Affecting an Audience

Affecting an Audience: The Power of Storytelling with JP Cherrington

Written by Ben Yardley, Learning Coordinator


From the campfire to the conference room, storytelling is one of humanity’s most important skills. Speech-writer, director and coach John-Paul Cherrington presented Civil Service College’s third webinar of this year, sharing his expertise on how to most effectively harness the power of storytelling.


Stories are powerful

Stories can come in many different forms. They help us to make sense of ourselves, our communities and the world we inhabit.

There are also many different contexts in which the art of storytelling may be needed. Presenting in front of a few colleagues in a meeting can be just as nerve-wracking as performing onstage in a crowded theatre: in both settings, the ability to craft a narrative and appeal to your audience’s emotion is vital. Stories have the power to stay in our memories long after they are told, far more than presentations, lectures or elevator pitches.


A moment in time….

The most effective storytellers are able to craft a single moment, one image that attaches itself to an audience and imprints within their mind; think Hamlet mournfully holding the skull of Yorick, or Charlton Heston falling to his knees before the ruins of the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes. Drawing on his own experience as a stage director, JP notes that even something as simple as a slowly opening door can engage an audience, as they tensely anticipate what is coming from the other side.

Highlighting one powerful visual image is an effective storytelling tool, but it is not just for Hollywood or the West End; it has its place in the workplace too! In January of 2008, at the launch of the new MacBook Air, Steve Jobs walked onstage with an unassuming brown manila envelope, one which would have been recognisable to any office worker of the time. He shocked the crowd by pulling a laptop from the envelope, revealing the thinnest notebook that had been made to that date, and ushering in a new era of personal electronic devices. In short, he created a powerful image to sell the watching world on his company’s new product.

Crafting a key moment, or a hook, for your presentation can be invaluable when it comes to getting your ideas across. As JP points out, if most people speak at 100 words per minute, in a 10-minute presentation you can only use a thousand words, “so all of those words need to earn their place”.


Structuring your story

JP notes that, traditionally, stories have three parts: the hero’s departure, the struggle to overcome an obstacle and the homecoming. It is arguably the latter which is the most important to consider when adapting storytelling to your own purposes in a professional setting; what is the significance of the story you have just told? What is the message you want your audience to take away?

Being selective about what you say, and how you say it, is far more important than imparting an overwhelming volume of information. If you can engage your audience emotionally and make them invested in what you are saying, they will be far more likely to retain and act on the information you are giving them. As JP says, “it’s not just the hero of the story who goes through a change, it’s the audience”.

JP ends on a powerful quote by Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel". By making these techniques part of your storytelling arsenal, you can communicate more powerfully and tell stories that make your audience feel.  



For more on perfecting the art of storytelling and the Q&A session, the full episode is available on our YouTube channel. Don't forget to subscribe to our mailing list and youtube channel to stay updated on future webinars where we continue to host a range of topics you can explore and implement in your team! From productivity hacks to leadership strategies, we've got you covered.



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