Are You a Good Storyteller?

 Photo by  Thought Catalog  on  Unsplash

You’ve decided to compete to become a rodeo queen. Headshots are taken, applications written, and you’ve submitted your packet to the queen coordinator. At this point you’re relieved to have made it this far. And, then you find out what the speech topic is.

“Oh, no!” you think to yourself. “That topic is so generic. I don’t know how I’m going to make that interesting.” Or, “A speech about the history of the [insert rodeo or organization’s name]?! How is my speech going to be different than the other girls?!”

The first step to writing a speech is to brainstorm and write an outline. But, what about writing the thing? That’s where most girls get hung up. They wonder to themselves how they can make the speech interesting and stay on topic.

The solution: tell a good story.

We connect with our audience, both in writing and presentation, when we share. It allows people to relate to us, and say, “Me, too.” If we can get people to say that, then we’ve connected with our audience and they’ll be more interested in what we have to say. Yes, you can make boring content engaging with your presentation, and you can win with it. But, why church up boring content when you don’t have to?

This is how to approach your next speech topic, so you can write something that wins.

As you brainstorm, think of stories related to the prompt. Back to the history of the organization or rodeo prompt that’s used over and over again.

Here are a few story ideas that I might choose to write about:  

  • Your favorite experience at the rodeo.
  • A unique event or attraction related to the rodeo.
  • A cowboy or cowgirl that’s competing at the rodeo.
  • Past repeat champion cowboy or cowgirl.
  • A cowgirl or cowboy whose hometown event is that event.

The list doesn’t have to be fleshed out in this initial list, and you’ll even find that you’ll throw out a few of the potential story ideas as it grows. Refrain from doing that just yet. This first list is simply to get the creative juices flowing.

After you’ve completed a list, circle a few of your favorites. There will be a couple that’ll immediately spur your excitement. You’ll think to yourself: “Oh! I totally know a story about this.” Or, “This could be fun.” If you’re enthusiastic, then it’ll show in your later delivery as you share the story. Keep these and throw out the rest.

Now that you have a few story slants narrowed down, it’s time to think of examples for those slants. The speech topic is history so you may wonder why you’d include present-day options. The reason is twofold: These are typically stories that have relevance to you as a speaker or author, so you’ll be able to share something personal. Remember, it’s good to share. And, secondly, present-day examples allow you to tie back to history, which shows a greater mastery of the topic. So, let’s take another look at our examples.

Among others, I’m drawn, as an author, to the unique event or attraction concept. But, I can do this same exercise with any of the slants.

Let’s use the example of the Pendleton Round-Up as our organization/rodeo. It’s well known and has some unique events.

First, what’s unique about the Round-Up?

  • The Wild Horse Races
  • Indian Relay Race
  • Westward Ho! parade
  • Two performances per day
  • Proximity to Happy Canyon
  • Fame of the Let ‘er Buck logo & Pendleton Whiskey
  • Ties to Hamley’s (think association saddle)
  • The list goes on…

Then, do I have a story?

  • First Wild Horse Race 
  • Shock at the Indian Relay Race
  • My parade experience
  • Thrill of two shows in a day
  • No, not really.
  • No
  • Etc.

Now, which is most interesting?

  • The first time I saw Pendleton’s famous Indian Relay Race in person.

I’ve chosen a slant, and now to share my story I should paint a picture; appeal to the senses as you think about who, what, where, when, why’s (5 Ws) of the situation.

Here’s my intro/example:

The riders lined up. Muscled, running-bred horses sat tensely beneath them at the start of the race, snorting with anticipation. Their partner waiting at their side, holding on tightly to the reins for the magic word, “Go!”. “

 Are they riding bareback?” I asked my friends. “What does the guy on the ground do?” “Wait, and see” is all she said as the race began. I grabbed the rail as six riders sped around the track. I quickly learned that the job of the partner, or linebacker, as seemed more fitting, was to get the horse stopped long enough to throw the next rider on the horse’s back as he began the next lap around the track. I marveled at the flawless executions, laughed at the more chaotic exchanges, but one thing is for certain: I was hooked.

Watch the relay in action.

Now, I’ve primed the audience. They’re wondering the same things I did as a first-time watcher. “They do what?” They ask. “How long has this been going on?”

They’re curious about the history and I didn’t even lead them there. I simply shared a story. At this point (hopefully), I’ve already used my outline to brainstorm and prepare my three talking points for my speech. In this example, these could be the history of the relationship between Happy Canyon and the Round-up, the early years of the Round-Up, and how it’s transformed into the show it is today. All I have to do now is share a few sentences related to each and my speech is written!

By introducing my experience with the rodeo at the beginning, I’ve shared a piece of myself that they can relate to. They’ve either seen it and can say, “me, too” or they’re wondering where to buy their tickets to see it for themselves. Then, I’ve gone on to show my knowledge of the rodeo, which answers the speech prompt.

To conclude, I refer back to the story I began. I tell them about the stray horses running rider-less around the track, the crowd’s reaction, and my amazement at the talent of the riders and their partners. Reference to my story at the conclusion gives people the ending, which is what piqued their initial interest, and it also nicely wraps up the piece---like bookends.

If you have more questions on speech writing and how to come up with examples, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions at projectpageantry@gmail.com. Or, email me to share your best speech-writing tricks!