The Art and Science of Presenting-Episode 11 – Storytelling

the word story

Each of us have stories to tell which hold the wisdom and power to influence, inspire and connect with others in a way that facts, numbers and data can’t even come close.

It seems to me that the last thing people really want more of at the moment is information.

Emails, texts, social media, instant messaging, the media, our boss, colleagues and customers together with report after report after report; we are all drowning in information.

Don’t get me wrong – we want to keep learning and we do need the facts but there has to be a better way.

A way to get the information on an emotional as well as an intellectual level that impresses and motivates us to act not simply understand. By far the most effective way to help people to learn, connect and engage emotionally to any important message is through telling them a powerful story which has relevance and meaning to the point you wish to make.

Once people make your story their story you will move them to action.

When people are presenting to others in a business setting most of the audience will already know who is on the platform as their name and position may be on the slide, the agenda or promotional document they received. It may even be someone internally that they know or someone who they have met before.

Whoever it is that is presenting and however well your audience really knows you there is one thing you can be certain of; they will have two questions for you before you utter a word. 

The first question is:

Who are you really? And I don’t mean your position or title!

The second is:

Why are you really here? In other words what do you have to tell me that is so important that you couldn’t just send me in an email?

The reason that’s the first thing on their mind is because most have sat through presentations like this before and previous speakers have just ‘dumped’ information on them. Now they are wiser and they need to know right from the start they can trust and believe in you.

Stories help them to decide whether they can and should.

Stories help people to see what you want them to see and what they need to see about the real you.

Every week we see very experienced leaders present the facts as they work under the bold assumption that by just giving them the information their audience will get the message. The real fact is that some will but many won’t. Facts often don’t mean very much or aren’t readily understood and absorbed unless they are given context by a good story.

When you give your listeners a good story first and then add the facts to support it you stand a far greater chance of them getting it and influencing action.

Telling a story isn’t as simple as just telling the story.

You have to bring the story to life.

1. Use your hands

Trying to tell a story with impact without using your hands to gesture is like trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a bicycle; you can try it but I promise you won’t get very far.

Using your hands effectively in a presentation doesn’t mean you have to throw them wildly around like you’re being attacked by a swarm of bees either as hand gestures can be far more subtle yet extremely powerful.

If you’re telling a story about something that was really big use your hands to simulate big. If it was really tall or tiny, make it tall or tiny with your hands. If you were nervous make your hands tremble and if you made a phone call in the story use your hands to make a phone call too, even though you aren’t holding a phone.

2. Use your face

Do you remember the last time you asked your partner, a colleague or a friend what was wrong with them because they didn’t look very happy and they replied saying ‘nothing’, but you knew differently?

Their words said one thing but their face told a completely different story.

If what you say isn’t matched by the way you say it in the facial expressions you use then the visible incongruence will not only create distrust it will render your story meaningless. When you tell a story you need to relive it with your face too. If you were happy look happy, if you were angry look angry again and if you were excited, sad, confused or depressed look like that too.

Your face can communicate your message in an instant much better than words.

3. Use your body

If you’re telling a story in which there were two main characters you can use your entire body to play both of them. When you’re speaking as the first be the first and then when you respond as the second switch to being the second. 

You may be telling a story about yourself as a concerned parent talking to a completely disengaged teenaged son or daughter in which case you know what both looked like so you can be both. You may be sharing an experience you had with a sullen boss while you were the anxious employee and you can be both of those too.

It may be subtle changes in the way you hold your head, shoulders or the way you stand and move or a complete change in your posture but you know how to do it so using your body to become that person will add enormous impact to your story.

4. Use your voice

Many presenters use a tiny proportion of their vast vocal range to connect with their audience yet it really is by far the greatest asset they have when it comes to presenting with impact.

When you’re telling a story you have a vast vault of tools at your disposal to bring your story to life. You can emphasise any point you wish to make by adjusting your volume, tone, pitch or pace, you can pause, speed up slow down to create any impact you wish to make.

If you’re telling a story designed to excite and energise you can use your voice to do just that or conversely if you wish to convey quiet concern you can do that too. You can be your belligerent mother-in-law, your autocratic boss, angry customer or over excited teenager; it’s all within your gift.

A word of caution though; if you’re not good at mimicking accents then don’t.

5. Use your memory

The best story tellers don’t just tell a story they relive it and help their audience to experience it with them. Despite the fact that most people spend a disproportionate amount of time telling others how bad their memory is, it’s not really true. By far the most powerful way to tell a story is to remember as much detail as you possibly can and to relive the story as you share it with your listeners.

A prerequisite to influencing others is getting them to trust and be comfortable with you and to help them to see that you are just like them. You can give them the facts all day long but that won’t necessarily create the common connection and understanding you need to inspire them to believe and act on your message.

A good story well told will.

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If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

Image: Courtesy of flickr.com

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