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A story within a story

A technique that can take your storytelling to another level is using one story to set up another. In other words, to tell a story within a story.

I recently heard speaker John Stapleton, co-founder of The Covent Garden Soup Company do this with great effect.

He began by telling an evocative and emotional story from when he was 6 years old when he learned that when things go wrong it’s not the end, you just start again. By the end of this story, he’d engaged his audience fully.

He then went on to outline the history of his company and how he had to apply what he’d learnt from the earlier story more than once, before taking us back to his childhood to make the link and to bring his presentation full circle.

What lessons have you learned from a specific previous event that you continue to apply in your business?

How can you bring those stories into your presentations?


Need some help with this? Book a call to see how I can help.





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The power of small talk

bitesize blog May 24, 2024

How do you feel about small talk? Do you love it or hate it?

At 17 years of age, I was the youngest of a group of cousins sitting around my grandmother’s dining-table at her funeral wake. Nobody was speaking! Of course we were all upset, and odd though it may seem we didn’t actually know each other very well, but still!

So I braved up and spoke. I don’t remember what I said but I do remember the relief that went around that table. That nervous ice was broken and we could start to share memories of our lovely Gran.

That’s the power of small talk. It breaks the ice and allows more meaningful conversation to follow.
But not everyone finds it easy and some people actively hate it.

Wherever you stand on it, it has its uses and I would argue it’s an essential part of a competent communicator’s toolkit. Without it, you might never get to those more meaningful conversations.

The good news is it’s a learnable skill!


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Which sounds evoke memories for you?

Which sounds evoke memories for you?


There’s something about the sound of church bells that goes straight to my soul.


I grew up in Sherborne in Dorset, home to a beautiful abbey church and bell practice was on Tuesday evenings. I have no idea why I remember that as nobody I knew was involved in bellringing, but I do.


In my teens, my friends and I were likely to be sitting around on a hillside overlooking the town and the abbey, doing nothing in particular but just hanging out, with the bells ringing in the background. There was a sense of remote infinity.


In the winter, with windows closed, it was harder to hear the bells so when I hear church bells now, I go straight back to balmy summer evenings and that sense of remote infinity.


Now I live in Petersfield and guess what – bell practice is also on a Tuesday!


What memories come up for you with certain sounds?



Want help in finding your stories? I can help you.


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How tuned in are you?

Sharing stories helps you connect with your audience – to a point, that is.


Sometimes though, no matter how relatable you might think you are being, the gap between where you are and where your audience is remains too big. It’s too hard for them to put themselves into your story when they have zero experience of your world.


If your story is about the challenges of living within a jet set life of glamour when your audience inhabits a world of basic survival you risk creating too wide a gap between where you are now and where they are, however much they might want to bridge that gap.


So start where your audience is. Find out more about them, their levels of knowledge, the worlds they live in, etc. and choose stories that match that.


So yes, stories will help you connect but make sure they’re the right stories.


And if you need help with finding those stories, let’s have a chat.



Want help in finding your stories? I...

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You've made my day

Are you one of those people that others open up to and share their life stories, whether you ask them to or not?

It frequently happens to me.

On a recent morning walk, I found myself chatting with a complete stranger.

He seemed keen to talk and shared a lot of his personal story. In truth he wasn’t in a good place so for the most part I listened and reflected.

Imagine my surprise when as we parted company he thanked me for making his day!

I thought about why that might have been.

Simply letting him talk probably helped.

With a counselling background, I knew how hard depression is, for both the person suffering and those around them so he probably felt understood.

I was familiar with several of the techniques he was using to improve his life and could tell him about other people I knew who’d successfully used those techniques so he probably felt validated.

I’ll never know – but I know that I made his day.

Encouraging people to share their stories as a means of...

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Why are they there?

One of the things I encourage my clients to do is to signpost what they’re going to be covering and to keep planting a stake in the ground as you segue from one section to another.


Why? The reason is 2-fold.


While you might assume your audience knows why they’re there and what you’re going to speak about, in reality they just might not be as clear as you think.


So make it easy. Early in your talk (probably not your opening lines) explain what you’re speaking about, flag up your key sections and tell them what you want/expect them to take away from it.


As you move from one section to another, make it clear that you’re moving on.


And the 2nd reason? Keeping to a simple structure like this helps you stay on point, cover what you planned to and to finish on time.



Need help with structuring your talk? Let's have a chat.


Rachel Maunder is a communication skills...

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Meeting many needs

Do you hand out follow up notes after delivering your talk? Or do you assume your audience will take their own notes if they want to?


While some people will indeed be furiously taking notes while you’re speaking, and others will be focusing on your every word embedding your message in their mind as you speak, there are those who won’t be doing either.


What if that group are neurodivergent and taking notes while listening doesn’t sit well together for them. Neither does retaining what they’ve just heard.


Offering some brief notes of your key points will make a real difference to them so to be more inclusive in your speaking, offering some notes will mean that your message lands more fully.


Always offer the notes after your talk to avoid audience distraction but why not be inclusive and make your content accessible to as many as possible?



Want to uplevel your public speaking skills? I can help you.


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Is it drizzling or pouring?

How many different ways can you think of to describe rain?


Here are just a few:

  • Drizzling;
  • spitting;
  • raining steadily;
  • pouring;
  • tipping it down;
  • chucking it down;
  • p***ing it down;
  • bucketing down;
  • raining cats and dogs


The English language is a wonderful thing and most of the above give a clear idea of how heavily it’s raining – but if you use them to set the scene in your story, will your audience know what they mean?


If they’re not native English speakers, possibly not.


While I’m not suggesting you stop using descriptive language to bring your stories to life, you do need to think about using language that can be understood.


If you really want to use a colloquial phrase, think about using body language and vocal expression to convey the message.


Think about your audience and find out if there will be non-native speakers among them.


(PS French speakers use ‘…comme une vache qui pisse.’ How...

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Filling the gaps

‘Sorry – can’t make it this morning. Am locked in my bedroom, waiting for the gardener to arrive.’


What image comes to mind for you?


It was the gist of a recent message in a WhatsApp group. You can imagine the comments that followed.


I’m sharing it because it’s a great example of how our brain naturally fills any gaps in information.


This will apply to your audience too when you share your story.


If you’re anxious about sharing too much of a vulnerability story, a lot of detail isn’t necessary. Give a few pointers of what happened and your listeners will fill the gaps for themselves, based on their own experience. Anyone who experienced something similar will know straight away and the others will have enough of an idea.


Do however make sure you give enough information so the gaps are filled appropriately and your message is conveyed clearly.


Too big a gap gives space for wild...

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Could you repair a puncture?

I have a confession.


I’ve loved cycling since childhood but I’ve never mended a puncture.


There was always someone to do it for me – even if I paid them to do it.


I knew in theory what to do, the one time I tried I couldn’t even achieve step 1, getting the tyre off the wheel.


It was just too hard so I didn’t try again.


Until last week - when I went to a Puncture Repair Workshop. Step by guided step, I removed the tyre, removed the inner tube, replaced it and replaced the tyre. Yay!


It gave me a ridiculous boost and I felt ready for almost anything.


Why am I telling you this?


Because facing a challenge with step-by-step guidance can make it achievable.


What’s your challenge that step-by-step expert guidance could help you meet?



If it's public speaking or storytelling, I can help you. Get in touch to find out how.

If it's puncture...

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