The most fascinating subject in the world will sound mind-numbing if you present it a series of bulleted slides in the form of an outline.
You could be discussing feedback from the first human colony on Mars, but if you’re standing there with your little laser pointer, basically just adding verbal details to what’s written on each slide (which every person in the room can perfectly well read for themselves) your audience is going to find you dull, plodding, and tedious. Any yet you’re talking about humans living on Mars!
Now imagine how your audience would react if your subject was sales figures or the price of internet packages in Southeast Asia. They’d be comatose.
Ah, but if you incorporate a story into your presentation… that would change everything.
Stories make you sound brilliant – and audiences remember them
Everyone loves a good story. It’s the reason that people watch movies, follow TV shows, and read books. Stories activate more parts of the brain than simple facts and figures. They also stimulate the parts of the brain associated with sight, sound, taste, and movement, which makes the stories – and by extension, your presentation – more memorable later on. Listeners experience a story, rather than merely process it.
And a well-crafted story is more likely to inspire emotional reactions from audience members.
Stories can produce a hormone called oxytocin in listeners, which is linked with feelings of empathy and trust. The release of oxytocin creates an emotional response to the story, which in turn creates a connection with the audience – and can also motivate people to action. This is one of the reasons storytelling is such an important part of any successful salesperson’s toolkit: people tend to make emotional purchases and then justify their decisions with logic after the fact. When stories trigger emotions, they also help drive people to make buying decisions.
You don’t have to be a great writer to tell a great story
You needn’t be obsessed with creative writing to create compelling stories, but you do need to be enthusiastic about wanting to engage your audience. And you do have to follow a few simple rules. Your story should have a purpose. Just telling a joke won’t get the message of your presentation across. If you’re not sure why you’re telling a given story, your audience certainly won’t be.
You also need structure. All great stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Without structure, your story may lack coherence (and if you’ve ever listened to a story where the speaker forgot important details and had to jump around in time to explain what he was trying to say, you know how confusing and frustrating it is). If you confuse your audience, you’ll lose their attention before you’ve made your point.
Another thing that listeners love is… a hero. All stories have a hero, whether a scoundrel or a champion. They’re all propelled by the actions of that hero from start to finish. The same is true in presentations. But be sure you feature a hero with whom your audience can identify. Your hero can be a client, a customer, even a concept… but the best hero of all is always your audience itself.
According to American director and screenwriter Chad Hodge, people like to see themselves as the hero of the story, whether the plot involves beating the bad guys or achieving some great business objective. He says, “Everyone wants to be a star, or at least to feel that the story is talking to or about him personally”; by using storytelling to place your listeners at the center of the action, Hodge says you can “encourage your people to join your journey, your quest, and reach the goal that lies at its end.”