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From the desk of Steve Lowell, Master Speaker and Mentor to those who speak in public.

TELL A COMPELLING STORY

Speak In the Present Tense

Writing in the past tense can create a very compelling story. As speakers, many of us can tell a story in the past tense and still make it compelling, but if you want to stand out as a speaker, you’ll need to engage the audience better than other speakers do, and an effective way to do this is by telling your stories in the present tense.

In the summer of 2009, a very sweet lady named Penny Lee attended an evening workshop I was giving on public speaking and networking.

One of her assignments was to come prepared to speak for two minutes about a significant incident in her life.

Her speech began something like this, “Three years ago, I was working with the ‘Party Light’ gift company. I was really successful and sold enough of the products to earn an award of ten-thousand dollars. At the ceremony, they called me up onto the stage to accept my award, and I was very emotional because I realized that I was finally able to buy my husband the motorcycle he always wanted.”

At this point, I asked her to start her story over again, but to make two changes to it. First, I asked her if she would tell the story in the present tense, and second, I asked her to begin the story as if she was hearing someone call for her to come  up to the stage.

This is roughly how her story was told the second time, “The time is three years ago, and I’m sitting in a huge crowd at a national convention for the ‘Party Light’ gift company. I hear my name being announced over the microphone and I’m called to the stage. I walk onto the stage and notice a sea of faces watching me as the host hands me an envelope with my name on it.

I open the envelope and it contains a check for ten thousand dollars! I was just awarded this check as a bonus for my sales performance.

I hold the check in my hands, and I’m feeling very proud, because I can finally buy my husband that motorcycle he has always wanted but could never afford.”

Penny Lee then broke into tears of pride and joy right there in front of the class. As she did, a hush came over the entire room and I could see other students holding back their tears.

So, what’s the lesson? By taking her story and telling it in the present tense, Penny Lee was able to turn it into a magical experience for her audience.

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