Make your business speaking more memorable with well-told stories

By Jackie Graybill, Toastmasters International

Stories and anecdotes play an important role in business speaking and presenting. An excellent way to keep an audience engaged and to make your presentation or speech memorable is to use stories to illustrate and reinforce your points.

An engaging story can bring our attention an issue and make it memorable in a way that statistics or bald facts can fail to do. Charities, for example, have discovered that, focusing on the narrative of one person instead of all the people they are trying to help increases the response rate to their appeals. This demonstrates the power of story.

Let’s look at ways to the best use of stories in our business speaking.

  1. Use the PIXAR formula

A well-proven model come from PIXAR. Their story formula looks like this:

Once upon a time

Every day

But one day

Because of that

Because of that (add additional “because of that” s as necessary)

Until finally

Ever since then

Practice your stories according to these elements, and you might be surprised to find out how many effective stories follow this formula.

  1. Start in the action

If you begin in the action and give just enough context to keep your audience from becoming confused, you’ll set yourself apart as a speaker and pique the interest of your listeners. Remember, just like a Hollywood film, you can jump back and forth in time with your story. Start with a dramatic scene and go back to fill in the details. Or try using something like, “later, the team would look back on this moment as ____,” filling in your own appropriate sentiment.

  1. Introduce some intrigue

Beginning with a mystery and peppering more mysteries throughout your story creates intrigue, as your listeners want to know what happens and begin guessing at the answer in their own minds. A great start is with something like, “I have a confession to make.” Try working on your mystery skills with the kids in your life. They will enjoy it and you’ll be playing your way to better speaking and storytelling skills in the process.

  1. Keep focused and short

Do your best to cut out any non-pertinent details that don’t set up your story or drive the action forward. If you feel like you might be adding too much detail to a specific aspect of your story, you probably are.

  1. Include dialogue

Instead of just telling us what your characters have said, become those characters as they have a dialogue with each other. You can utilise the spatial physicality of characters as they talk with each other by shifting slightly where you stand and where you are looking.

  1. Use metaphors

Using analogies, metaphors, similes, and other literary tools can bring interest and humour to your storytelling. For humorous examples, look at the work of comedian Jim Gaffigan, especially the time a bear looked at him and, as he put it, “I was sunburned so I probably looked like a giant land salmon.”

Additionally, the book by Dr. Mardy Grothe, ‘Metaphors Be With You’, has wonderful examples to bring into your stories.

  1. Engaging the senses

Our five senses have a powerful effect on our human experiences and when any of them are evoked, this can trigger audience members in powerful ways. To practice this skill, take someone on a sensory walk. This could be a description of a mouthwatering recipe you made, a walk in the countryside, or anything that includes multiple of the five senses. Take care with this powerful story element, as there are some things you may not want to bring up with your listeners (e.g., dog poop and other cringemaking sensory triggers).

  1. Making the most of pauses

When speaking, a second can feel like ten, and ten seconds can feel like a minute. Accordingly, pausing can feel unnatural and uncomfortable, but it can also be a welcome gift to your audience, as it gives them time to absorb what you have said. Pauses can also be used to emphasise information, phrases or words in a powerful way.

Stories and anecdotes form an essential part of business communication. Use stories in your speeches and presentations and your points will be remembered and repeated by your audiences.


Jackie Graybill is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit