How to Tell a Story in a Presentation – 4 Simple Steps

Storytelling is vital to a professional presentation. Once you learn how to tell a story in a presentation, you can build your reputation significantly.   Storytelling can help you connect personally with your audience and make your presentation more memorable.  

Many people hesitate to tell personal stories.  Common self-doubt include

  • “What does this have to do with anything?”
  • “How can I talk about this in a professional presentation?”
  • “How can I tie this in without sounding weird?”

Here are the easy answers- your story has a LOT to do with your content. Yes, you CAN talk about it in a professional presentation. And there’s an easy way to seamlessly tie the story back without sounding awkward. That story you’re thinking about sharing- the first time you stood up on a pair of skis, or the way you divvy toys among your children to keep the peace, or how your high school golf experience paid off when you sank a difficult hole-in-one- can bring a new depth of personal connection to your presentations. It will enhance your audience connection, enjoyment, and retention. Let’s take those concerns off your plate!  Follow these four simple steps to figure out what your story is really about, where to use it, and how to tie it back to your content.

4 Steps for Seamless Story-telling

Step 1: What is the meaning/ metaphor of your story?: This is where the “what how to tell a story in a presentationdoes this have to do with anything?” concerns get addressed. Every good story is more than just the sum of its parts- and finding the overarching metaphor or meaning of your story is the key to finding in which presentation it may work. Once you’ve structured your story, ask yourself “what’s the big idea”? For example, the story about your golf hole-in-one might be a tale of perseverance paying off after years and years of trying. The number of presentations where this big idea could apply are endless. So, if you think that golf has nothing to do with the demo presentation, you’re wrong. The meaning or metaphor is bigger than the details.

Step 2: Is it the story of your whole presentation? Or just a part?: Using our example above, we can determine if the story is worthy of building an entire presentation around (like a TED Talk) or if it’s useful just to illustrate a moment within a presentation. To do this, you need to marry the thrust of your presentation with the meaning or metaphor. Say your entire presentation is about introducing a new software product that will finally solve a consumer problem that has existed for a long time. You could build your entire demo presentation around that golf story- how the effort of you and your colleagues finally paid off.

Or perhaps there is just one small section of the presentation that deals with that idea. Guess what? You can streamline your story and use it to briefly illustrate that point in one moment of your presentation. Remember, while a story can be on the long side, it doesn’t have to be. A story can be a few sentences long and still get the point across.

Step 3: Give it a specific, creative “in”: You don’t have to say “let me tell you a story” to weave one into your presentation. There are lots of other ways to set up your story, now that you know where and how it fits into your content. For now, let’s look at using a story to illustrate one thought in your presentation.  Saying “and now, let me tell you a story” can sound stodgy- you want the idea to flow right from your content, and there are a few ways you can do that.

One option is to be daring and just launch into the exposition of your story- your audience will go with you! It will also give them a bit of a mystery to follow as they are suddenly taken on a new journey.  Or, if you truly feel that you need a segue, use specific details about your story itself as your lead in: “Believe it or not, one brilliant moment on the golf course hit this idea home.” “This reminds me of my awful golf swing in high school.” “The last time I felt this accomplished, I was pulling out my golf clubs.” Whatever it is, using those details will help you seamlessly begin a story without asking permission to do so.

Step 4: The conclusion or main point should bring you back to your content: Use the conclusion of your story as a bridge back. Once again, don’t feel you have to telegraph your meaning to the audience by saying something along the lines of “the moral of the story is…”, but do revisit the big idea of your story. One way to do this is to actually make your content part of the story. Let’s keep using our golf example. At the end of your story, you can say something like “I knew the frustation we were having with the old system was like my years of unfulfilled golf games- even though all of the knowledge and experience were there, we just couldn’t make it work. But we knew that, if we just persevered, we’d sink that elusive hole-in-one, and be able to celebrate.”

When you find the real meaning behind a story, then you can free yourself from feeling the need to ask permission of your audience to tell it.  With a personal story, you can do some truly effective business storytelling that also seamlessly ties back to your content.  The big ideas, both of your story and within your presentation, will help you succeed.

Your comments:  Do you tell personal stories in Presentations?  Do these steps help?  Try it today and let us know how it goes.  Share your comments below

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This is guest post with edits by Lei Han

Guest Author: Bridget Beirne – Bridget has a background in Theatre and in business.  She currently works in marketing and social media for Ovation Communication, and is also the acting chief editor of the OC Blog

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