You’ve heard me say the way to engage people with your talk or your writing is to make it about them instead of you. But how does that jibe with the gurus’ advice to tell stories, especially personal stories, when you’re speaking or selling or writing an article?

This question came up at On the Page and On the Stage. A woman who wants to be better at storytelling asked me how to share her personal experiences without sounding self-obsessed.

The answer might be useful for you too.

First of all, the experts are right when they say stories engage people. I noticed that I got way more emails than usual after last week’s newsletter – you might remember that it was mostly a personal story. It’s not the first time I’ve realized that people respond when I write about my own experience.

I’ve seen the same thing from the stage. When I tell a story, say, something I learned about listening when I was a talk show host, people lean in, smile, nod, laugh—they react. The story is way more engaging than information or data or even opinion.

On the other hand, I just got off the phone with a soon-to-be client. He told me how he listened to a speaker go on and on and on, talking about his life in chronological order and in great detail. My client was not inspired or educated. Beyond that, he was bored. And annoyed.

Clearly, it makes a difference how you tell your stories. And my article from last week is a good example.

It was my story about transitioning from radio to a new career, and the boost I got from a conversation at salon. But you may have noticed, I didn’t just launch into that story. Instead, the article began like this:

“If ‘networking’ conjures up an image of schmoozing at a Chamber meeting, rattling off your elevator speech, and thrusting your card at anyone who gets within arm’s reach, it’s time to expand your definition of networking.”

Then I told the story about my own experience.

So notice what happened there. Although the story is about me, that opening paragraph is all about you and the experiences you’ve likely had with what people call networking. In a way, I opened with an unspoken promise: you’re going to get some value from the story I’m about to tell.

I brought you into my story before I told it, creating interest in what I was about to say.

And what about the end of the story? I wound up with “Three big take-aways for you,” and went on to offer, yes, three big take-aways. In bold face type. Specific shifts you might make to change the results you get from networking.

So the article ended where it began—not with my story but with your experience. And what you could do differently to get more out of your business conversations.

Same thing works when you’re speaking. You tell your story because it makes a point, it conveys information and it connects you to your audience. But you make sure your story includes them.

Here’s another way to think of it.

Imagine your story as a picture. You’ll put your picture in a frame of your audience’s feelings or attitudes or experience. Because that frame draws their attention to the picture. They’ll actually enter into your story with you, and the story will have more impact.

One more pro-tip from my radio days. As you tell your story, include those little phrases that we tend to drop into our casual conversations with friends. “And can you believe? …” “You know how it is …” “Maybe this has happened to you…”

I call those parentheticals “conversational lubricant” – they keep things flowing.

Most people eliminate these idioms when they’re speaking to a group or writing for business. The result? They sound stiff, rehearsed and unnatural.

Whatever your personal lubricating phrases are, put them back in. In moderation of course; you don’t want to get stuck on one phrase that becomes repetitive and starts to jump out at your audience. But you’ll find that a few of those, sprinkled into your talk or your writing will help you take your listeners along for the journey.

Sound like a plan? Post a comment below and let us know how you can conversationalize your stories and bring your audience into them with you.