What badminton has taught me about public speaking: The importance of storytelling

I am finally coming down from my post Olympics hangover (when you do as much curling binge watching as I do, it is a little rough to go back to regular television). While the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have taught us many lessons that we can apply to public speaking like dealing with adversity with the opening ceremony ring glitch and Ashley Wagner’s reminder to realize when you are on camera, I think the greatest lesson occurred with a video that went viral from Olympics past.

The reason why Mary Carillo’s rant about about badminton from the 2004 summer games in Athens went viral on my Twitter feed was because it was posted in a Deadspin article. Just watch and you will see why it went viral.


It’s always Christopher Burr

Of course I find this to be amazing. While it does start out a little slow, it quickly escalates into a masterpiece.

What does this teach us? It teaches us about the power of storytelling.

While I do think there is some interesting information in the first half of her monologue (All of the shuttlecock feathers come from the left side of the goose. Who knew?), when her presentation really becomes memorable is when she tells us a personal story.

My recent infatuation with storytelling began a few weeks ago when I received an invitation from a fellow Toastmaster to a storytelling event up in Rockville, MD where a group of ten speakers told a personal story up on stage. One of the speakers was Stephanie Garibaldi, one of the directors at SpeakeasyDC, who talked about an open-microphone storytelling show in DC her group puts on once a month.

Intrigued, I went to the February show that was centered around the theme “Full House: stories about living under one roof” and I was instantly hooked. Taking place in a packed night club where every chair and space on the floor was occupied, we got to witness nine people tell personal and entertaining stories.

Some were certainly better than others. Some had extremely notice nervous behaviors that because of what has been badgered into me in Toastmasters, I let bother me a little too much. Pretty much all of them stood stiff behind a microphone stand with little movement or gestures for most of their stories. But the stories were sincere. This is certainly something something that I should do.

SpeakeasyDC tweet

I have written extensively (here, here, and here) on my need to improve my storytelling and ability to stay on message during my speeches. While I believe I am making strides, I still have a long ways to go. I really believe that SpeakeasyDC can give me what I need to not only become a storyteller, but ultimately a speaker who can truly connect with his audience.

As I have also written about recently, one of my biggest challenges as as speaker is trying to come up with good topics. And that is what I am most worried about in my new storytelling quest: Do I have any interesting stories on any of these topics?

The following is a list of the 2014 themes for SpeakeasyDC and one of these days I am going to sit down and brainstorm some story ideas.

March – Unprecedented: Stories about breaking ground, pioneering, or being new
April – Cat’s Out of the Bag: Stories about slips of the tongue, spilling the beans, and gossip
May – Close Call: Stories about near misses and narrow escapes
June – You Just Don’t Understand: Stories about generation and gender gaps
July – Happy Accidents: Stories about unexpected outcomes
August – Crimes & Misdemeanors: Stories about breaking or enforcing laws & moral codes
September – Hazed: Stories about initiations & rites of passage
October – Do-Gooders Gone Bad: Stories about trying to do the right thing, but getting it wrong
November – Swan Song: Stories about farewells & final acts
December – Childhood Beliefs: Stories about magical thinking, family myths, & things we once thought were true

2014 is the year that Tony becomes a storyteller (but probably not a badminton player).

Image credit: Dee’lite, 2008

Question: What experience do you have in telling stories?

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3 comments on “What badminton has taught me about public speaking: The importance of storytelling
  1. […] have written briefly on my newly found interest in storytelling. A few weeks ago I delved into this interest further by […]

  2. […] the way, I foretold this back in February. Also note, my prophecies rarely come […]

  3. […] new found attention to storytelling has been well documented, so I was excited to get into the Toastmasters manual on […]

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