How to "Raise the Stakes" like an Actor for a Storytelling Speech

Posted by Elizabeth Levey
March 20, 2014

by Elizabeth Levey

Actors know all about "raising the stakes" in a scene. Understanding that concept for a professional presentation can turn your mild-mannered talk into a powerful storytelling speech.

Elizabeth Levey


Ovation Team Member Elizabeth Levey chimes in today with her thoughts on how her acting experience has made her a better storyteller. Here are Elizbeth's 4 points  on how you can "raise the stakes" when storytelling:


1. "When doing scene work as an actor, we talk a lot about “raising the stakes” - making the action at hand as important as possible. Doing so creates a greater sense of urgency and hence connection for the actor to the material, which then translates into a more fulfilling audience experience." : Think about it- when you watch a great film or play, you want to see the MOST IMPORTANT moments of the characters' lives, for one reason or another. Otherwise, we wouldn't watch at all! There is a simple question you can ask as a mental exercise to help "raise the stakes" in a presentation or in a business story itself- "Why do they absolutely need to know this information?" Making your content and stories a bit more "urgent" for yourself will inform your delivery, and help your audience realize that what you've got to say is important. 

 Watch our free "Intro to Storytelling for Business" webinar!

2. "Often actors will substitute memories and experiences from their own lives in order to raise the stakes of the playwright’s scene.": Actors may refer to this as "substitution", "sense memory" or "emotion recall", and in essence it is like adding a personal story to your presentation- they are PERSONALIZING a moment of the script for themselves so that they can connect to an experience that isn't theirs, even if their audience may never know. What's great about business storytelling is we get to hear what your "substitution" may be when you share a personal story.


3. "The great thing about using personal stories in a business setting is they’re alreadystorytelling speech about your “real life”, so the stakes are automatically high - great for you as a presenter and therefore great for your audience too!": Sometimes people will ask "Can I tell someone else's story? Can't I just make one up?" Your own personal story, not a fake one or someone else's, will always have the strongest impact and because it is real to YOU, and your connection to that information will always shine through.

We see it in our personal lives all of the time- think about the difference that you feel when relating a story that happened to someone else, as opposed to one that you personally experienced. Even if it's a compelling story about someone you are very close to, there is still a distance between you and the story, because it is not YOUR experience.

We always encourage all types of business storytelling, but hands down the best stories with the highest stakes will be personal ones.


4. "Also, there is so much material to draw upon from your own experience, that you can really sift through and find a great “high stakes” story to tell.": Nerves about the prospect of sharing a personal story can lead to the ever-famous "I don't have a story to tell!" reaction. However, we ALL have tons of stories that make for some truly effective business storytelling. (It's our fascinating lives, after all!) Think like an actor when choosing a story to tell. Look for the story with the highest stakes, which will have the highest potential for audience impact. For example, instead of telling a story about when you gave a good presentation at work, why not tell your audience about the best presentation you ever gave? Raise the stakes by telling them about the golden moment in that presentation where you realized you were rocking it. Raise the stakes again by telling them the most important thing you took away from that moment.

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