You’re probably one of the millions of people who have been greatly moved by a Ted Talk. What is it about these presentations that inspires us so greatly? Sure, the presenters are entertaining and full of energy – but beyond this, they captivate us with stories.

Why is storytelling so engaging? Human beings are wired for stories. Since prehistoric times, stories were how we learned about ourselves and the world around us. Stories are how our parents helped shape our character. Stories have the ability to bring complex ideas to life and understand other points of view. For all of these reasons, they are the perfect vehicle to connect with your audience and get them to take action.

Telling stories during a presentation is the cornerstone of being great and memorable. While it’s not that difficult to learn how to be entertaining or pump up your energy, it can be challenging to know how to effectively tell stories.

The following tips will help you know how to choose which stories to tell during your presentation.

Make Sure It Has a Purpose

You’d be better off telling no story than a pointless story – this is a sure way to turn off your audience. You must have a reason for telling the story and that reason should be clear and obvious to your audience. Make sure yours has an objective, moral, and overall lesson for your listeners.

Practice it on Others First

Never tell your story for the very first time in front of an audience. You need to try it out on others first to know if it’s constructed well and how it will land. Recruit some friends, family, and colleagues (anyone who will give you 5 minutes of their time) and tell your story over and over. If you do this enough, you will refine your story each time and be 100% confident it will work as intended.

Create a Repertoire

No single story will work on every audience, so you’ve got to have a repertoire ready to choose from. Once you have a selection that you’ve honed and refined through practice, you will easily be able to select the appropriate story and inject it into your presentation.

Know Your Audience

In order to select which story will fit your audience, you have to get to know them beforehand. This means doing some homework to ensure you don’t tell a story that is irrelevant or possibly offensive. You might consider sending out a survey to audience members a month or two ahead of time to gauge their interests and opinions.

Keep it Short

Your audience has a much shorter attention span than you realize. In order to keep everyone engaged, make sure your story does not overstay its welcome. Five minutes is generally a good length, though shorter is fine.

Personal Can Be Good

Consider telling a personal story. This will instantly humanize you and connect you to the audience. Having said this, keep in mind that the presentation is NOT about you, but about the audience’s needs. Be sure to share a story that can impact them and help deliver your message.

Paint a Picture

It’s not enough to simply tell the events and particulars of a story, you’ve got to really paint a picture for your audience. Use descriptive words and try and give your listeners the exact smells, textures, colors, and sensations of your story.

Know the Different Genres of Stories

Presentational stories are like movies, they come in different genres. While you won’t be telling Rom-Com or Horror Stories, per se, you will want to structure your story so it gets the right response from your audience.

Here are some genres to think about using:

Success Stories

Nothing inspires an audience more than a good ol’ success story. These kinds of stories document the challenges and ultimate triumphs of people. Think about the stories you loved from childhood. Most of them probably ended with, “… and they lived happily ever after.” Well not before they faced some struggles first. People in the business community particularly respond to success stories.

Funny Stories

Oftentimes humor is the most effective way to get your message across. Making the audience laugh is a great way to get them and keep them on your side. As long as you keep it clean and don’t mock or embarrass anyone in the audience, a funny story can be a great way to entertain while imparting important information.


A parable is a story that offers a simple moral or lesson. Anyone can tell these kinds of stories (not just preachers and religious folk). They have become very popular with presenters who find them effective in discussing business ethics. The moral of the story is… consider using a parable in your next presentation.

Telling the right story can make or break your presentation. By following these tips, you’ll be sure to not only engage your audience, but to inspire them as well.

Read more: Engage Your Audience with a Story