Because “imagine everyone's naked” is terrible advice


A few years ago I was at a conference in a Irish castle. The organizers brought in a storyteller. He wasn’t involved with the conference, he didn’t say anything remotely related to the conference… he just retold a local story that they had been telling for generations.

He was a remarkable speaker. You found yourself, along with everyone in the whole room, deeply engaged in this funny, fascinating story he spun. There were a number of reasons behind how he sucked us in, but one of those was repetition.

Great storytellers use repetition. Watch one of your favorite comedians. It’s likely they’ll tell a joke at the front of the show, and then revisit a portion of that joke later on in the show. It’s an inside joke with the audience, really; it’s a connection on a personal level with them. We’ve been through this before, you and I.

The Irish storyteller was no different. He had a recurring theme with how he told the story, even saying the exact three or four sentences a couple different times, only slightly changing a few words to describe the same experience for each new character in the story we were introduced to. Then he would move on to the next character, each time recapping that character’s story with the same few sentences.

Talks and storytelling

Repetition is a great way to tell your story, and all talks, one way or another, are stories. If you go back and watch a Steve Jobs keynote, virtually every single keynote finished with a recap. There was no new information provided, but it served as a bookend to what he was trying to convey. He also typically did the same thing at the top of every section: he’d give you a quick few bullet points of what he was about to talk about in greater detail. By giving people the same information in a slightly different way, you’re giving them additional context with which they can grab hold of the idea you’re explaining. This is especially important when you’re trying to explain a complicated subject.

Think about using this to your advantage in your talk. Add recap sections before you move on to the next topic. Add a final one- or two-minute closing section that recaps everything you said. Underline and repeat important concepts one or two times, so people know it’s important.

Repeat yourself. Reiterate what you just said. Rephrase what you just said. It’ll help persuade people to remember what you’re saying.