In her job, Anne saw a lot of presentations, and they all seemed to be the same. So when it was her time to give a big presentation to hundreds of people, she wanted to do something different.
Anne recognized that the usual approach to delivering presentations in the business world would be to load up a Power Point deck with data, tables, graphs and facts, and recite them to the audience. She realized that this approach was dry and made it difficult to connect with her audience on an emotional level.
So she tried a different approach, and the response was better than she could have expected. She received compliments on her presentation skills and her ability to effectively articulate why her audience should care about the material she covered. It was easier for her to encourage people to take action and several people even commented on her ability to help them see things in a new way because she connected with them on a personal level.
What was her approach? She learned to tell stories.
Connect With Your Audience
Storytelling is one of the oldest and most powerful ways humans communicate with each other. They elicit emotional responses, capture people’s attention and imaginations, and help the storyteller make her point.
Stories are for more than books or movies or campfires. They can be very effective in business settings, such as in Anne’s presentation. Storytelling not only helped her make her point, but it also helped others around her think differently about their approach to delivering presentations.
And the good news is storytelling can work for you. You don’t need to be a master storyteller like Spielberg. All you need to do is follow a basic strategy.
With this guide, my hope is to outline that strategy for you, giving you the tools and knowledge you need to weave stories in your presentations.
And connect with your audience.
Before you can start putting your story together, there are a few things you should know. A few questions you should answer and take note of, to help you make sure the story you tell has the impact you want it to.
Who is your audience?
This is the first thing anyone should think of when they’re trying to communicate to anyone else. But it’s also the most overlooked. People too often focus on what they want to say and do, and fail to consider the eyes and ears (and hearts and minds) they are trying to reach.
So, perform a quick audit of your audience. Ask yourself:
There are many, many more questions you can ask yourself about your audience. Consider interviewing a couple of people who will be in your audience to determine what they would feel is beneficial.
The point is, the more you know them, the more effective your story can be.
What is your goal?
When we give a presentation or communicate to people in business settings, there is always a goal. A desired outcome you want to effect. This also is too-often overlooked, as people don’t always think it all the way through. It’s just assumed, or somewhere in the back of your mind.
Bring it to the front of your mind. Write it down. Think about it. Make sure it’s right. Your story can’t accomplish a goal if you don’t know what it is.
Now that you have an understanding of your audience and goals, you can begin to develop your story. To do that, it’s helpful to follow a very basic framework, or story structure.
That basic structure has three main elements: the Hero, the Struggle, and the Triumph.
Every story has a hero. A protagonist. A main character with whom the audience can identify. Someone to root for.
Who is your story’s hero? Is it a real person or a fictional character? It could be customers, employees, or stakeholders. Or, the hero could be you. If you can use yourself as the protagonist, and tell a personal story, it can be very effective. Sharing personal stories help you connect with your audience on a deeper or more emotional level.
Whomever your hero is, write a short description about them -- three of four sentences is fine -- so you understand their place in your story.
Another essential element to storytelling is the struggle, or the conflict.
What is the force that is making it difficult for your hero to accomplish what they’re setting out to do? What are the obstacles standing in their way?
The business world is loaded with obstacles, so it shouldn’t be hard to identify the struggle for your story. Is it inefficiency? A lack of solutions? A lack of knowledge? A lack of motivation? Or maybe it’s something bigger, like the competition, market forces, or a fear of change.
Think about what the struggle is in your story and how it affects your hero. This is where emotions can be introduced into your story. We are all emotional beings, and the more you can use emotions, the more powerful and effective your story will be. Connecting on an emotional level with your audience helps create a hook. Creating a compelling hook will help you engage and inspire your audience to take action.
How did your hero overcome the struggle? By using the business solutions or ideas you are putting forth in your presentation.
The triumph is your business case. It’s your proposal, supported by the facts and data you have so painstakingly prepared.
This is the part of the story you planned to tell all along. You just didn’t know it was part of a story. This is where you begin to reinforce your goals by weaving in data, charts, and results. It is also a great time to ask for what you need or what you want the audience to do differently. The diffidence is you can more effectively explain why the information your sharing matters with the audience because you can link it to your story.
Now you have the basic structure of your story in place, and you have your goals, audience and theme in mind. That will make it much easier to put your story together.
This requires a slightly different approach than what you might be used to. Instead of thinking of your presentation in terms of slides, data, and important points to drive home, think of it in terms of a story.
Tell a narrative about your hero, the struggles they face, and how they overcame them. Let your facts and data support them, but still take a back seat to the narrative itself.
Why? Because people are presented with facts and data all the time. They are hard to remember and usually have little impact. You’re not looking for a rational response, but an emotional one.
How will you know your story has the emotional impact you want it to? The best way is to get some unbiased feedback. Share your story with a colleague, friend or spouse. See if they have the reaction you’re looking for.
Communicate your ideas
As I mentioned at the beginning, storytelling is a powerful way we humans communicate with each other, and that includes in business situations.
Does that mean you need to incorporate storytelling into every business interaction? Of course not. But the more you can use it, the better you’ll get at it, and the more effective you’ll be able to communicate your ideas.