How to use stories in presentations and talks

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.

How many stories can you remember from your childhood?  The fairy stories? The classic tales? The religious stories?  I am sure you could recite many of these. But how much do you remember of the presentations you have heard over the last month? Not much, I suspect.

When your mother sat you on her knee and told you stories, she was communicating in the most powerful way possible.  Our brains love stories because they help us make sense of the facts.

In a story not only do things happen, but also there is a reason for things happening.

  • The sleeping princess was asleep because a wicked witch was jealous of her.
  • The castle was abandoned because she had been asleep for hundreds of years.
  • The prince kissed her because she was so beautiful.
  • They married and lived happily ever after because that is what princes and princesses do in all the stories.

In your next presentation – whether to investors, shareholders or potential clients, aim to tell the story behind the information:

  • Why are sales up by 3%?
  • What caused the reduction in costs?
  • What will this mean for the business?
  • How do you stand out from the competition?
  • What will the new product do?

The stronger your story, the easier it is to be remembered and understood.

You can create great presentations by taking the information you want to communicate and turning it into a powerful story that links it all together.  The best communicators have learned how to tell good stories.

After all, facts get forgotten.  Stories get repeated.

Seven ways to use stories in your next talk or presentation:

  1. Make it personal

  2. Share new information

  3. Be emotive

  4. Show a different perspective

  5. Vary your delivery

  6. Be memorable

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Start your journey to world-class public speaking skills now

First, download our free ebook to start your journey towards. You’ll learn our 5-step process for transforming your Presentations: inspirational, memorable and persuasive.

It’s full of practical tips and insights

  • Increased you confidence
  • Persuade your audience.
  • Engage  your audience.
  • Plan and structure your talks.

Download your free copy of our Five Steps to Transform your Leadership Talks ebook now.

What’s your story?

If you have an upcoming speech or presentation we can help. You will communicate clearly, confidently and with impact. And, of course, we’ll help you identify stories you can use and coach you to deliver them with impact.

Simply call Louise on 020 7018 0922 or email louise@benjaminball.com to find out more.

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About Benjamin Ball Associates

Benjamin Ball Associates Team

At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help clients to communicate better.

Over the years the BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present themselves in English. You get access to a transformational toolbox of techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.

We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.

Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email louise@benjaminball.com to find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation.

Contact us to transform your public speaking skills

Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

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Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

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