The Importance of Storytelling in your Presentations

Long before we can walk and talk, we listen to stories. Before long, we have our favourites. The ones that speak to us for some reason, and the ones make us want to listen to them, over and over again.

As kids we learn to appreciate the power of good storytelling, and we seek it out later in life, in the form of films, books, podcasts, songs and TV.

One area of our lives that sometimes seems void of compelling storytelling is in business communication. We have all sat through presentations that we genuinely enjoy, and find truly engaging. But, we have also sat through presentations where your mind wanders, or you count the minutes as they pass, and sometimes even plot ways to extract yourself from the room causing minimum insult to the presenter.

So why are some presentations more interesting than others? Sure some are prettier, or more interactive, but design and technology can only do so much.

The answer is storytelling.

Pascal Finette* believes that the bit that many of us often leave out of our presentations, is why should anyone care about what we are saying? It seems obvious, but in The Golden Circle concept**, Simon Sinek points out that we are often so busy showing off what we do, and how we do it, that we fail to tell people why we do it.

The why is what we believe in, why we get up in the morning, and what we, or what the company stands for. Perhaps it isn’t an oversight that we don’t include it. Maybe we fail to include it, because we are not sure of the answers. It is more comfortable to discuss process and facts and figures, rather than insights about us as humans. Also, not all companies and teams rally behind a common cause – sometimes being in business is what matters, not understanding why we are in business.

The why though, is what gives a story meaning, and makes people feel things, which in turn focuses our brain as an audience. In fact, we know that feeling something fires our neurons up just listening to the story, as much as if we were actually taking part in the story. In other words, good storytelling actively increases our engagement levels and thus the likelihood that we can recall it.

There are some other tricks that will make your storytelling even more compelling, no matter who you are presenting to:

1 Simplicity

Very few people enjoy trying to comprehend the very complicated.

2 Brevity

Unless you are JK Rowling, people will appreciate you using less, rather than more words.

3 Structure

People will find it easier to listen, if your story is structured in a logical way – a story should have a beginning, middle and an end. Don’t let your story wander off-course.

4 Tone

What do you as the author bring to the information you are trying to get across? Are you excited, or hopeful or seeking to be inspirational? You are as important as the facts.

5 Accuracy

Errors find a way of sticking out in presentations. Check and re check, to avoid embarrassment.

Presenting is more than just assembling facts in a pretty way. It is about trying to connect to an audience via storytelling. If you can master the art of story telling, then the sky is the limit…and you’ll find less people falling asleep when you present.

*Pascal Finette, The most important thing about storytelling,’The Heretic, April 18, 2017

** Simon Sinek, TEDx Talk, September 28, 2009

*** Annie Murphey Paul, ‘Brilliant: The New Science of Smart,’ Annie Murphy Paul.

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