Stories That Capture Your Audience



(Excerpted from Storytelling Secrets for Successful Speeches by Mark Davis)

We captivate the audience when we tell a personal story. They are getting an insight which can be intimate and emotional. It brings them to a private world and they feel respectful and privileged to be listening.

Telling our own stories is the easiest. They are the ones we know the best. Our next best stories are those of the people closest to us—stories of our family, friends and colleagues. But we might not have found a purpose to use them for a public speaking presentation, sales pitch, or speech.

If we do the research, we will realize they are perfect. We can bring a personal experience to life and relate it to our presentation.

What are some of the general topics we can refer to? Just look at the personal stories of our lives and those of our family and friends?

  • Relationships
  • School
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Travel
  • Sport
  • Love
  • Loss

The best stories relate to a specific moment in time.

Consider the “firsts.”

  • Our first love
  • Our first job
  • Our first boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Our first business.
  • Our first broken heart….

“Firsts” are nostalgic for us, but they also work for our listeners.

The audience hears us talk about something we did for the first time. Then they put themselves into the story and remember when they did that same thing. When we talk about our “firsts,” they remember theirs either positively or negatively.

And the best part of that is we trigger an emotion. When there is an emotional story or reaction to a story, the audience engages and pays attention. When we give them one emotional experience, they lean in to hear the next one.

My first love.

The longest girlfriend I had in high school is also the girl whose heart I broke. After 18 months together, I left our country town for the big city, University, and my adult life. The time we had together was great, we learned a lot, we shared many experiences. But when the time came to live 2 hours apart from each other, it seemed to be the right thing to do for us to break up.

It was the hardest thing I ever did.

My first child.

Benjamin decided to have an adventurous journey into the world. After more than 18 hours of labor, he was still staying put. The doctors accelerated the birth process as his heart rate was going up. When he was born, he had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck not once, but twice. He was grey and made a reasonable amount of noise as he entered the warm hospital room.

He spent three days inside the “humidi-crib” under 24 hr observation. His mass dropped further, losing 15% of his birth weight of 5lb 6oz before beginning to work out how to feed. Then, after having his first bath, he thought life was for living! And he began to grow and develop like normal.

Today, he is an independent young man, living in the big city, and taking on the world. Despite his dramatic entrance into the world, Ben has an easy-going attitude to life today.

We can never let our past determine our future. If we do, it takes away our personal ability to control our destiny through choice.

My first credit card.

I received a Visa card with a $1000 limit when I was in my first year of University. At 18 I had little money and only a part-time job. I needed to support my 32 hours a week of study and travel. My home was two hours drive away, it seemed like an easy option to get easy cash.

Travel beckoned. My father was living in Brunei, on the island of Borneo in the South China Sea. I visited him over Christmas for a few weeks.

On the way home, I had a stopover in Singapore.

Now this is in the days before Credit cards had telephone authorizations. They used the old “click-clack” imprint machine. Triplicate copies of each sale were issued to the bank, the vendor and the customer. I started the day with brand a new CD-player. This was amazing. A Sony Discman with Xtra-Bass for only $599.

We were not using the computers at University yet for our projects, so we had to type them out. Only $300 for an elective typewriter. Good deal. My favorite music less than $10 per cassette so I got about 15. And a few CD’s too. Another $100.

If you’re adding this up, you might be realizing things should be getting tight by now. With no rules, and in a shopping paradise, I was in heaven.

I then found a camera for about $200. One more stop to go. Plaza Singapura. The Yamaha store. I saw a DX-7 Keyboard and I knew – this was something I had to have. (No logic stopping me.)

I was working in piano bars and cafes. The keyboard was $1200. I didn’t even think twice.

I had no cash left for the train back up to the hotel, so I walked 1.5 km back to the Holiday Inn on Scotts Road. In 32 C and 80% humidity, I made my way back up Orchard Road. Finally, I got to the room in time to pack my bags, and head to the airport on the shuttle.

Arriving into Australia I had more than my duty free allowance.

I had to leave the keyboard in the airport for 2 weeks to pay the customs duty and retrieve my precious keyboard. I spent over $2500 that day in Singapore, and it took me 6 months to pay off the debt. It took so long to pay it back that I had to sell my car, and the keyboard, just to make my payments.

What did I learn?

  • 18-year-olds have no self-restraint.
  • Not planning your spending gets you into trouble.
  • Spending without rules is addictive.
  • Credit cards cost you long after your purchases if you do not pay them off right away.

Lesson after lesson came out of this one experience. It was painful at the time, but it has helped me in financial matters to this day.

These are all stories about me. Personal stories are great.


What about the other people in our life? How can we tell stories about other people and get the same impact? Every story we have in this format, we can ask other people about. They can tell us their story. We can use it in our presentation. Their stories will be different. They may have a different outcome, a new point to make, something else they learned.

The question to ask them is: “Tell me about your first…”

  • Your first love
  • Your first job
  • Your first relationship.
  • Your first business.
  • Your first break-up…

What about the other information we can get from people? We just need to ask.

Tell me about:

  • When you were young.
  • When you were a teenager.
  • When you started college.
  • When you lost a sibling.
  • What you learned from your father…

If we asked 10 people these questions, we would have enough stories to last us for a few years. We could discuss the philosophy of a particular generation. We can summarize the thoughts of workers in a business. We can get inside the minds of homeless people living on the streets. Asking questions is fascinating if we gather the information and then report on it in a useful way.

Storytelling Secrets for Successful Speeches will be available on Amazon soon!


mark davisMark Davis is an international speaker, trainer, and social entrepreneur whose passion is to inspire people to communicate. He has written two bestselling books on public speaking. Mark’s background and passion lies in speaking and training, helping people to develop and connect with likeminded individuals. Connect with Mark at



Related posts