally in your head like a movie?

Why did that scene affect you so powerfully?


Great Stories Target Your Senses

storytelling for public speaking

The reason that the scene affects you so much is because it contains a lot of sensory information that brings the scene alive in your mind.

Because it contains so many vivid details, you can’t help but watch the scene playing out in your head.

The secret to turning your stories into mental movies for your audience is to make sure your scene is rich in

sensory inputs. There are four senses that you need to cover: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic and Smell (VAKS) – [Credit to Craig Valentine]

Let’s examine each of the VAKS in Rowe’s speech:


What could you see in the story? You could see the knife and you could see the man firmly holding the sheep’s scrotum with his “big thumb and well-calloused forefinger.”


What could you hear? You could hear the slurping sound, “like Velcro being yanked off a sticky wall.”


What could you feel? You could probably feel Albert firmly holding the scrotum in hand. You might even have been able to feel the sheep’s pain (even though that isn’t specifically mentioned in the scene).


What could you smell? In this particular scene, there is no input for smell. However, smell is a powerful sense for transporting your audience into your scene.


Turning Your Stories into Mental Movies

If you want to turn your stories into mental movies for your audience, make sure you cover the VAKS.

As this example shows, you don’t have to give details about all four sensory inputs, but it is recommended that you do cover at least three out of the four VAKS in order to fully transport your audience into your story.

Also, as this example shows, the descriptions of your scenes don’t need to be very long. You’re telling a story, not writing a novel!

In fact, the shorter your descriptions, the faster your story will move along and the more impactful it will be.

Recommended Public Speaking Resource

If you would like more great tools and tips on how to master the art of public speaking, then check out my book “How to Deliver a Great TED Talk” – available for immediate download from Amazon for less than the price of a cup of coffee!

storytelling for public speaking

how to give a ted talk

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Wrap Up

  • Storytelling is essential for public speaking
  • If you want to become a dynamic speaker, you first have to master the art of storytelling
  • Turn your stories into mental movies for your audience
  • Engage your audience’s senses (VAKS)

3 thoughts on “The Secret to Bringing Your Stories to Life”

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