Public Speaking Tip from Alcatraz Prison

The wind is blowing. We’re freezing. Our legs ache from a day of walking. And I look down at my daughter Annie and I’m amazed.  Is this 10-year-old about to start complaining about wanting to go home?  Not at all. She’s riveted by the speech she is listening to.

That’s right. My 10-year-old daughter, along with about 50 other tourists, was riveted by a speech. The speech was at Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay and was being delivered by a park ranger (Alcatraz is a national park).

He was telling the story of John Giles’s attempt to escape on July 1, 1945. Having worked in the miliary laundry, Giles had disguised himself as an Army officer and calmly boarded a military launch off the island. Unfortunately for Giles, he boarded the wrong boat. His ride was headed for nearby Angel Island, then a military base, instead of to San Francisco. He was caught and sent back to Alcatraz.

Despite the freezing cold (San Francisco is surprisingly cold this time of year), everyone, my daughter included, was riveted. This is just another example of the amazing power of stories to hold an audience.  This ranger didn’t need PowerPoint. He didn’t need handouts. He had no flipcharts. 

All he had was the story of a prisoner trying to escape. 

Think about the best presentations you’ve ever heard. They almost always have stories.

If you want to give a great presentation, tell a story.

Here’s a newsreel clip about the 1962 escape that was the subject of the Clint Eastwood movie “Escape from Alcatraz.”


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