Tips for creating the best presentation

How to Use Storytelling in Presentations

Have you ever listened to a presenter who subtly inserted a story or narration into his presentation, so that you barely realize that he was actually trying to make the audiences more ease to understand his ideas or absorb the information he was conveying?

Storytelling is the most effective way of presentation. It is an old and powerful form of communication to translate ideas and move people to action.

Humans are designed for storytelling. It is confirmed by a research conducted by a neurologists from Princeton University, New Jersey, United States, Uri Hasson. Hasson investigated the effects of storytelling on the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Together with his team, he scanned the brain activities of his research participants as they listened to a storyteller. The brain activity of the listeners and the storyteller is synchronized and Hasson finds this activity was in harmony.

In presentations, this harmony is certainly beneficial because the audience will more easily understand your presentation material when there is synchronization. Furthermore, you can incorporate your ideas and move the audience to make decisions or do things based on those ideas.

The human brain has needs for stories or narratives, like schemes, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, or metaphors. So, take advantage of these things in the presentation. In many ways, we use stories as a way to think and understand the world around us.

Choosing to right story

It may sounds easy, but using stories in presentations has several rules.

1. Touch your audience emotions

The main purpose of using stories in presentations is to provide an emotional experience to the audience. Great communicators say the most effective and efficient way to provide this experience is through the use of metaphors or analogies.

Humans see and remember things based on how they correspond to something else. Metaphors help the brain in this activity. Through metaphors, presenters can explain difficult concepts through association with something that more familiar. Metaphorical thinking can also be used to help solve problems.

2. Put stories in context

When you decide to use story in a presentation, make sure the story fits the context of it. Be careful in choosing a story because a forced story will have the opposite effect.

The wrong story will cut your relationship off with the audience and make it difficult for them to understand your direction or purpose in the presentation.

3. Relevance

Your stories must be able to connect with audiences’ experience and interest. Every story must have at least one point that they want to hear and can be understood. You want to use stories to put information into perspective, not to replace it.

One other thing to be considered is you also have to keep your story short and leave unnecessary details. This step is important to make your story relevant and clear in order to support the information in the presentation.

4. Visualizing

Act as if you are drawing a picture of your idea to make you easier to think of a story. Make one that is easily visualized: where something happens in a certain time and place, played by characters who are likely to have relevance to your audience, and so on.

5. Keep it simple

No need to overdo or use too many stories (remember the importance of keeping the story short and leaving the unnecessary details as mentioned above) in your presentation. Also, make sure you will feel comfortable telling the story. If you think you won’t get comfy with it, your audience can sense it and this will have a negative impact on them.

6. Personal story

If possible, put your own story in presentation. Stories that have a personal touch will be naturally embedded in the minds of the audience and last long enough. Your audience will also be more easily connected to you.

Personal stories also make it easier for you to interweave stories. You will more easily choose how you tell the story, which details you will tell, or decide which elements will most strongly touch the audience’s emotions.


Steve Jobs’ storytelling structure

World’s leading speakers use storytelling in their presentations, like Steve Jobs, for instance. The founder of Apple Computer is always able to sweep and amaze his audience in every presentation of Apple’s product launches. Not only because of the product sophistication, but also because of the strength of his story.

Jobs also includes elements or personal experiences in his stories, such as when he developed and launched an iPod product.

You can use Steve Jobs’ presentation structure as your reference because it is very simple. Jobs did not use complex structures to create excitement. Almost all of Jobs presentations follow a structure like this:

1. Here is what I am going to tell you

2. Here is what I promised to tell you

3. Here is what I just told you

4. And because I am a nice guy, here one more thing

The first three parts of the structure use “ad nauseam” or repeatedly until the audience memorizes that sequence. The last part is different. Though the audience knows Jobs always has “one more thing” to add to the end of the presentation, they never knew what this “one more thing” would be like.

This kind of structure give tension like suspense movies. If we look closely, the way the power of storytelling works in presentation is indeed the same as what your favorite films or books do.

Stories trigger chemical, physical, and emotional responses to the audience. The brain releases oxytocin which motivates cooperation by increasing empathy. That’s why stories will make it easier for the audience to accept and apply new ideas and move based on those ideas.

Storytelling skills in presentations are something you must have. Storytelling is still the most powerful way to get and hold audience attention, to the point of changing their belief in an idea. (*)

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