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Presentation Skills & Techniques: Storytelling

What Is It About Storytelling That Helps Bring A Presentation Alive?

Stories work and stories have value because they help us understand. Through stories, facts and raw data gain meaning. Stories are how we best learn and visualize information. They simplify and clarify even the most complex information. They can hook an audience with emotion. What's more, stories help people remember what they've heard.

We're all storytellers.
A story, at it's simplest, is the narrative telling of an event or experience. It links events in some kind of logical and believable sequence.

We all tell stories all the time. We remember what we experience, and we tell other people what we remember in the form of a story. Human memory itself is story-based. We find it a lot easier to remember what other people have said if they tell it as a story. We learn from these stories, as others learn from the stories we tell. (See our article, Be A Storyteller, in the Winter 2003 issue of The Total Communicator.)

How to use stories.
  • Your stories should fit within the context of your presentation, or at least tie in with your surrounding remarks. Your stories won't work if you force fit them into your presentation. They won't work either if you put your presentation on hold while you digress to tell a story that has no purpose.
  • Make your stories relevant to the experience and interests of your audience. Each story should have a point to it that your listeners can easily grasp and readily identify with.
  • Keep your stories short—two to three minutes at most. Leave out any unnecessary detail. Use your story to quickly clarify or support a point you're making, then move on.
  • A good story puts information in perspective. It doesn't replace information.
  • A good story paints a picture. It helps your listeners "see" what you're saying.
  • Make something happen in the story. It should happen in a specific time and place. Make the characters in your story sympathetic and real.
  • Use stories sparingly.
  • A good story is one you're comfortable telling. It won't ring true if you're seen to be forcing it in any sense.
  • And the best of stories? It's a story that stays with your audience—one they'll remember long afterwards.
How to find stories.
There's really no limit to the sources that can yield a good story. Stories can come from just about anywhere: from personal experience or the experience of others; or from books, newspapers and magazines, the Internet, movies and TV programs. Some presenters even find stories from mythology. You can also recycle and adapt stories others have used. Just be sure your listeners are not likely to have heard the story before. If you do lift a story you've heard from someone else, give credit to the source.

Telling your stories.
When you're telling a story, put some feeling into it. You're telling a story, after all, not reciting facts or raw data. Your eye focus, voice, posture, gestures—all combine to add emotional power to your stories. When you use these techniques effectively, your stories have a much better chance of resonating with your listeners. Think of the good speakers you've heard—anyone, whether a colleague, your CEO, a public figure, even a performer being interviewed. Listen for the ways in which they weave stories into their remarks.

Finally, as part of your preparation, practice your delivery. Practice, again and again.

This Issue

Bring storytelling to your organization! We'll create a personalized version of our flagship Executive Storytelling seminar and customize for your company's particular goals and needs. We will teach you and your colleagues how to create and integrate stories into their presentations. Or work one-on-one with our consultants to develop your storytelling skills. Call us at 1-800-874-8278 (US) or +1.201.894.8200 (International) to talk about your needs.

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