SlideRocket Blog

Business Storytelling – Using Literary Techniques to Strengthen a Presentation

By Maggie Summers on April 17, 2012

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.

English 101

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.

Evoke Emotion

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.

More Great Stories From Maggie Summers

12 Comments »

  1. Penny de Villiers

    April 23, 2012 @ 4:20 am

    Enjoyed the read. I’m passionate about story telling and think every brand should keep creating their story by getting their client’s to share experiences and stories…making it real and fresh! Thanks

  2. Irene

    May 2, 2012 @ 4:41 am

    We as a school are in the process of converting to Google Education. We are testing it right now and then will make the transition over the summer for the next school year. Having said that, my students have been creating PowerPoints then uploading them to Slide Rocket, which is an exciting tool, however, without a great “story” the ppt. wouldn’t matter. So I enjoyed your piece and work with all of my students about content!

  3. Cynthia Hartwig

    May 2, 2012 @ 7:10 am

    We are hardwired for story. It is the quickest way to connect with your audienc so I tell several stories in my presentations to make my points. One tip: reading a story is a different experience than listening to one. In reading, you can go back and get the point. You can’t do that in an audience so the presenter has to make the meaning of the story (and it’s connection to the material) explicit. Listen to stories on This American Life for demo. Thanks.

  4. Andy C

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

    Thanks for the interesting read. Stories are key. I recently came across some of the best presentation story techniques by a company called Speaking Energy. I think they are Asia based. Completely changed my mindset about speaking in front of groups.

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  7. Craig Hadden - Remote Possibilities

    May 19, 2012 @ 7:59 am

    Thanks – great tips. I particularly like the idea of using transition words, like first, second, next, and finally. In a sense, they’re like “vocal bullet points”, in that they help your audience to chunk your message into separate parts. (Except that transition words don’t have the dull connotations of written bullets!)

    That tip also works well with the idea of saying how many points you’re about to discuss e.g. you might say “Our solution has 3 benefits, which are that it’s usable, reliable, and scalable. So first, let’s look at how usable it is.” For more on that, see http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/intrigue-people-firstframework-part-1i/#enumerate_points and http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/minimise-blur-firstframework-part-1m/#one_thought

    Thanks again for the tips!

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