A few weeks ago, I attended my Best Friend’s Wedding in Savannah, where I was tasked with delivering a toast. Despite my years of experience on stages and my passion for the written word, I was terrified. How would I sum up a 15-year friendship in five minutes? Would people think what I had to say was funny? Touching? Inappropriate? Would my best friend and her husband regret their choice to have me speak at their big day?

As someone who is constantly working on not taking things personally, this talk was big time personal. But, when all was said and done, there were laughs and tears and kudos. Over a handful of people approached to let me know my speech was the best speech they had heard—EVER. I was stunned.

That night, after the wedding and post wedding events, I went back to my hotel room and sobbed. Partly, because of the mix of feelings that arose from seeing my best friend in the world find happiness, but also because I knew that all of the hard work I had put into my speech was not in vain. People loved it. Most importantly, my best friend loved it. My work had been acknowledged. That night, I was once again reminded that my presence in this world makes a difference.

The next few days, I reflected on why that toast was so successful. I realized it had truly been an exercise in storytelling. For those of you who are already adept at telling stories as part of your business or in your life, or for those who are looking to start incorporating stories personally or professionally, here are my most recent lessons and suggestions.

Actually Tell a Story (or Three)
This may seem obvious, but do you ever notice how people actually don’t do this? A story has a beginning, middle and end. It has a conflict, drama and characters. It has a climax and a resolution. These are basic elements of storytelling that must not be forgotten.

But also, over the course of this five-minute toast, I managed to tell snippets of at least three stories. Each of these “mini” stories flowed out of the previous and each was an essential part of one big tale—in this case the tale of how an unrequited crush led to an unbreakable friendship. With each build, the audience was left in suspense of what would come next. The end of the story tied everything together.

Make Sure You Are Passionate About The Chosen Topic
The best stories are riddled with passion, be it in the writing or the way they are told in person. Not a problem in this circumstance. Of course, I’m passionate about my best friend and our friendship. Though, in the past, I’ve also written about topics that that really didn’t interest me at all.

Writing for the sake of writing, speaking for the sake of speaking … this just doesn’t work. You need to have a point of view about things you want to communicate if you plan to communicate them clearly and create an emotional connection with people. Apathy never leads to a strong POV. Not in life and not for brands.

Make It Personal Through Emotional Details
Essentially, throughout the course of my tale, I reminded my BFF of how our friendship came to be. I added specific dialogue that felt like both of us at that time in our lives. In our early 20’s, we were both a mixture of ambition, insecurity, jealousy and boldness. The conversations I included in the speech highlighted that complexity and gave the story more depth and realism.

Interrupt The Status Quo
Google how to write a great wedding speech and you will most surely see the words “Do not mention an ex” written in multiple articles. However, that is exactly what I did, numerous times. This particular ex was an essential part of the story. Bringing him up was part puzzling, part shocking and part amusing for the audience—exactly the reaction I’d hoped for when his name originally popped into my head a few weeks ago.

Get Over Looking Bad Or Stupid
Years ago I took a few improvisation classes in Los Angeles at The Second City. My key takeaway from this training was simple. Sometimes you just need to go for it.

You can tell when people are holding back in life, right? You can also tell when people hold back in their writing, talks or performances. The times when I’ve had the courage to go “all in” have been the times I’ve been the most proud of my work and generally when my words were best received.

Stories are meant to be told because people want to hear them. Stories remind us we are not alone. So tell one. Tell more than one. Even for all you introverts, or extroverted introverts like me, I promise if you practice sharing yourself, it will soon become a habit like everything else.

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