How to tell a story in a presentation

3D rendering Cosmic wormhole tunnelI come from Yorkshire and there’s a phrase often used there relating to how people tell stories –  “from t’thread t’ needle”. In other words, every detail is included, every side street, every nuance, every deviation…

It makes for a great conversation and a good night out over a beer or glass of wine but in a presentation it just doesn’t work. I am sure you will have been to a presentation when the speaker delved off into a story and even if was interesting, you soon begin to lose the will to live. Or you find yourself asking, ‘so what? Or what’s the point?

A worst-case scenario that I remember was listening to a remarkable woman who had suffered some horrendous events in her life and was sharing her story with the audience. Indeed her resilience, bravery and attitude toward life was extraordinary and humbling and should have been inspirational. I say, should have been but unfortunately, she told us everything, in the order it had all happened and in much detail. Everything. It seems dreadful to say so but I found myself, and others quietly admitted this afterwards as well, wondering when it was going to end (rather than being inspired) and weary of the events being shared (rather than being humbled or engaged or touched)

What was going on here?

When I work with my clients on telling a story and especially when it is telling their story, I remind them to work out first what is the point. Why are you telling this in the first place? And then structure the story around that, not the other way around.

Maybe you want to inspire others to take action. Maybe you want them to take hope or energy or inspiration from your own experiences. Maybe you want to teach. Maybe you want to make a reflection on life, business, humanity…

Not everything has to be said in the telling of a tale. As a storyteller, you have the power of time travel, telescopic vision and laser-focused vision. You can condense, expand, sketch or paint in full colour. In other words, you need to craft your stories, edit the content and ramp up the impact.

Here are eight tips:

  1. Decide on the point…
  2. Decide where you will start (this doesn’t have to be the linear or even logical start)
  3. Be prepared to fast forward minutes, days, weeks, years or even decades. This is fun and great to do because we can miss out all the in-between irrelevancies
  4. Remember you can always go back in time too, even briefly
  5. Pause on the moments or instances or reflections or decisions that are significant to your stories point and allow your audience to stay there too – paint a picture, evoke a feeling, pause to wonder or process
  6. Step out of your story to connect with the audience. Maybe they’ve experienced something similar – then say that. Perhaps they are wondering about something – then acknowledge that?
  7. Know where to end (this doesn’t have to be the actual end of the story but does need to deliver the endpoint)
  8. Edit ruthlessly – cut out any instances or people or conversations that may have happened in real life but in this telling of the story don’t add to the point and only serve to clutter the meaning.

Stories are one of the most powerful ways of engaging audiences and of putting across important and impacting messages. Speakers need to become story collectors and then learn the art of telling a good story by learning how to craft a good story.

If I can help, then give me a call or comment below. I’d love to hear your stories!

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