Storytelling is not just for the pros you see on TV or on stage. The truth is that storytelling is a life skill that everyone of us should master. So many good things can come out of good storytelling. Your life as you know it now can literally change in an instant if you tell the right story to the right people. Yes, it’s that powerful. In this article, I’m going to share with you the seven elements of successful storytelling in presentations. Take note of all these and your life just might transform for the better!
Element #1: Well-defined presentation message
Before you even start working on your presentation slides, you need to know exactly what you’re going to say to your audience. What is your presentation’s “why” or its reason for being? Why are you presenting in front of them? What do you want them to take away from your presentation?
If you have several messages, then you need to define your ‘umbrella message’ that covers all these sub-messages. If someone asks your audience members what your presentation was all about, they should be able to share what they’ve learned from you.
Your presentation topic is not the same as your presentation message. According to Nancy Duarte, a leading presentation expert, a topic is a neutral word or phrase. But a message is a full sentence that’s emotionally charged.
Your message doesn’t have to be unique, but it should be memorable. Your audience will be listening to other presentations as well, so you need to find a way to make your message as memorable as possible. Otherwise, people may be wasting their time if they end up listening to you speak, but retain none of the information you’ve given. That’s not time well spent at all.
Element #2: Make your audience care
With an emotionally charged presentation message, you’re more likely to make your audience care about it. If there’s apathy amongst your audience, then it will be highly unlikely they’ll pay attention to your message and whatever your call to action is.
Don’t just share numbers and statistics in your presentation. Instead, weave all this information into a story. Figure out how you can make your audience relate to the story. If you’ve done your homework and actually know who your audience is, then you should be able to come up with a storyline that everyone will relate to.
For example, let’s say you’re making a presentation about the lack of water in Africa. You want to get people to be moved and to take action into helping out with the situation in Africa. Sure, you can say that millions of kids suffer needlessly because they don’t have access to clean water in their area.
Maybe you can even put up a picture of a thirsty African boy. But, for the most part, it’s still not going to be enough. It’s not personal enough. You see, you need to put a name to the face, so let’s call him Amare. Tell a story of what Amare’s day to day life is like and how he suffers because of the lack of clean water. Make people care about Amare. Make him flesh-and-blood real to your audience. Tell them that if they don’t try to help out, then he will continue to suffer.
If you make your audience care about Amare, then consider your presentation a success. They may forget some details about your presentation, but they’re not going to forget Amare anytime soon.
Element #3: A solid presentation structure
You may have a solid presentation message ready, and you may have a story that will make people’s heart melt and make them take action. But if you don’t have a solid presentation structure, then it will all be for naught.
According to Stanford University lecturer, Matt Abrahams, audiences retain up to 40% more information when it’s presented in a structured manner. Since you want your audience to remember as much as possible, then a good presentation structure is an absolute necessity.
Here are some of the most common structures used in presentations according to Nick Morgan:
- Problem-Solution Structure. This is a very straightforward technique to persuade your audience to take action. You outline the problem in the introduction, then give them your solution. Finally, ask them to follow your call to action at the end of your presentation. You can also approach this in a before-and-after fashion. Describe the ‘before’ scenario as you paint a picture of the problem. Then give the solution and tell them what happens ‘after.’
- Residues Method. If you’re talking about a controversial topic, you want to give your fair insight on all sides. Be as neutral as possible and talk about the pros and cons of each side. Give a few reasons why you think some solutions won’t work. When you’ve covered all possible bases/solution, give your own opinion. It’s what the author calls ‘residue.’ It’s what’s left after all the other solutions are taken out of the picture.
- Classic Story Structure. We all know what a good story is, right? Well, they all follow the classic story structure. To make the story as interesting as possible, you need to have a hero or heroine in your story. Then start spinning your tale about the different challenges and complications the hero faced. You conclude your story by sharing how the hero was able to do away with all the issues encountered.
- Chronological Structure. This structure is great if you’re sharing a history of something or reviewing a process. You’re basically telling your audience a story from point A to point B in a chronological manner.
- Demonstration Structure. Use this structure if you’re doing a product launch and you want to demonstrate why your audience should give your product the time of day. Reveal why people need it and what kind of problems it aims to solve (benefits). Then show how the product works. Just make sure you don’t get bogged down by technical details. Your audience doesn’t need to hear all that – what they want to know is how those tech stuff can help them out in real life.
