Case studies

Janine Shepherd’s TED Talk

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Janine Shepherd’s 18 minute TED talk is truly inspiring, and not only because her story is incredibly moving, tragic and brilliant. For public speakers, it is a master-class in drawing your audience in to your story. In fact, I’d recommend everybody watch this video – we could all learn a lot about becoming better story tellers, whether it’s to tell a joke in the pub or read our kids a bed-time story.

As presenters, we are all storytellers – and the more we embrace that fact, the better we will be at our jobs. Stories make it easier for us to explain, persuade and inspire our audiences. As Janine’s presentation shows, personal stories which offer true insight into all of our lives are the most effective.

There are three more lessons in storytelling which we can learn from Janine’s fantastic speech:

1.       Changing the pace of your speech can make people listen.

If we were to draw a graph of Janine’s speaking pace, it would look like a wave. Throughout the 18 minutes she’s on stage, her voice quickens, slows and quickens again.

Speeding up builds tension, excitement and drama. When her voice slows, the room is holding their breath to listen to the poignant or dramatic next step of Janine’s story.

So if you’re reaching an exciting climax of a story or trying to convey urgency, quicken the pace of your speaking. When you’re reaching a key message, slow right down to stress the words you’re saying.

The contrast this provides makes us pay more attention to what’s being said, and can evoke real emotions in us. If somebody in your audience is distracted, a change of pace in your voice will get their attention and force them to tune back in to hear what you’re saying.

By pausing before changing the pace of her voice, Janine adds tension and drama to each part of her story. Pausing is another way of getting attention, adding emphasis and signalling a transition.

2.       Visual aids exist to provide structure and emphasis.

Janine’s story would not have been made any more powerful by the use of slides. But she used visual aids to tell her story in a really impressive way. Not only does her use of chairs emphasise the journey in her story, they give us hints as to where we were in relation to the end.

Most audiences we face in business are busy and short on time – giving them an idea of the structure of your presentation and how long it will take encourages them to pay attention to the end.

Janine’s use of chairs was also inspired for adding a powerful visual to her story. It’s a shame not all of us will be able to find such a simple, powerful way of symbolising the stories we tell.

But it does remind us of the true purpose of presentation visuals: they grab attention, add memorable visuals to the words we’re saying, and help us to transition from one part to another. If slides won’t help you to any of these things, why use them?

3.       Your biggest visual aid is your body and your voice.

Janine could have said “one of my vertabrea was shattered” – but instead she told the audience, “the vertebrae at L1 was like you’re dropped a peanut, stepped on it and smashed it into thousands of pieces”. Quite often, metaphors help us to visualise something better than any description ever could.

In business presentations, metaphors are also great for explaining ideas, and building inspirational ideas.

Helping your audience to visualise the words you’re using, with language or actions will make your words more memorable. Watch how Janine uses her body – physically moving from chair to chair, and showing how she struggled to walk after her accident. All of these techniques make her speech captivating and memorable.

Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey
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