How to Diversify Your Story Bank in an Impromptu Speech: Incorporating Political, Historical and Social Topics (Part 2)
Hi there! Welcome back! In the first part of this article, you learned how to incorporate pop culture into your speech. Now, it’s time to focus on how to find, and then analyze, stories that are political, historical, or social.
First, you need to know where to start. Try to find resources that give a broad overview of political, historical, or social topics, so you can see the big picture issues first, and then you can dive deeper into more specific aspects. For example, there is an excellent series of reference books published by DK. Their titles are self-explanatory. They include: “The Politics Book,” “The History Book,” “The Sociology Book,” and “The Religion Book,” among many others. They can be quite useful resources because they provide brief descriptions of many different types of events, actions, or people in a clear and easy-to-understand format.
For political examples, start by looking at political figures, laws and policies, elections, and relations between countries. It’s best to go to mainstream media outlets such as Bloomberg, BBC, and CGTN where you can look for professional analyses of current events.
For historical events, you can explore stories about wars and battles, past accounts of people’s lives, and old ways of thinking. Online sources like “Best of History” websites or “The Internet History Sourcebooks Project” can be especially useful if you are looking for interesting historical examples to add to your story bank. You can browse through different regions to see well-known or lesser-known cases from the past that will help you to make your speech more universal and oriented to an international audience.
For social stories, consider looking into religion, race, education, or class structures. While this can be read about, also remember to talk to people! Your parents, teachers, or friends will have stories from their own experiences, especially about social issues of their time such as gender issues or economic inequalities. It’s likely that these stories will also be relevant to your audience if they are popular topics of discussion in different social circles.
After you’ve found some good ideas, the next step is to understand what makes a strong story for academic topics. It’s easy to make pop culture sound interesting because it’s usually entertainment-related. With social, historical and political topics, you’ll need to rely heavily on pathos to appeal to the audience. This means that your stories must engage the audience emotionally. This is why we prefer to call the collection of ideas that you gather “story banks” rather than “example banks!” Stories are powerful in that they create images and provide a clear flow of ideas with a beginning, middle, and end rather than just a list of facts. These two characteristics make your main points more memorable. Comparing stories to chunks of information is like comparing a cake to its ingredients. Cake is lovely in your mouth, but flour is not.
So how do we make sure that we can tell stories in a pathos-focused way? Let’s examine three strategies.
First: simplify content, amplify context. Content is information about the subject you’re discussing. This can a description of Germany’s political strategy in World War II, Barack Obama’s historic election in 2008, or the “Me Too” social movement around the world. Context, on the other hand, is the circumstances in which all of this content should be evaluated or understood. So, for instance, you wouldn’t want to spend a minute of your story giving the audience a lecture on what the “Me Too” movement is. Instead, you should dedicate more time explaining the background of how the movement became mainstream, and what the social or political effects of it were. It’s these effects that will evoke sympathy from your audience.
The second strategy: make your examples universal. At the end of each story, ask yourself “so what?” You want the effects you’ve just described to relate back to the audience or impact them in some personal way. For a historical story, link it to issues that are relevant today. For a political story, apply it to other countries in the world. And for a social story, connect it to challenges that are faced worldwide. For instance, let’s say you learned about the Sullivan Ordinance, a New York law in the early 1900s that banned women from smoking in public. While this fact is interesting, it might not be relevant to your audience because it was a long time ago and the law no longer exists. Or maybe, your audience doesn’t smoke, so, to them, it’s not a big deal. However, you can make this story universal by saying something like this:
Before the passing of the Sullivan Ordinance, New York women were allowed to smoke in public. But all it took was for one sexist man in power to take away their rights. The point of this is not to say that smoking is good and that we should fight for the right to smoke, but rather, to show that throughout history men have been telling woman what they are and are not allowed to do. And this is often still the case today.
And the third strategy: Balance between well-known and lesser-known examples. Your audience is interested in hearing both familiar and unfamiliar stories. Why? Because we like to be comforted by what we know while also learning new ideas. In the same way, people re-watch old films in one week and then binge-watch new shows in the next. So, we encourage you to tell famous stories such as Mulan and then follow it up with something more obscure like the Vanuatu tribe that worships Prince Phillip of England.
That’s a wrap on story banks! We’ve covered how to build cultural, political, historical, and social story banks, and to use those stories in ways that will be fun and relatable for your audience. Now it’s time for you to dust off that ole’ history book or “Put a Ring on It” with Beyoncé.