Stories and TED Talks

For a long time I have stressed the use of stories in speeches. As long as the story illustrates the point, a story can be used effectively anywhere in the presentation—introduction, body, or conclusion. My evidence?  Most famous speakers throughout history have been great storytellers.

I now have statistical proof from a current trend in sharing new and creative ideas: the TED Talk. For Reader’s Digest, Sebastian Wernicke analyzed 1,500 TED Talks in an effort to gauge their persuasive impact, comparing the introductions of the ten most popular TED Talks of all time with ten average ones.

Each of the popular ones began with a focused story that related to the overall topic. The power of stories to gain attention in the opening helps insure a successful presentation. Check out my Speaker Stories blog that I add to on a regular basis. You might find a story to begin your next presentation that will aid in persuading your audience. In the words of Rudyard Kipling, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Let me close with one of the best motivational stories, according to speechwriter Philip Theibert.

ClermontWhen Robert Fulton was first demonstrating the steamboat, people crowded the bank. And as Fulton tried to get the steamboat going, it wheezed and clanked and shuttered. The skeptics on the bank shouted, “It will never start, it will never start.” But the steamboat did start and with some huffing and puffing, it moved up the river.

Then the skeptics cried, “It will never stop, it will never stop.” The point is that when you undertake any important task in life, skeptics will appear. Ignore them, and, like the steamboat, move ahead.

And to move ahead in your quality of presentations, begin with a story.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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