Element #4: Focus on essential points in your story
Have you ever lost your train of thought while you’re in the middle of your presentation? One moment you’re telling a story. Without realizing it, you’ve gone off on a tangent, and you’ve forgotten what your original story was all about.
Even if you’ve worked out your presentation’s structure, you can still get distracted and talk about non-essential stuff. This may happen when you realize you’ve still got some time left on your allotted time slot, and you want to maximize your time.
So, you start going off topic and blabbering about random things. You don’t want this to happen. Why? Because no matter how good your story is, if it’s not relevant to your message, you’re just going to end up confusing your audience!
A confused audience is not your end goal. Instead, you want them to be enlightened. You want them to take away something useful from your presentation.
This is why it’s important to rehearse and time your presentation. Find out how long your entire presentation lasts, and make sure it falls within your allotted time slot. You don’t need to memorize your entire speech. But you should at least have a guideline or a list of talking points that follow your presentation’s structure.
Element #5: Hook your audience early on
First impressions are key to a successful presentation. Your audience will be judging you right from the moment you enter. They’ll form an opinion of you in just a few seconds – they’ll look at your appearance and the way you talk – and decide if you’re someone worth listening to. You see, it’s not easy presenting in front of an audience. Whether you like it or not, you’re basically ‘selling’ yourself to the crowd.
In order to get them ‘sold,’ you need to hook them in with something big. Preferably something they haven’t heard before. Something that may shake them to their very core. Sounds like a pretty big task, right? Of course, it doesn’t have to be quite as dramatic. But you do need to think of something outside the box.
Whatever your hook may be, it should tie in quite nicely with your presentation’s message. There shouldn’t be a disconnect somewhere. Instead, your entire presentation – from beginning to end – should be one coherent story. So, don’t forget your hook. It’s not just a one-time thing you say at the beginning of your presentation.
People will remember your hook and may expect you to conclude your presentation by tying it back to your hook. Doing so will not only make you more credible to your listeners, but chances are, people be able to recall your story and your message long after your presentation ends.
Element #6: Be genuine and authentic
Have you ever met a seemingly jovial person, but for some reason you can’t quite get yourself to like that person? They may have a smile on their lips, but it doesn’t quite reach their eyes. You can’t put a finger on it, but you know deep in your heart that something’s not quite right with that person. And so, you take everything they say with a grain of salt.
The same thing goes for presentations. You can be an excellent storyteller, and have the best-looking slides in your presentation. However, if you don’t truly believe in what you’re saying, then people can easily tell. Your eyes, your actions, or your body language will somehow betray you.
You don’t want to lose face in front of your audience. The moment they feel your insincerity, your presentation’s going to be a lost cause. No one’s going to take you seriously.
But don’t fret. If you pay attention to how your audience is reacting to your presentation, then you can still turn it around. Focus on your message (like really focus on it) and let your emotions come out. Don’t be afraid to let your vulnerability show.
With that said, it’s always a good idea to be prepared. But not to the extent that your speech sounds too rehearsed, and you end up sounding like a robot. Allow some emotion and vulnerability in your presentation. It will make you sound a lot more human, and a lot more likeable to your audience.
It’s okay to be nervous during your presentation. But don’t mistake nervousness as being authentic. It’s so much more than that. It may take you a few tries and a few public presentations to get it right. But you’ll definitely know in your heart when you finally make an emotional connection with your audience. When you feel that, then that’s when you know you’ve finally delivered an authentic presentation.
Element #7: Show or do something unexpected
One of the elements of successful storytelling is showing or doing something totally unexpected. The best stories are those with unexpected elements in them. For instance, you may think you already know how a certain story will end. But there’s an unexpected twist that nobody saw coming! I think stories like this tend to be more memorable than those that have been told a million times.
You can apply the same thing during your presentation. You tell your audience a story, maybe even a familiar one. But right before you end it, you change something in the plot and instead of the villain dying, it’s the hero that gets killed accidentally. You may get a rise out of the audience. And that’s okay because it shows they were actually paying attention to your story. Of course, you can try to take it back and say you were just testing to see if they’re still listening.
You know your audience best. Try to think of something that will blow them away during your presentation. It’s okay to resort to some tricks to keep your audience awake. After all, they’re spending their time listening to you. You want to make sure they’re tuned in and getting something valuable out of your presentation.
Apply all the elements of successful storytelling in your next presentation, and watch your audience come to life. They’ll be more attentive and more engaged during your presentation. You’ll establish yourself as a credible speaker and you just may gain a lot of new fans in the process.