Harness the power of storytelling

In Presenting with Impact

By Candice Tomlinson

It was June 2001. I was 26 years old, ready to deliver a well-rehearsed and over-prepared presentation to approximately 100 HR Managers in a large auditorium in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

To say that I was terrified would be an understatement. While I was waiting to go in to address my esteemed audience, the heel on my shoe broke off.  Thank goodness for superglue!  I managed to re-attach the heel – crisis averted. 

I stepped into the auditorium armed with a phenomenal slide deck to showcase my key messages.  Much to my horror, the slides refused to project onto the screen.  Fortunately I was over-prepared and had brought a back-up!  I had transparencies and thankfully there was an overhead projector but as I switched the archaic instrument on, the bulb blew …

We have all had experiences, throughout our lives that make for great stories.  These experiences need not be tragedies nor disasters.  They can be simple, everyday experiences that become the platform for a great story. Your story becomes even more powerful when linked to a presentation or talk you have to give.

Anybody can be a great storyteller and I mean ANYBODY.  All we need to do, as a starting point, is be on the lookout for story opportunities. Thereafter, it is about constructing your story for the right audience and then authentically delivering that story in a way that resonates.

Why are stories so powerful?

Stories have a way of captivating us and sticking with us in ways that facts alone cannot.  Gabrielle Dolan, the author of “Stories for Work”, explains the science of storytelling.  She illustrates how all parts of the brain, including left and right brain, neocortex and reptilian brain, are stimulated by stories.  Stories evoke emotions and emotions drive our decisions.

This is affirmed by Rob Biesenbach, in “Unleash the power of storytelling”.  He shares why stories are so powerful:

  1. Stories tap into emotion.
  2. Stories put a face on an issue.
  3. Stories connect us.
  4. Stories humanise us.
  5. Stories raise the stakes.
  6. Stories are about show rather than tell.

The ‘how to’ of constructing stories

There are 3 key steps that you can use to turbo charge story construction.

The first step to constructing a great story is about knowing your audience. Audiences today are largely cynical, pushed for time and easily distracted. Knowing this can stand  you in good stead as you can pre-empt the kinds of looming questions that infiltrate the minds of audience members.

Audience members are typically asking the following questions:

  • Do I buy into you?
  • Do I buy what you are saying?
  • Why should I believe you?
  • How relevant is this to me?

The second step is articulating what your purpose is for this audience. For example, are you hoping to change behaviour, get the audience on board or lay the ground work for relationships?

Your purpose becomes your focus and when sharing stories in business you cannot afford to ramble and go off topic. Your purpose keeps your story on point.

The third step is crafting your story. In this final step of constructing your story consider the following:

  • The structure of your story – it should have a distinct beginning, middle and end.
  • Include a specific time and place. This indicates significance.
  • Name the characters. This makes your story authentic.
  • Keep your language real. Keeping it real means your audience pays attention.
  • Be disciplined with detail. Too much logical data disables emotional connections.
  • Embrace vulnerability. Try not to let fear and modesty hold you back.
  • Say it out loud. This is an important step to ensure your story sounds genuine.

Delivering your story

The art of storytelling is much more than just saying, “Let me tell you a story about…”.  It’s about telling the story in such a way that the audience feels as though they are reliving that story… as if it were their own.  To stand up, stand out and sustain their attention you need to bring passion, enthusiasm and energy into your story.

If you speak from the heart, vary your vocal variety, use pause for punch and use natural gestures and facial expressions you will amplify emotions and truly connect with your audience.  Using logic alone has the least impact, using emotion has double the impact.

And so, with all good stories comes an attempt at a good ending.

So, how did I end up?

“ … Right, no visual aids it was.  I can distinctly remember saying to myself, “You have to make this work, otherwise you will never present again!” 

 I did make it work.  It wasn’t perfect, however I made light of the visual aids disaster, I re-focused to ensure my key messages landed and I delivered a credible presentation that was well received … and I now have a story to tell when it comes to being thoroughly prepared and thoroughly rehearsed.

In summary

Truth, preparation and delivery are the fundamentals of magical stories that captivate the hearts and minds of audiences.

Good luck with your storytelling. Leave a comment to tell us how you get on!

We are holding two breakfast events, in Sydney on the 28th May and Melbourne on the 5th June, where we will be launching our new Present With Impact solution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *