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Originally published in
Tufts Magazine, Winter 2012.
CAPTIVATING LISTENERS AND STAYING FOCUSED
Know your goals. Do you want to make people laugh? Share a revelation or a little-known historical incident? If you don’t know, you could end up rambling.
Think of the story as a series of images. You do not have to memorize the entire story, just the sequence of scenes, each of which is represented by a mental image. As you tell the story, you simply report the narrative and sensory details evoked by each image.
Use only three proper names. More than that can be difficult for listeners to absorb.
Engage the audience. Begin by saying something startling or asking a rhetorical question (“Did you ever make a decision that you later regretted?”). Then as you continue, draw energy from those who look enthralled. When someone is nodding his or her head, look and gesture toward that person, saying, “You know what I mean.” Make eye contact with one listener at a time and pause for at least a phrase before moving on to someone else.
Mix it up. Tell some parts of your story loudly, others softly (but still audibly); some parts quickly, others slowly. And use dialogue as well as narration. Narration can cover many years in one sentence. By contrast, dialogue is like a film close-up: it brings your listeners right to a specific place and time.
Relate the ending to the beginning. These “bookends” will tie your story together and make it memorable.
Remember the magic words. If, in the midst of your story, you realize you’ve left something out, stay calm. Say, “What you need to know now is . . . ”
Copyright 2012 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.