8 STORYTELLING TECHNIQUES TO IMPROVE YOUR PRESENTATION CONTENT

Over the last few blogs I have talked about the technical aspects of how to give  a good presentation. However, up to now I have spent far less time on how to create content that will grab your audience from the start and keep them interested through to the end – and more importantly, get them to remember what they heard long after you have finished talking.

 

THE ART OF STORYTELLING

For thousands of years we have used stories to get messages across because that is the way our brains work. We remember stories in the way we don’t remember plain facts. It is a mistake, therefore, to put together your presentation with only the facts that you want to get across.

If you want to deliver a presentation that gets into both the hearts and the minds of your audience, you should try and use, wherever possible, the art of storytelling.

The next few paragraphs will go through 8 different structures that you can choose from to give your next presentation added punch.

 

1 CLIMB THE MOUNTAIN

In this technique, you have to imagine taking your audience to climb a mountain, with all the ups and downs and dangers that it involves. Sometimes there is no happy ending, either!

WHY USEFUL?

  • Builds up the suspense
  • Shows how challenges have been/can be overcome
  • The release of tension = satisfactory conclusion

 

2 THE HERO’S JOURNEY

Most of the stories we heard as children follow this format, and many of the excellent TV series we have at the moment do, too. And it is universal, international and multicultural. All cultures have this format of story so the technique is also very useful if you are working in a multicultural environment.

In the journey the hero leaves somewhere safe, (think Luke Skywalker, Jason and his Argonauts or even the Simba from the Lion King), and then goes on a voyage to unknown, and often threatening, territory.

After great adventures, where not everything goes their way, the hero eventually returns home with new found wealth or knowledge.

You can use the format to show your audience how you have come to have your wisdom that you are now going to share with them via the presentation.

(For more reading on what is a hero’s journey, there is an excellent book by Joseph Campbell that can be ordered here).

WHY USEFUL?

  • Takes the audience on a journey
  • Shows the benefits of leaving somewhere perceived of as ‘safe’
  • Demonstrates why you can be trusted

 

3 IN MEDIA RES

You must have seen films that start in the middle of the story, then go back in time to show how we got to there, before going on to finish off the narrative. This is what is referred to as “In Media Res”, (from the Latin meaning ‘into the middle of things’).

The idea is that by starting with the most exciting part of the story, your audience will be gripped from the beginning – and will want to know how we got here. And then what happens!

Give your listeners just enough information to awaken their curiousity, and then go backwards to fill in the gaps. Be careful to use only if your presentation is a relatively short one.

While researching this blog, I was pointed to an excellent video from the TED series that shows perfectly the technique at work. I am ready to bet that you will want to watch to the end.

Check out this speaker’s story.

WHY USEFUL?

  • Grabs attention from the off
  • The audience will be demanding a resolution (therefore willing to hear what you have to say)
  • Focuses attention on the pivotal part of your story.

 

4 SPARKLINES

Nancy Duarte (who wrote the book ‘Resonate‘ from which this theory comes), believes that what makes a great speech sparkle is that the speaker makes a comparison between what is and what could be.

In the presentation that uses sparklines, the speaker can highlight the problems that exist and then show the alternative, more glowing, possibilities; (sometimes, if you need to do a warning, then the same technique can be used to show the dangers of not reacting).

It is a technique that hits the emotions of the listeners squarely and, done well, will drive support for whatever it is you need supporting.

WHY USEFUL?

  • Creates a desire for action on the part of the audience
  • Builds a feeling of hope and of excitement
  • Builds a following; (every time that I open Facebook, I have sponsored ads that use this technique to try and get me to sign up to their webinar or online training programme. And I will admit that I will do the same thing. It works.)

 

5 FALSE START

This is just like a race. The gun goes off but you are already out of your blocks and running. However, unlike in the Olympics, you get to go again.

And also unlike the Olympics, your false start is deliberate.

Start by doing what seems like an ordinary, standard presentation. Lull your audience into a false sense of security, or even boredom.

But then stop. And start again. But this time with a story, style and technique that will grab your audience by the horns and carry them willingly to the end.

It is a powerful technique if you are one of a number of presenters or if you need your audience to pay closer attention.

WHY USEFUL?

  • Keeps the audience on their toes
  • Disrupting expectations
  • Shows others how flexible you can be.

 

6 CONVERGING IDEAS

Many things that we take for granted today have come about because two (or more) minds that were working on separate ideas came across one another serendipitously.

The ideas might have seemed to outside observers to be running parallel  but in fact they were running at a slight angle, turning in towards each other. This is how things so far removed from each other as Google and DNA came to be created or discovered.

And as a presentation technique you can run two seemingly disparate threads that will, eventually, join up that, in hindsight, seems like a predetermined meeting point.

WHY USEFUL?

  • Shows how there can be synergy between different ideas if looked at properly
  • Demonstrates the importance of symbiosis in teamworking
  • Telling stories about history

 

7 PETAL STRUCTURE

We have seen above that a presentation doesn’t need to have just one story in it, but if there are several, they do need to come together one moment or another to make a coherent whole.

This technique is where there are several stories that need to be told and, although there can be some overlap, ideally they should each have their own internal story arc while still relating to the over-arching concept of our presentation –  or presentations if there are more than one.

For example, if you have a technical presentation to do, with lots of evidence to supply, this is one way to bring the presentation to life while not losing its thread, (or your audiences attention), along the way.

WHY USEFUL?

  • When there are several speakers giving presentations on a uniform theme
  • Demonstrating an interconnectedness
  • Emphasises the central idea

 

8 NESTED LOOPS

These are basically stories within stories; (this technique comes from NLP, or neuro-linguistic programming). The idea is your core message – the most important ‘story’ – is in the centre and you use the stories surrounding it to show how you got to where you are now.

In other words, the first story you begin is the last story you finish, and vice versa.

(A good article on the technique can be found here).

Start by telling a story, a metaphor or an anecdote. Go almost to the end of your story – but don’t quite finish it.

Now start another. Once you have told all the stories you need to you get to the main point and then you start finishing them, one by one and in reverse order.

The authors of the above article gives the following as an example of a simple nested loop structure:

“I remember when I first met him (1)…he told me (2)…that he met someone who said to him (3)…INSTRUCTIONS…(3), (2), (1).”

By not finishing the stories straight away, you are building up the suspense – which is what we like in a story. It keeps us hooked. Attention, curiousity, anticipation and wanting to know to know more are ideal states for learning.

WHY USEFUL?

  • In conversation
  • for coaching sessions
  • at the start of a speech to get participants attention.

 

 

CONCLUSION

Hopefully I have given you some food for thought about how you can give your content a bit more life and organise what you want to say in such a way that your audience won’t want you to finish.

These are just 8 ideas. There are many more out there and I will look at them in future posts. Which technique you chose is going to be determined by three things:

  1. what message you are trying to get across
  2. who you are trying to get the message across to and
  3. who you are and therefore which method you feel most comfortable with.

By all means, feel free to comment on this post and if you have a presentation that you need to do and need some help putting the technique of storytelling into practice, then do not hesitate to contact us. We are happy to help.

Until next time.

THE THINK TRAINING TEAM

 

 

 

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