This is a guest post by Maggie Summers, a content writer and blogger at Ethos3 – a leader in presentation design and training, and a friend of SlideRocket. She takes pride in empowering presenters through her knowledge and passion for presentations and powerful storytelling.
Stories can be the quickest way to be transported someplace far away. Don’t feel like being at home this afternoon? If you’d like to venture through the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia, pick up Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, or if you want to experience Paris and London during the French Revolution, grab Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Stories establish immediate familiarity and trust between storyteller and listener, they explain and nuance our complicated lives, and they offer a genuine glimpse at who we are. Presentations are enriched and strengthened by storytelling and literary techniques, which compel the audience first, to care and finally, to act.
Here are a few tips on how to employ business storytelling in your next presentation.
An effective presentation can be that much more compelling if its structure mirrors that of a great piece of prose. Remember the days spent writing essays for English 101? Those basic techniques can prove very useful when crafting a presentation. Organize your content into a clear flow, with a beginning, middle and end. In your introduction, be sure to include the bane of all high school students everywhere: a thesis statement declaring what you’re going to prove.
Use transition words, such as first, second, next, finally, etc. They’ll help the audience track with you throughout your presentation. And adding sensible yet compelling presentation language to use is well worth the effort. Also, be sure to have a clear introduction and conclusion, and like in most powerful pieces of prose, end where you began. A presentation, like literature, is always more effective if it comes full circle in the end.
Place Data into a Meaningful Context
Facts, data, statistics and quotes are essential parts of a business presentation, but their specific significance depends on the framework in which they are placed. We can spout off graph after graph and statistic after statistic, but that data will have less value if we fail to provide context. Facts have meaning when we ascribe meaning to them. Oblige your audience to connect with your presentation’s stats by fitting them into a business storyline that nuances and enhances your point.
Moreover, simply stating a monotonous data point in a presentation forces the audience to instantly agree or disagree with you. They will choose a side immediately (there is little middle ground with hard facts) and from then on, they will either trust you or they won’t. However, if you present that point in the context of a story, you avoid an all or nothing response and provide the audience room to consider their own stories. The beauty of storytelling in business lies in its ability to connect us to others. Don’t underestimate the power of this modest device; it can compel your audience to trust you, it can encourage your audience to relate to you, and it can move your audience to take action.
We’re emotional beings, despite stoics who’d like to argue to the contrary. We smile at giggling babies, we tear up at sappy Hallmark commercials, and we passionately cheer on our favorite sports teams. Even a boardroom full of serious, successful businesspeople would rather listen to statistics and facts in the context of a fascinating story rather than listen to a colorless list of cumbersome facts. Pull at those heartstrings with a meaningful story. Just like Presenting to Win’s Jerry Weissman says over and over: Don’t make the audience think. Tie those prosaic facts in with an engaging story to hammer home your main idea. Show your audience why they should care; don’t leave them hunting for a reason.
So the next time you steal away to the glittering age of the roaring 1920s while reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, think about how you can apply a story to your next presentation. It will be infinitely more compelling, convincing and intriguing as a result.