How to add stories to your presentation (and what not to do)
I believe that to grab and keep your audience’s attention, you need to use various types of stories in strategic places in an informative or technical presentation. I’ve had clients tell me they can’t use stories because they don’t have time. Actually, you can tell a story in a sentence or two or can expand it out, if that is appropriate. Any interesting experience can lead to a story. It doesn’t have to be something huge. Learn more in my article here – How to keep track of interesting experiences that you might use as stories in your presentations
First you need to figure out the purpose of the story you want to use. Does it enhance the purpose of your presentation or is it key to remembering your important facts? Then you need to craft it so it engages your audience.
5 tips for crafting a story (and one bonus tip as well)
- Set the stage – Setting the stage at the beginning is critically important. You need to include a particular moment when it happened (e.g. June 2019) and where it happened as well as who was there. This can be very short in just a few sentences. I often start my presentations with “It was 30 years ago. I was standing in a raised classroom at SFU in downtown Vancouver looking up at a sea of securities industry professionals.”
- Describe what happened – Set out what happened that is relevant to the purpose of telling your audience this story.
- Include a turning point – When telling a story, something changes. The person is going one way, something happens, they change direction. My friend Renee Jacobs, who is also a presentation trainer, describes this as a “turning point“. At the Toastmasters International Convention in 2017, I heard a speaker there, Mohamed Ali-Shukri, describe this as “Normal – Explosion – New Normal”
- Share feelings – After the key facts, you need to share how the person felt (likely you or your client). I often say “I felt devastated that no one was paying any attention to me (they were sleeping or talking to each other). I felt people might think I wasn’t a real lawyer, because I had given such a bad presentation.”
- Summarize – After you’ve told the story and shared feelings, you want to set out the key point of the story that relates to the overall purpose of your presentation, one of your key facts, or your call to action. I might say something like “I hope you can see why telling stories in a presentation will help your audience connect with you”
- Bonus tip – Use present tense – Ideally, you should tell the story in the present tense. This is not something to worry about if you are just starting to incorporate stories in your informative presentations. Once you get comfortable using stories, you can start crafting them in the present tense. Stories connect you to your audience and helps the audience remember your key information. If you tell the stories in the present tense, your audience will feel like they’re experiencing the action of the story as it’s happening. This helps each audience member feel more immersed in the story than if it was told in past tense. To do this, you can say something like “Let me take you back to September 2019. My colleagues and I are watching a presentation . . .”
Even if you do all these things, there are things you might do that will detract from the stories.
3 things to avoid when you tell stories in your presentation:
- Introduce the story – It is best to just start telling the story rather than say something like “I’m now going to tell you a story”. For some reason, when people start by introducing a story like that, the audience disengages. It takes more effort to get them back paying attention. Just start by setting the stage.
- Allude to the story – Sometimes people think they are telling a story without actually telling it. Instead they talk around the story or allude to a story. They might say something like “There was a time when I was talking to people . . .”. It is much better to use abit of drama to actually tell the story, using the 6 tips above.
- Include too much dialogue – Your story should include descriptions of what happened. Dialogue is important, but it has to be balanced with well thought out description. What you don’t want is just a series of “He said … She said . . . He said . . . “. Your audience will simply tune out.
Remember to craft stories that you include in your presentation using the tips I shared above and avoiding the mistakes.
One of the ways I help my clients is in crafting stories they can use in their presentations.
Need help with stories?
If you’ve been struggling to craft stories, sometimes a bit of outside perspective from someone who can provide feedback on your stories can make a big difference.
If you’d like to dive a bit deeper and learn the brain science behind why stories help you connect with your audience and help them remember your key information, join me at one of my two free 30-minute webinars each month “Learn Five Surprising Facts to Transform Your Presentations”:
• Monday, 3:30pm (Pacific time) – https://monday-3-30-webinars.eventbrite.com
• Thursday, 8am (Pacific time) – https://thursday-8am-webinars.eventbrite.com