Use Dialogue, Not Narration

by Craig Valentine, 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking

By far the most common mistake speakers make with their stories is having too much narration and not enough dialogue. For example, they’ll say something like the following:

“And the principal threw me out of the school and told me never to come back.” Now that’s narration. However, dialogue would go something like this:

“And the principal looked me directly in the eyes and said, ‘Mr. Valentine, you are expelled. Don’t ever step a foot back into this building.’” That’s dialogue.

3 Types of Dialogue:

Dialogue between Characters

The key to using dialogue in between characters is to set up the dialogue with a bit of narration. For example, the narration part was “I was so upset about this I called my friend Steve and I said…” That narration set up the dialogue of “Steve, you’re positive. Tell me something…". 

The other key to using dialogue between characters is to make sure we know which character is talking. To do this, you can put the recipient’s name in the line of dialogue (i.e. “Steve, tell me something…)

Inner Dialogue

Whereas dialogue between characters brings your audience into a scene, inner dialogue does something even greater. It brings your audience into your character’s mind. The key to using inner dialogue is to avoid the phrase “I thought to myself…” Whenever I hear someone use that phrase, I ask, “Well, who else are you going to think to?” Just say, “I thought…” or “I’m thinking…” Please remember that reactions tell the story


Audience Dialogue

This is one of the most important yet most neglected tools you can use as a speaker. Give the audience dialogue. This simply means, verbalize their thoughts in dialogue form:
For example, you might tell what seems like a crazy story and then say, “You’re probably saying, ‘Craig, that’s crazy!’”

Some of the phrases you can use to give your audience dialogue are the following:
  • You’re looking at me as if to say, “Scott…(dialogue)”
  • Now you might say, “Janet…(dialogue)”
  • You say, “Craig…(dialogue)”