The magic of storytelling in presentations

Telling stories is one of the most powerful means at our disposal to influence, teach, and inspire. Stories give you the ability to motivate and connect with people. By putting those people at the centre of the story, you can change their perspective. 

63% of attendees remember stories, while only 5% remember statistics. 

Stories actually trigger the release of Oxytocin, which encourages empathy in the receiver of the story. 


How to tell a story 

Set the scene 

Introduce the challenge at hand for your audience to question and hopefully solve with your guidance and help. Hook your audience’s interest by presenting the main problem and the complications this comes with. 

By presenting the issue as a common experience, as something everyone faces, you create a shared universe where you and your audience both exist and share common ground. The audience now knows the problem at hand and expects you to have a solution to this, building much needed suspense. 

The story within the story … Starting with anecdotes is often a very useful way to grab the attention of an audience that wants a practical view of the problem. For example, if your presentation’s aim is to explain how your service can be improved, why not talk about a reported critical incident that highlights some of the service’s shortfalls? If the presentation is about the way in which your service could be made more patient-focussed, why not start by discussing a specific complaint that highlights the issues you want to address? This will often be more effective than a bunch of statistics, which can be presented slightly later once you have grabbed your audience’s attention. 

Develop the story 

People want to hear about practical solutions, not lengthy waffle. In most bad presentations, 80% of the time is spent on setting the scene, complete with endless and useless graphs, and very little is spent on resolving the problem. 

The middle part of your presentation should focus on introducing opportunities, ideas, and the potential for betterment. In doing so, you become the hero of this story, the one who can bring this much-needed change. Make direct comparisons between the present, where the problem still exists, and the future, where this is solved through your ideas. By going back and forth between these comparisons, you will create tension and release, keeping your audience gripped. 

When you present your ideas, talk about their concrete impact. Think of all the dimensions your idea affects: patient care, staff wellbeing, finances, etc. Most doctors like to focus on the patient side but often ignore the rest. Yet your audience is mostly made up of colleagues, be they clinicians or managers. Be practical too. Your unit lead or chief exec won’t be satisfied with broad statements such as “It will improve patient care”, or “It will make the service cheaper”. How will it improve patient care? How much cheaper? Go back to the anecdote you used in your introduction and explain how the experience could have been different for the patient who complained. Tell more stories. 

End on a practical and inspiring note 

Look at how your audience can implement your ideas and solution for change. The end of your presentation is where everything is tied together, the conclusion. It is where the vital lessons and takeaway messages should be positioned, where you state the points and ideas you want your audience to remember. Summarise your story and allow your audience to reflect on what they’ve learnt, encourage them to imagine a new future where they too can use your solutions for better. 


So, how do you make it come alive?! 

Create vibrant characters 

Characters come alive when they are multi-faceted, when they have enough detail and description to be believable. Telling a story successfully is done through three-dimensional characters. They can assist you, the presenter, in your quest to find solutions and new ideas. 

Set the scene 

Using dialogue instead of narration can help your public speaking become more dynamic. Instead of telling your audience what happened, transport them to the incident and reconstruct the events through vivid descriptions and conversations that took place. 

Add a little suspense 

Much like a book or movie, a presentation can use suspense to keep your audience questioning and engaged. You need a conflict and a plot. You can add suspense to your story telling is by relaying events chronologically towards a climatic conclusion, or by starting at the very end and traveling back in time to discover how this problem was first found. It’s a bit like a Netflix series where they start with a disaster wedding and a runaway bride, then spend the next 10 episodes showing you how they got there. 

Immerse your audience 

Use your words and images to help your audience create a clear mental picture of the problems at large and the change you want to make. Using sensory details is incredibly vital to your world budling and thus your story telling. What can your audience see, touch, hear and smell. 

Make it personal 

Stories of people defeating adversity have a universal appeal, much like the hero defeating the monster. Making your story personal will resonate with audiences, help them connect with you and build trust. Sometimes a little self-deprecation helps build a better rapport too. 

There must be a moral of the story 

Successful presentations not only have conflict and suspense to make it more thrilling, but fundamentally they offer a positive solution. Your audience is there to learn and grow. Much like characters in your storytelling, you want your audience to triumph and overcome these problems. The moral of your story, the lesson learned, the solution is best summarised into a short phrase or memorable tagline. 

You don’t have to be a naturally gifted storyteller to adopt some of these elements into your presentations. By using structured flow and some components listed above, your presentations will begin to feel more vivid, engaging and most importantly, memorable. 

If you want to learn more, why not attend our Online Public Speaking and Advanced Presentation Skills Course

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