The business presenters guide to great storytelling at work


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Great storytelling is one of the most powerful ways of communicating your message with impact in the workplace today.

It’s not new, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle taught us about the value of great storytelling over 2000 years ago. Long before, PowerPoint and Prezi, storytelling has been the key to helping people enjoy, remember and connect with the spoken and written word.

Why is great storytelling so compelling?

Before I answer that, please keep in mind that I’ve mindfully chosen the term ‘great’ storytelling rather than simply storytelling. The reason for this is that storytelling itself is ubiquitous. It’s a part of our DNA. According to the National Geographic, ‘it has been suggested that storytelling developed not long after the development of language itself.’

Life is a story!

From the moment we wake up in the morning, to resting our weary heads on the pillow at night, everything we have experienced is part of our story.

It’s not the average, mundane stories that I’m referring to here. I’m talking about the rich relevant and rewarding ones.

Great storytelling works for business presenters because they:

– Build connections – they allow us to connect emotionally as well as intellectually with our audience.

– Describe the future – they show our audience what the future may look like for them if they act on the lesson from the story.

– Self-disclose – they give our audience a glimpse of our identity; who we really are.

– Share insight – they allow our audience to gain a clear, personal and accurate understanding of how we see things.

– Make ideas sticks – ‘Why do some ideas thrive while others die?’

– Drive action – For your audience to act on your message they need to be inspired not just informed.

– Hold attention, interest and curiosity – great storytelling can alter our audience’s brain chemistry.

Bad storytelling

Before we explore the key elements of great storytelling it’s worth noting what the bad ones look like. These are stories which:

– Have no point – your story doesn’t have a clear, rich and compelling point to it.

– Can’t relate – It’s of no relevance or personal value to your audience.

– Are too long – There’s nothing worse than listening to a long, boring story.

– Lack emotion – They don’t make your audience feel something.

Here are the key elements of great story telling at work today:

Set an intention

A story is only as good as it’s intention. In other words, how do you want the story to make your audience feel? You won’t find the right story until you have absolute clarity on the answer to that question. Do you want your audience to feel:

– Inspired

– Excited

– Curious

– Concerned

– Angry

– Empathy

– Supported

– Fear

– Wonder

If you’re not clear on the emotional connection you wish to make it’s unlikely you’ll find the right story.

Types of stories to tell

Here are a few examples:

– Values based stories

Showing your audience exactly what you stand for, what you believe in and what makes you who you are as an individual or business.

– People matter stories

Do you have a story about something being done that you know shouldn’t be done?

– Spark action stories

This is a story about an experience, change or action that created positive results. It helps the audience to imagine the benefits if they did something similar. It sparks the action required to drive change.

– Insight stories

Something you learned or experienced which could bring a new perspective to a problem or opportunity.

– Stories about motivation

Do you have a powerful story about what motivates you that may help others?

– Future stories

These are stories which help the audience to envision what the future could look like for them if the adopted a similar path.

– Failure stories

Hearing how other people turned a problem or failure into success can generate a great deal of empathy.

Make it personal

If your audience can’t see how your story relates directly to them and doesn’t feel personal, it’s more of a lecture.

Tell them a story which they can see themselves in.

Keep it Short

Open your story with impact and get to the point very quickly.

Paint pictures

– Use metaphors and similes

– Speak passionately

– Include descriptive language

– Be vulnerable

– Ask your audience to imagine

– Use emotional words

– Create a vision of the future

– Pause

Create tension/suspense

Award winning screenwriter and playwright, Paul Joseph Gulino suggests:

‘Tension is created when the audience hopes for one outcome of a situation and is afraid of another. The audience is held in suspense between the two outcomes.’

This is a very helpful tool in great storytelling.

Make it conversational

When you’re telling a story leave the corporate jargon in your desk drawer, instead:

– Keep it real

– Slow down

– Imagine you are speaking to friends

– Express yourself verbally and non-verbally

– Lighten up

– Emphasise key words/points

– A little humour where appropriate is healthy

Great storytelling makes presentations far more memorable and offers a clear path through influence and persuasion.

If you need help with great storytelling in business presentations:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

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