Sep 142018
  • How important can storytelling be if it’s not taught in school?

In a recent article in The New York Times by Frank Bruni entitled, “How to Get the Most Out of College,” he writes: 

“Every successful pitch for a new policy, new product or new company is essentially a story, with a shape and logic intended to stir its audience. So is every successful job interview. The best moment in a workplace meeting belongs to the colleague who tells the best story… take a course that exposes you to the structure of narrative and the art of persuasion.”

For many years, storytelling was the means of communicating the important events of a group of people and carrying on the traditions of a tribe, sect or culture.  The value of transmitting “oral history” was unquestioned as an essential skill for thousands of years.  With the invention of the printing press and the rise of reading literary, less emphasis has been placed on oral history.

But on a personal level, “telling one’s story” remains as important as “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.”

  • If story telling is such a valuable skill, why isn’t it taught in school?

The old adage of going to school to learn “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic” has been translated into Common Core requirements during the last decade. While these remain critically important skills for students, the value of verbal expression has been lost in the drive for mandated educational goals and standardized assessment.

In today’s educational environment, teachers can be faulted for not teaching to a state-mandated curriculum that will be measured at various intervals by comprehensive testing. In some areas of the country teacher salaries and retention have become directly linked with testing results.

  • So where is the incentive and the time to implement storytelling skills in the school curriculum?

Few teachers or school districts will defy the current movement for accountability by allocating time for public speaking, learning to express oneself verbally and telling a personal story. Yet, clearly, this is a skill that will shape an individual’s future, as Frank Bruni emphasizes in his insightful article.

If schools cannot be relied on to teach storytelling skills, then it falls to families to foster these skills as much as possible. Find opportunities to share the stories of previous generations, as well as the daily incidents of life in your family.  Encourage everyone, even the youngest child, to share experiences and ideas, and give each person the time and opportunity to be the center of attention by “telling a story.”   

For adults who need to hone their storytelling skills, seek out opportunities to relate stories to friends and colleagues.  If you feel uncomfortable with this prospect, work with a professional who can help you shape a personal narrative and develop your speaking skills.   Being able to represent yourself may be the key to achieving your personal goals — as well as modeling those skills for your children.

Practice your skills by telling stories and equip your children for success by finding ways to help them become storytellers.


Check back soon for more articles on public speaking, writing, speech-language pathology and executive function skills.






Mar 242014

Interview on WVOX.6.10.13

Tune into Peter Moses’ radio show on WVOX, 1460 AM,  today at 3 P.M.  We’ll be talking about my work as a speech and communications coach as well as other aspects of my practice as a speech-language pathologist.

I’ll be taking questions from listeners so feel free to call into the program.

Apr 302013

Last week when I wrote about “The Um, Ah Problem”, I mentioned “The Two P’s,” phrasing and pausing.   I’ve been asked to elaborate on this point following the workshop I presented at Watercooler in Tarrytown last Thursday on “How to Grab Your Audience.”

Effective communication should engage others, bring them into your message, inform them about what you know or your point of view.  How do you engage people?  Allow time for the listener to process what you’re saying.

When we translate our ideas into words, we think in phrases.  The normal flow of speech occurs at the phrase level, not in perfectly formed sentences.  Yet so many speakers rush what they’re saying, barely stopping to pause.  If the listener can’t process the information you’re presenting, you lose your audience’s attention.  Additionally, by speaking too quickly, how much do we set up the possibility of stumbling and not being able to find our words?  Here’s the “um, ah problem” again.  If we think in phrases, we should present in the same way.

What happens in those pauses?  You take a breath — a key to relaxing yourself.  You give yourself a split second to segue to a new thought.  By pausing you can emphasize a word or a phrase.  You can make use of intonation, rhythm and  melody.  Rushed speech loses many of these critical elements that contribute to natural sounding, effective speech. Good speakers use the brief moment of silence –the pause — to let an idea sink in, to emphasize a point,  to reduce the “um, ah problem.”  Most importantly, to keep the listener engaged, or put another way, to grab your audience.


Check back next week for more thoughts on topics in communications and speech.




Apr 232013

How many times do you say “um, “ah”, “you know,”  in the normal course of conversation?  We all use “fillers” to bridge the gap while we’re thinking of a word, switching topics, gathering our thoughts.  Unless they’re excessive and break the flow of speech, speakers and listeners in conversation generally don’t generally take note of fillers.  But if you’re presenting in front of a group, these fillers can become distracting and detract from your message.

How to  reduce the “um’s” and “ah’s”?  Probably the best secret lies in preparation.  In my last two Blog posts I’ve written about the importance of good preparation and how to achieve it.   When you’ve carefully thought about what you want to present and written some speaking points or prepared PowerPoint slides, you’ll have less difficulty formulating your speech.  Keep the logical flow of ideas going.  And practice out loud.  Good preparation and practice reduces hesitations.

The next critical tip is  what I call “The Two P’s”:  phrasing and pausing.  Language formulation generally occurs in phrases, not word by word.  Use the natural phrasing that’s part of our speech.  But remember to pause at the end of phrases — to take a breath, for emphasis, to switch topics, and very importantly, allow listeners to process the flow of information you’ve presented.  Filling  pauses with “um” and “ah” becomes a habit.  Give yourself and the listener a break.  Take a breath.  A second or two of silence can be more valuable than you think.


I will be covering “The Two P’s” and other tips on how to make a great presentation at my workshop this Thursday, April 25th, 7-9 PM at Watercooler, a coworking space on Main Street in Tarrytown.

Check back next week for more thoughts on topics in communications and speech…

Mar 202013

If you would like to “BECOME A CONFIDENT AND ENGAGING SPEAKER” come to the workshop I am presenting on April 23, 2013 at Watercooler, a coworking space in Tarrytown, NY.  Last year’s program on “HOW TO GRAB YOUR AUDIENCE” proved highly successful for participants who gained the basic tools to make professional presentations with confidence.