How to use stories in presentations and talks
March 01, 2021
No matter what the topic of your next speech or presentation, if you use stories you will have more impact.
People forget facts, but they repeat stories. That’s why they should be at the top of your public speaking toolkit. Here are seven ways to use stories in your next talk or presentation:
1. Use stories to make it personal
When you tell a story, the audience recalls similar events in their own lives and a bond is created. As a result, stories enable you to form a relationship with your listeners in a matter of seconds.
Storytelling in action
For our first example, watch Audrey Choi’s TED talk on making global capital markets catalysts for social change. Notice how she begins by telling her mother’s story to provide context.
2. Use stories to share new information
Our brains are primed to pay attention to new information, which is one reason why our social media feeds are so addictive. The start of an unfamiliar story pulls people away from their smartphones and into the present moment. That’s how you grab attention.
3. Use stories to be emotive
Stories appeal to the core of the brain, bypassing the logical and judgemental layer. We make decisions emotionally, then back them up rationally. A story gives you direct access to that emotional decision-making centre. In business, speakers and presenters too often try to connect with people only on a rational level. While your audience may understand exactly what you want them to and why, they will only act on your message if they feel emotionally engaged.
4. Use stories to suggest a different perspective
Criticising an audience or instructing them what they should do, say or think will probably result in folded arms and mutters of discontent. But when you tell a story you demonstrate the consequences of an action, then your audience can learn without becoming defensive.
Storytelling in action
Margaret Heffernan is the former CEO of five companies. Watch how she starts her talk on the perils of organisational hierarchies with a story about chickens.
5. Use stories as an opportunity to vary your delivery
A story gives you an opportunity to communicate with more than words. Your body, gestures and facial expressions contribute to the conveying of emotion, so that your audience can empathise with the protagonist of your story.
6. Use stories to create suspense
You can entrance your audience in a state of tension until questions prompted by your story are answered. What happened next? How did it end? Bookend your speech or presentation with the start and end of a story to keep people’s interest throughout.
7. Use stories to be memorable
Lastly, sensory details engage our brains in a different way to plain data. They are cemented into memory for longer. Include details that add to the atmosphere of your story, such as any colours, smells or sights that will help your audience visualise the scenes you describe.
Storytelling in action
As our final example, watch how Simon Sinek sets the scene with a story in his talk on why great leaders make employees feel secure.
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