Using Stories to Give Effective Presentations

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My name is Amy, and I am a freelance presentation designer, working in PowerPoint, Google Slides, and Keynote. My passion is creating branded presentations that represent you as a trusted professional in your industry, strengthen your brand in the marketplace, and engage your audience with an elevated experience that will convert and make them remember you for all the right reasons.

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If you are like most people, you find preparing a presentation to be a daunting task. Most likely in trying to figure out how to put your presentation together, you’ve watched more than a few online videos of presentations for inspiration. And more than likely, what you’ve found is that TedTalks seem to be some of the most engaging presentations, but you may not have realized why that is. What is it about TedTalks that gets you hooked on those infamous speeches? While these presentations hook you with an intriguing premise and the data to back them up, what truly gets you engaged and keeps you watching to the end, is the story.

Amazing presenters know the secret to a great presentation is to embed stories within them. Stories are so deeply tied to the human psyche that it is an unparalleled method for connecting with your audience. Stories spark curiosity within your audience about how you ended up in a situation and when you solved the problem you faced. Without an engaging narrative, your presentation is easy to tune out, and getting your audience to care is challenging enough. To deliver a riveting presentation, use a story to share.

Keep reading to get a deeper understanding of the importance of storytelling, how to implement one (or several) seamlessly into your outline, and how to make sure your story contributes to your presentation goals.

Why Stories are Effective

Stories in presentations are more than delivering information on solving a problem. Weaving stories into your presentations adds drama that engages your audience (what will happen next?), connects with them emotionally, and gives you (the speaker) credibility.

Personal stories create trust with your audience and build your credibility. They imply a certain vulnerability and authenticity that allows your audience to connect with you on a human level. They elicit sympathy from the audience and make the audience members think about similar situations they have gone through. Connecting with your audience through their emotions makes your presentation memorable. People may not remember what you say, but they will remember how it made them feel! So make them feel!

You can accomplish this by simply sharing a personal story. Sharing a narrative detailing how you solved a problem or became experienced in some way creates an opportunity to establish credibility with your audience. Becoming a perceived “expert” makes your audience open to your message. Overall, personal stories effectively produce that crucial know, like, and trust factor that is key to a successful presentation.

But maybe you are currently becoming pretty nervous because you don’t feel like you have any stories that relate to your presentation topic. Don’t worry! You don’t have to limit yourself to personal stories. You can also use client stories and testimonials for the same purpose, and these can be just as effective. They won’t tie your audience as deeply to you as a presenter, but sharing other people’s thoughts about your products or services has the added benefit of delivering social proof to your audience.

Social proof makes your audience trust the integrity of your offering and gives you the opportunity to offer a variety of ways your audience members can relate to the value being offered when they are presented with multiple stories demonstrating how your product or service has positively impacted others in their personal stories. Ultimately, social proof gives a product or service a foundation of trustworthiness and credibility, which is key in persuading customers to select your offering as the solution to their needs.

Structuring Your Presentation to Tell a Story

The way you structure your story is just as important as the story itself, and your story should align with the goals and values of your presentation. The narrative you use to engage your audience should enhance your presentation goals. In some cases, you may wish to use a story to help you organize the structure of your presentation. In others, you may wish to outline your presentation first and then bring the storytelling in to drive your structure.

If option 2 sounds right for you, this guide can help you structure a cohesive, value-driven presentation outline. From there when you add the story, make sure it’s relevant and applicable to your presentation. A randomly placed narrative is not beneficial for the audience and will detract from your presentation’s value.

Quality over Quantity

Do not go overboard with the stories in your presentation! Unnecessary narratives cause your audience to believe you’re overcompensating–hurting your credibility–or they can just be distracting, causing your audience to lose focus and interest. You don’t want your presentation to overflow with personal anecdotes. Even if you go with the client testimonial strategy, which would incorporate more than one example, keep it to a few great examples that highlight how your product or service was the key to their success. Otherwise, you run the risk of overwhelming your audience and detracting from your presentation rather than enhancing it.

Structuring your Story to Enhance your Presentation

You can implement stories in a few different ways throughout your presentation, but some structures communicate the story with your audience better than others. If you’re still at a loss, you can also use classic archetypal stories to guide you. This is where recalling your high school English classes can really help out. Those Carl Jung heroes journies and the use of archetypes are at the core of how stories work within the human psyche, but even if English wasn’t your thing, just think of the classic tales of “The Little Engine that Could”, or “Star Wars” to help you structure your story in a way that will draw in your audience.

For instance, are you telling a story about something you overcame? The classic “overcoming a monster” works well for showing the steps you took to overcome an obstacle.

Are you sharing a time you learned a lesson? Use the “voyage and return” format to share what you learned.

When you have a story in mind for a presentation, find story formats to separate the different parts into pieces that fit your presentation puzzle. If you’re looking for more structures to tell your stories, check out this article that takes you on a storytelling adventure with examples.

Tying it all Together

If you include a story in your presentation, be sure to include snippets or details of the story woven throughout your presentation. This keeps your audience’s attention because they don’t want to miss any crucial points in the journey. They are invested in the ups and downs and want to see how things play out to the conclusion of the happy ending. Use the rise and fall of action to keep the audience along for the ride.

So, start the story at the beginning of the presentation, and keep weaving it in through to the end! Make every mention meaningful to the audience as a way to drive the drama and relate to their emotions.

Stories do more than increase presentation time or get a few laughs from the audience. They are compelling, persuasive tools that make your presentation memorable against the ocean of slide decks your audience has already seen. Stories, done well, enhance the data you exhibit and the points you make.

If you have an upcoming presentation to give and a story to tell, the presenting and aural storytelling is just one-half of the battle. Using the right visuals drives home the key points of your presentation, making sure the audience recalls not only how they felt during your presentation, but the core message and call to action you need to share to meet your presentation goals. Need help? Let me take care of the visual design for your presentation! Together, we can create a one-of-a-kind slide deck that tells your story, engages your audience, and leads to a successful presentation.