Read More

12 Deadly Storytelling Mistakes Many Speakers Make

After sharing stories in India

The most important skill in speaking is storytelling. However, many speakers make storytelling mistakes that damage their speeches. Below are 12 of the mistakes I see on a regular basis. Avoiding these mistakes will automatically help you make a greater connection and impact each time you speak.

Suggestion: You might want to tack these points up somewhere where you can see them.

12 Deadly Storytelling Mistakes


Mistake #1: They don’t tap before they transport. Before you transport an audience into your story (your world), it’s helpful to tap into their world with a question or statement that is related to them.

Mistake #2: They don’t mix narration with dialogue. So often I see speakers use almost all narration or almost all dialogue. If you use all narration, you create a news report. If you use all dialogue, you create a stage-play. Both are deadly when it comes to speaking. The key is to use narration to set up the dialogue.


Mistake #3: They don’t use reactions between the dialogue. It is often the look before and after the line that makes the line work. Unfortunately, many speakers are in such a hurry to get to the next line in their speech that they neglect to squeeze maximum benefit out of the line they just gave. When you deliver a line and then show the other character’s reaction to that line, it helps the audience SEE your story and feel the emotion.  

Mistake #4: They don’t establish conflict earlier enough. Conflict is the hook to your story. The quicker you get to it, the quicker you grab your audience’s interest.

Mistake #5: They don’t get to the story fast enough. Many speakers do what I call “Pre-ramble.” They use too much set up before getting into their story. The story is the energizer for the speech. Get to it as fast as you can. A long set-up leads to a quick let down.

Mistake #6: They don’t hint to the results their audience will receive. At the very beginning, if your audience members cannot sense what’s in it for them to experience your story, many of them simply will not come along. I see too many speakers giving verbal autobiographies that leave the audience members thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with me?”  

Mistake #7: They don’t make their characters real with relevant hints. If we cannot see and sense a character, then that character is not real to us. Give hints to what a character looks like and hints to any relevant characteristics. The more real the character is to us, the more we can identify with the character, relate to the story, and connect with the message.  

Mistake #8: They don’t escalate the conflict. Establishing the conflict early in a story creates a nice hook. However, to maximize that conflict, it’s important to escalate the conflict to the point where something has to give. When you do this, you hook the audience so effectively that they thirst to know the tool you used to overcome the conflict. After all, perhaps they can use that tool too.

Mistake #9: They know it all. When you lift yourself up, you let your audience down. Too many speakers tell stories where they are the one who came up with the solution to the conflict. The key is to make sure you give credit to others who passed on wisdom (or solutions) to you that you are simply passing on to us (the audience). As a result, we audience members won’t see you as being special but as being similar to us. That’s exactly how you want to be viewed.

Mistake #10: They don’t show the change after the cure. Once you share the Cure to the Conflict, it’s absolutely essential to show how the character changed as a result of the Cure. If there is no emotional change in the character, then there is no story. If you take use through the problem, take us through the payoff. The payoff is what gets the audience members 80% across the bridge in terms of buying into your message.


Mistake #11: They don’t call back to the person who made the difference. When you get to the end of your story and repeat your message (your Foundational Phrase), it’s a good idea to call back to the person (the Guru) who taught you the lesson. This helps us remember that you are not the know-it-all, rather you are a similar person to us who received a solution that you are now sharing. Calling back is a small change that makes a huge difference to your likeability.  

Mistake #12: They speak like they write. Because so many speakers begin by writing their speeches, they tend to speak like they write. My strong suggestion is to speak like you talk, not like you write. You should not use words in your speeches that you do not use in everyday life. Why? Because they’ll make you seem inauthentic. When you speak like you talk, we get to see the real you.

Expand your Skills:

I am aware that, due to the brief descriptions of the mistakes above, you might want more information (and examples) of them. However, that would make for too long of a post. If you are interested in mastering storytelling, I suggest the Edge of their Seats Storytelling Home-Study Course for Speakers. Not only will you learn the mistakes and missteps speakers make, but you’ll pick up a 9-part formula for using stories to keep your audience on the edge of their seats. You can use this formula to vastly improve every speech you give for the rest of your life. Click here to see about the course.

Your Turn

I am sure that, at one time or another, I have made all of the mistakes listed above. And the list is certainly not exhaustive. What storytelling mistakes have you seen or made?

13 Responses to “12 Deadly Storytelling Mistakes Many Speakers Make”

  • Scott Barhold:

    Not getting to the story fast enough…. I call it building a porch that is too big for the house!…
    too big a porch draws the audience in, and leaves them disappointed.

  • Ann Bloch:

    Your 12 mistakes are gems.

    Another one: always telling stories chronologically. Most speakers tell events in the order they happened, but the audience is hooked when you start in the middle, or with the result, and then fill in background.

    An audience member once asked if a story could have several points. My quick answer: no, not if you tell it specifically for THIS speech. You might modify it in another speech. But the audience should get your single point without your having to add “The point is …”

  • Craig,
    This refresher reminds me that its time for me to once again listen to your Edge of Their Seats Story-Telling Home Study Course for Speakers that I purchased from you a few years back. It covers every one of these 12 points in detail with helpful examples from your speech repertoire. I am pleased that the course is not a once-and-done program because I have discovered that as I progress as a speaker,what I need and get from the course changes every time I listen to it.

  • I need to use reactions between dialogues more!

  • Harry Hobbs:

    Hi Craig:

    Thanks again for sharing these pearls of wisdom. As a novelist as well as a Toastmaster what you say rings so true and it is interesting to see that the fundamentals of good story writing apply equally to speeches. I had an aha! momwent in listening to your tapes as I’d never seen that cross over before.
    What you say is true and I find I’ m doing better speeches when I frame the stories in my mind rather than try to write a speech out and use those notes. Both you and Darren Lacroix are my great inspirations and I thank you both for giving freely of your time to help those of us who are learning to strive to achieve their best.

    • craig:

      Thank you Harry for your note. I definitely agree to the similarities in speaking stories and novels. In fact, so much of my understanding of storytelling comes from books on writing novels, screenplays, etc. I appreciate your very kind words!

  • Mark Morden:

    Hi Craig:

    Great list. It is a good idea to print it out and have it handy when writing a speech.

    Another mistake I could think of would be to forget that the stories serve the speeches. You don’t want to tell a story that isn’t really relevant to the topic. You may have the most captivating story that You want to share. If it doesn’t really relate, the audience will confused and wonder if they missed a connection somewhere.

    I recall when you were in Seattle a year or so ago, you shared a story of your son climbing into the top bunk of his bed when you had told him not to. You mentioned that you liked the story, but hadn’t found a speech where you could use it. You resisted the temptation of fitting the story in some speech, just so you could tell the story. That illustrates that the stories serve the speeches and not the other way around.

    • craig:

      Thanks Mark. That is an excellent point. Sometimes speakers like to go into their favorite stories regardless of the speaking situation. That is certainly a mistake. It’s not about what we want to say, it’s about what they need to hear. Excellent point.

  • Hey Craig

    Just wanted to let you know that I have made many of these mistakes but since I have taken your Speak & Prosper course I have made my stories come alive in the minds of the congregation that I craft my messages for. Thanks again for all the help.

Leave a Reply


Craig Valentine's Speak and Prosper Academy - Register Now