Tips for Telling Stories in Your Presentations

Sections of this topic

    We have been discussing using stories in your presentations.Part One discussed the compelling reasons for using stories in business speaking. Part Two provided important Do’s for storytelling. Today we examine a few pertinent tips for better storytelling, and a few Don’ts you will want to be aware of.

    Tips for Better Storytelling:

    Think of structure. In order to grab and hold our attention, and to have greater meaning than just an anecdote or a ramble, stories need to have structure. Simply put, you need to set the stage, show the conflict or problem, build tension, have a turning point, and then resolution. Think about your favorite stories from Goldilocks to Star Wars, and see if you can’t observe the same structure in these stories.

    Think of the point you are making. Start by determining the point you want to make in your presentation and then look for a story that illustrates it. If the story doesn’t really make that point, it is going to fall flat, no matter how well you tell it. In business presentations, we need to get the point.

    Rehearse and try it out on others. It might be fun to remember that afternoon along the Seine, but unless others resonate with it, it may not be the story to tell. If others really respond positively to your story, then polish it to perfection and edit it for brevity. The story should be told in a minute or less for most business presentations, maybe two or three minutes for a more motivational presentation or an after dinner speech.

    Set it up well. Tell people why you chose this story. Tell them what the story illustrates. But don’t build I up too much (“You are going to love this story!”) or provide way too much background.

    Use dialog and names. Rather than saying “my aunt told me to wear clean underwear,” try saying: “My Aunt Bessie told me, “Never go out of the house without clean underwear, in case you get into an accident and need to go to the hospital.” Use a tone that sounds like an Aunt Bessie might sound. Here is a great place to use your acting skills.

    End it with a point. This is the resolution, or the moral of the story. Tie your story back to the business point you are making. Keep it simple, but make it good. “So that is why we always want to treat each and every customer with respect; you never know who you are talking to.”

    And a few don’ts;

    • Don’t go on and on. Edit, edit, edit. Keep it short. Don’t go on tangents.
    • Don’t tell too many personal stories (or stories that are “too personal.”) You can be self-effacing, but do it gently. Don’t brag about yourself, nor put yourself down too much.
    • Don’t tell stories that could offend. Would you tell this story to your grandmother? Or to Aunt Bessie? If not, probably it’s a little too risky.
    • Don’t tell stories that may shame others. Really think it through. Who is in your audience? What is the point you wish to make? Does anyone look bad in your story? Make sure if there is a butt of the joke, it is you.
    • Don’t tell stories that have no obvious point or message. You may be a great storyteller, but unless you can clearly tie the story to your content, save it for over lunch.

    So there you have it; why to use stories, how to tell them, and the do’s and don’ts of great delivery.

    How are your storytelling skills? What do you like to hear when others are speaking? We would love to know your thoughts and experiences.