As we checked in our luggage at the Fort Myers Airport, the Delta agent was intrigued by our taped suitcase. “And is this the last flight for this bag, or are you going to make it last a few more?” he asked.
We laughingly explained that the zipper had broken and it was our only way to get our clothes home. As we started to leave, I asked, “Are they all checked?”
“Yes,” he answered, “three bags and a roll of duct tape.” We all enjoy the sense of humor of the agent, but this story has another element that is appealing to audiences: the use of dialogue in relating a narrative.
When telling a story, dialogue gives you opportunities to enhance the impact of your message on the audience. Dialogue allows you to use variety in your vocal quality. As you take on the character of the person, you use a different tone of voice. You tend to change your rate of speech when you speak as another person.
In addition, when you become one of the people in the story, you have a good reason to take a step to the right or left to show that a different person is talking. You can also make people in your audience become the other person by making eye contact and gesturing toward that person.
The audience will pay better attention because of the change of pace the dialogue provides. And the story is more interesting when you involve other people.
In preparing for a speech, find relevant stories which contain dialogue. The following example allows for including many nonverbal cues.
A little boy came crying to his father with the news that his turtle had died. His father looked at the dead turtle in his son’s hand and thought fast. “I know,” he said, “we’ll invite some of your friends over and we’ll have a big funeral. We’ll dig a little grave in the backyard and make a little coffin, and we’ll have a parade. I’ll speak some words over dead Herkimer there and….” About that time, the father noticed that the turtle was moving. “Hey, son, look! Your turtle isn’t dead after all!”
The boy looked at the now animated creature, then looked at this dad with a sly grin and said, “Let’s kill him!”
Certainly, you want to have a point to make from any story. Here the point might be that you can be too good at selling an idea and should know when to stop selling.
Stories with dialogue can come from interviews you have had in developing content for your speech, personal experiences, historical events, and listening to other people in conversation.
Consider making dialogue a regular part of your speaking repertoire. In doing so, you will insure variety in delivery and more attentive audiences.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication in the College of Informatics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with organizations whose people want to speak and listen more effectively to increase professional and personal success. He can be reached at 800.727.6520, or visit www.sboyd.com for free articles and resources to improve your communication skills.