Once Upon a Time Graphic

Two young lovers kill themselves because love is forbidden by their families.

A captain is so obsessed with the hunt that he puts the lives of himself and his crew on the line.

An orphan farm boy leaves home to fight an oppressive empire and discover who killed his family.

You, no doubt, recognized the plots of Romeo and Juliet, Moby Dick and the original Star Wars. These are classic stories that have withstood the test of time. We remember them because humans love stories. We love to hear them, and we love to share them.

Here is a plot summary that I think could apply to 90 percent of presentations I’ve seen: a man stands in a darkened room, reads off of projected slides and shares a number of facts with a quiet audience. Not really compelling.

So, why don’t we hear more stories in presentations? My take is that it’s just harder. Great novels, plays and movies are years in the making. Creativity, hard work and round after round of editing are required. But don’t you want your audience to love the experience of your presentation so much that they not only applaud at the end, but share what they heard with friends and colleagues? After all, the ultimate goal of any presentation is not just to educate, but to persuade.

Research published in Harvard Business Review by Paul Zak confirms that people respond to stories:

My experiments show that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later.

Now, I’m not asking you to create an epic. All I ask is that you create a story and include it into your presentation. In addition to working on your presentation skills, it’s the most important thing you can do to make your presentation memorable and compelling. Here are three storytelling techniques you can use.

Tell a short story up front – this is the most basic technique and a good way to initially engage the audience and, hopefully, impart a simple story they can retell. Start your presentation with a quick anecdote that illustrates the problem or issue you are discussing. The more personal the better. It’s okay to retell something you read in the paper, but it will not have the impact of something you experienced and can tell firsthand.

Structure your presentation as a story arc – there are a few classic story arcs. The simplest is beginning, middle, end. A more compelling format is crisis, climax, resolution. Star Wars: A New Hope actually uses a series of building crises to up the tension, as you can see in Figure 1 below. Could you tell how your customer was in a state of crisis, perhaps a shortage or delay? You rode in to save the day and all was well with the world again?

Star Wars Story Arc

Figure 1: A series of building crises up the tension and set the stage for a powerful climax in Star Wars: A New Hope Source: https://atimeforgames.wordpress.com

Start with the ending – There are some great movies that start with the ending. Pulp Fiction. American Beauty. The Usual Suspects. They grab you right away and then take you back to the beginning, making you pay close attention as you wonder how the plot will ever get to what you just saw. If you want to hook and audience early and keep them in the palm of your hand, this is the technique to use. It takes a bit more work, but is powerful and will stand out. There we stood, on the two-yard line with 30 seconds to go, and our first chance to win the division championship. A great start for a pitch on a fitness program or coaching method that took a mediocre team to glory. Will they make it? Listen in to find out.

These are just a few examples. Your presentation can be as varied as the canon of film and literature. Start entertaining your audiences and your message will come through even stronger.

May the Force be with you.