You might have already read our article on the elements of good storytelling. (If not, what are you waiting for? 🙂 Go check it out! You can also find it in the list of articles labeled “Recent Posts” to the right of the screen.) In case you are wondering how all the tips we gave you can come together into a speech, you’re in luck! There are plenty of places that you can find sample speeches, including entertaining ones that tell stories. However, it can still be a bit difficult to find a good example, especially if you’re not sure where to look. Luckily, you’re reading this post! In today’s post, we’ll be observing what makes a good story work so well. You can use these observations as tips as you craft your own entertaining speech!
The speech I’ll be analyzing you today was given by Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, and it was the prize-winning speech of the 2014 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. I have included some time-stamps and descriptions so that it’s easy to see some of the examples where he incorporated the insights I have gleaned. Please note: Even though we have organized all the times stamps and notes into different categories, many of these examples really should be in multiple categories. However, to avoid making it repetitive, we only put each timestamp once. Anyway, enjoy:
Dananjaya actually structured his story in a way similar to the plot mountain as it is normally depicted, but he spiced it up a little more. 🙂 For example, his story skips straight to the biggest tension point in the story (the “climax” of the action) which was when he landed in jail. Then, he showed how his life calmed down, with a few occasional bumps along the way, and how he eventually became a successful man who was a great speaker. Like Dananjaya’s story, not all great stories have to exactly follow the structure of the plot mountain! (…though it can be easier to follow the typical plot mountain structure, especially when constructing stories the first few times.) Keep this thought about the altered plot mountain structure in mind as we review the structure of the story.
1:33 His story actually starts with when he landed in jail, which is when his life is at its lowest point and the problems are at their worst. This part of the speech can be viewed as both the exposition, and the conflict. The rising action comes and goes pretty quickly, only showing between when he landed in jail to when his mother grabs the bars of the jail cell, crying.
4:38 Another part of the story where conflict appears is after Dananjaya completes college. He didn’t know what to do with his life! This quickly calms down after he consults his “cool dad” and finally, at 6:53, he wraps up the story with a look at how far he’s come.
The 5 Elements to make your story click:
- 0:25 Notice how Hettiarachchi brought a flower (and as you will see later in the video, a trash can!) onstage as he made comparisons about humans and flowers. He used it quite well, and demonstrated all his main points about the gist of the speech by using the prop.
- 1:00 As he talks about life picking out your petals, breaking you in two, and throwing you in the trash, he smiles and demonstrates all these metaphors on his flower prop.
- 7:10 When he talks about “the people in his life being able to reach into the trash can and make him whole again,” again, he demonstrates this with his prop.
- Body Language:
- 0:30 Notice how Dananjaya smells the flower, looking at the audience all the while as he does. Then, he gestures to the flower by shaking it slightly as he talks about it. He also walks around the stage, taking big strides that positively radiate confidence as he does.
- 0:52 As he asks a question, he gestures and makes his voice quieter. Then he pauses to let it sink in. After the pause, Dananjaya gestures again, loudening his voice as he talks about the answer to the question.
- 7:22 When he describes how no matter how broke, lost, or broken someone becomes, with the right people, they can be pieced back together.
- Vocal Variety:
- 2:21 When he names the three types of tears, he uses a soft voice so that he has the audience’s attention as he makes a point. Then, he raises his voice to show emphasis on how impactful tears of shame are.
- 4:55 Since he is emphasizing this phrase and simultaneously (or at the same time) helping the audience recall him saying this phrase before, Hettiarachchi softens his voice and puts emphasis on each word.
- 6:27 He acts out how his wife said, “I saw something in you…BUT I STILL DON”T KNOW WHAT IT IS!”, putting emphasis on the appropriate parts by making his voice louder.
- 1:28 He refers to the audience as “my fellow flowers” instead of “my fellow Toastmasters”, which is a reference to an earlier part of his speech. This makes the audience laugh because of the context. If you made this joke to someone who hadn’t heard the first part of the speech , they would be really confused.
- 1:43 When he makes a joke about how emotional his mama was, it adds a touch of humor to his speech, and everyone gets a good laugh. He also jokes about how everyone was afraid of his mama, even the cops. This is a great technique to make people laugh, and in comedy, it’s called a “callback”! In the words of Wikipedia, “A callback, in terms of comedy, is a joke that refers to one previously told in the set. It is also known as an internal allusion, a literary device that helps give structure to the piece of writing. Callbacks are usually saved for later, towards the end of a set, the result is usually a much bigger laugh the second time as the audience is much more surprised the longer it’s held back. The main principle behind the callback is to make the audience feel a sense of familiarity with the subject material, as well as with the comedian. ”
- 2:50 This time, he makes a joke about how cool his dad was. Does the joke sound familiar? He used the callback structure again!
- 3:06 He jokes about how when he confronted his dad after being arrested, his dad said he got it all from his mother’s side.
- 3:45 Be on the lookout for these words again- he will make callbacks with this joke too!
- Remember when he said this at 3:45? He said it again at 5:51, at 6:27, and again at 7:33!
- 2:09 Hettiarachchi acts out how his mother held the bars of the jail cell. Then, he pretends to be his mother in that moment of their lives, showing how she cried, and what she said to him.
- 5:03 He pretends to have a look of consideration like his dad did as he said those words. He also adds even more humor to the phrase by saying this all seriously.
As you can see, these 5 elements were key to why this speech worked so well. The plot mountain structure gave the speech a great composition. The props set the stage for interesting metaphors and jokes. The body language instilled life in Hettiarachchi’s words, while the vocal variety brought out the emotions in the different parts of the speech. The humor entertained the audience and made the speech fun to listen to. The dialogue and role play that Dhananjay used added to the humor element, and connected to the audience much more efficiently than if he had just said what each person said. Next time you give an entertaining speech, try incorporating a few of these elements in your speech! They can really transform the impact it gives.
To wrap up, I would like to say…”I see something in you…I do know what it is… I do see enormous POTENTIAL in you!”