Bring Stories Into Your Presentations

You say you’re not a storyteller? Maybe you’re not one who unwinds long narratives with theatrical gestures, mimicked voices and dialects, and dramatic stage techniques. But, we all have and tell real stories every day. We tell about things we did, the funny and wise things someone said, things we saw, our histories—funny, sad, informing, and inspiring stories. We may not acknowledge them as stories or ourselves as storytellers. But they are. It’s all just living. Stories enliven, they connect, they illustrate, and they compel audiences to listen. Once we see how common stories are in our lives, storytelling gets a whole lot easier. Here are some hints for bringing the power of stories into your presentations.

Use stories for a specific purpose. A story may just help you connect to your audience. They can start or close a speech or support for a particular point in between. But, stories are more than a reporting of events. They convey a larger idea-based frame of reference; though not necessarily a "moral." The audience must see the purpose or idea conveyed your story. If only an ornamentation, or worse, an ego trip, the audience may see it as pretentious, trivial, or false.

  • Give them the real deal. The best stories are about real people in real situations. They tap into our natural curiosity about our shared human condition. Stories can be about you, someone unknown to the audience, or a familiar or famous person.
  • Don't just make them "I" stories, see the "we" in stories. While stories about and from your own life are best, don’t make them an ego trip. Use the word "I" sparingly. Resist the temptation to make yourself the hero of your story. Pick stories that connect your own interests and experiences those of your audience. Remember that the best stories are those that have universal appeal. Use connective language ("Like many of you ." or "As you can           appreciate.").
  • Make them short, simple, direct, and clear. Long or convoluted stories with many characters and events are risky, time-consuming, and can be boring. Keep stories short. Don’t try to be obscure or mannered. Make the point crystal clear. Use plain language. Tell them, don’t read to them. Stories are meant to be felt, understood, and enjoyed.
  • But, load up on details. Details make stories real, colorful, and interesting. They are more movies than snapshots. Use dates, names, places, time, numbers, and colors. Sometimes, describe (if you can) feelings, attitudes, and perspectives.
  • Avoid acting, unless you are doing this as a performance. Professional storytellers are performers. They are appreciated by the audience as an act, like a stage play. Your goal will seldom be to be appreciated as an actor. To the contrary, the point is that your story and you are very real, like the audience and their stories.
  • Don’t be afraid to display genuine emotion. While stage acting is risky for amateurs, displaying genuine emotions is powerful. Real emotions that are congruent with the story enhance its impact. The authentic feeling the audience sees and appreciates in your rendition of a story may pay connection and credibility dividends when you seek to move the audience toward the substance goal of your message.
  • Practice telling your stories. While not acting, you still want to deliver your story the best you possibly can. You also want to strengthen your familiarity with your stories. To do this, practice telling your stories out loud. Record your practice. Get the opinions of others. You will see nuances that can improve each story. Even true stories can be told in different and improved ways. Try telling them from different perspectives. Try the story in the present tense. Maybe, work in a prop.
  • Tap into the wealth of material all around you. You should look for stories. But you won’t have to look very far. You only need to recognize the stream of human experiences you swim in every day. Common experiences make the best stories—family, work, friends, hobbies, chores, accidents, street scenes, all aspects of daily living. Explore your memory of past experiences. Listen for the stories in how others talk about events in their life. Good stories about famous people are easy to find. Gather and record good stories for future use. Over time you will see ways to adapt them for many uses.

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