I tell stories. In my articles, in my blog posts, and definitely in my presentations – they are usually based on stories.
That’s how my parents talk, and how I grew up. Early on in my marriage, after eating dinner with my parents a few times, Dana (my wife) told me “you guys talk in stories – how weird!”
I’d never really thought about it, but yeah – that’s what we do. It’s never “here’s what I did at work today.” It’s always “the story of what I did at work today.” There’s a big difference!
Partly, it’s just how I think. Im more of a visual thinker, so I see images and movies in my head about what I want to talk about, and then I just describe what I’m seeing (more on visual thinking here).
I’ve discovered that using a story-based style of talking seems to work really well for presentations. How do I “tell stories” in a presentation? Here’s what I do:
- Use a basic structure. Make sure your presentation has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That provides some basic structure – a roadmap – that most of your attendees will be used to, so they will be able to follow along.
- Tell “the story of.” You’re probably not creating a fiction Elfquest type story. But you can still tell “the story of what we did well.” Or even “the story of how we decided to buy that new back-end system.” Facts are great – pepper those facts around your story, to drive your point home.
- Transitions. Transitions keep everyone on track. My transitions are usually really obvious (i.e. we’re moving to this now!) and that’s ok. It’s a way to remind your listeners about the roadmap, and keep everyone (including yourself) on track. Sometimes I even use a “transition slide” theme that can visually move people to the next point.
- Paint a picture. Use your slidedeck to enhance the point you are making. For example, if I’m talking about how many Americans use the internet, I might use a slide with a huge “88%” on it. And maybe show a crowd of people underneath the number. I’ll use the slide to reinforce my point. It’s a prop that helps people visualize what I’m talking about.
- Weave in some drama. Ok – not like “then someone punched me” drama. Drama, or tension, in a presentation might include challenges along the way, fails and mis-starts, or even things that need to be improved. Even something as simple as showing a poorly designed website, then showing your new-and-improved website adds a bit of tension and build-up.
- End with practical takeaways. I always try to add a slide or two about “what you can do back at the office” with the ideas in my presentations. I find a few practical “hey, I can do this next week” pointers can be really useful for people attending my talks.
- Also – actually “end.” Wrap it up, maybe summarize a few key points, share some next steps, and say “thanks.” Then take questions if there’s time. But no awkward “well gee, I guess my slides are done now” moments please!
Want more? Here are some great articles on telling stories in presentations:
- 7 Storytelling Techniques Used by the Most Inspiring TED Presenters
- 8 Classic storytelling techniques for engaging presentations
- Structure Your Presentation Like a Story
- Bring Your Presentations to Life with these 5 storytelling Components
- Visual Storytelling in Business: A Q&A with Presentation Design Experts
image by Damian Gadal