“When we hear a story, our brains change dramatically”
Storytelling is a community act that involves sharing knowledge and values. It’s one of the most unifying elements of mankind, central to human existence, taking place in every known culture in the world.
In the same way, presentations in all their many forms are never just about transferring information alone. We are emotional beings, like it or not, and to connect and engage people to the degree that they will care enough to listen to you, you have to evoke in them some kind of emotion.
When we consume uninteresting information, like listening to a presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part of our brain called the Wernicke’s area is activated to translate the words into meaning. That’s pretty much all that happens.
When we hear a story, our brains change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts activated, but so are whatever areas that would be used if you were actually in the story yourself.
When a great story is told, we lean forward and our heart rate accelerates as the story unfolds. Can the same power be leveraged for presentations? Absolutely yes! Embedding storytelling in your presentation can entertain, persuade and inform the audience. Once the presentation is put into a story form, it has structure, creates imbalance the audience wants to see resolved and identifies the clear gap the audience wants to be filled.
A great story is never just about you or something that happened to you, no matter how seemingly interesting the characters or events may be. A great story, no matter the subject, is always really about them (the audience) with a universal appeal.
Fortunately, if you are not a born storyteller, the ability to tell a story successfully can be learned. This article examines some techniques you could use:
In medias res
In medias res, storytelling is when you begin your narrative in the heat of the action, before starting over at the beginning to explain how you got there.
The effect of starting in the middle is that significant questions and consequent tension is created as the audience wonder about what happened before.
When used in TV it’s generally a preamble to a ‘flashback’, which falls under ‘How We Got Here’ — where the action starts at the middle or end of the story and quickly flashes back to the real beginning.
By dropping your audience right into the most exciting part of your story they’ll be gripped from the beginning and will stay engaged to find out what happens.
Be careful that you don’t give away too much of the action straight away. Try hinting at something bizarre or unexpected – perhaps something that needs more explanation. Give your audience just enough information to keep them hooked, as you go back and set the scene of your story. It also works better for shorter presentations, because if you string it out too long your audience will get frustrated and lose interest.
False starts, dead ends and bad beginnings
A ‘false start’ story is when you begin to tell a seemingly predictable story, before unexpectedly disrupting it and beginning it over again. You lure your audience into a false sense of security, and then shock them by turning the tables.
This format is great for talking about a time that you failed in something and were forced to ‘go back to the start’ and reassess. It’s ideal for talking about the things that you learnt from that experience.
Some of the best stories are about failures and defeats. Most people, however, do not want to talk about their failures or their struggles and weaknesses. However, it is your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable that draws your audience in.
Persuasive storytelling starts with identifying the “what is,” which is the intended audience’s unappealing current status quo, and introducing the “what could be,” an appealing place where the audience wants to be or go. This process is called Sparkline, a methodology introduced by Nancy Duarte, a writer, speaker and CEO.
The presenter draws attention to the problem and lays out a vision of what could be. This contrast happens several times before presenting the final vision.
The map looks like this:
To apply this technique, think of the struggle of the current problem. Then ask how the situation could look if the outlook was different, if something was changed – a potential solution. Something that will inspire the audience to take action.
By doing this the presenter draws attention to the problems we have in our society, our personal lives, and our businesses. The presenter creates and fuels a desire for change in the audience.
It can be a highly emotional technique that is sure to motivate your audience to support you. We’re all learning all the time – that’s why change is fundamental in story.
Master your skills
If you know you need to improve your public speaking and presentation skills, mastering the ability to tell a great story should be high on your list. Stories have the power to create interest and drama from even the driest data.
Maurice Kerrigan Africa offers a two-and-a-half-day training course on Effective Speaking and Presentation that will equip you with all the tools you’ll need to present to any audience – whether it is to conference delegates, a board of directors or your colleagues.
Whether you’re a business executive with some presentation experience, or a junior manager tackling the ‘beast’ as a novice, let Maurice Kerrigan Africa teach you the effective public speaking skills you need to present with more ease, less stress and greater impact.
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