Making a presentation can be both stressful and intimidating. Whether you’re pitching a business, showcasing a design, or just reporting on your progress, you’ll be responsible for informing, persuading, and possibly entertaining an audience.
One of the best approaches you can take is the use of storytelling. For example, if you’re showing off a new architectural design, it’s not enough to merely showcase the structure of the building; it’s on you to create a narrative that brings story, emotion, and life to your work.
But how can you effectively do this?
Why Storytelling Is Important
Storytelling is essential to the human experience, and remains one of our most powerful communicative tools. Telling a story, rather than making a bland, empty presentation, will help you in a few key ways:
- Emotional payoff. It would be hard to emotionally connect with a brick wall. But what if you learned that wall survived bombings from multiple different wars? What if you knew that wall was part of a building where a famous historical figure was born? What if you then learned the wall was about to be torn down? All of a sudden, that wall has more meaning—and you can use that narrative context to inspire emotion in your audience.
- Audience engagement. Stories are also more engaging. It’s why the most popular movies at the box office are the ones that tell a cohesive story that includes a beginning, middle, and end, and not ones with a mosaic of loosely interconnected scenes. If you frame your presentation as a story, your audience will stay with you to see the conclusion—and they’ll have a sense for why you’re presenting what you are.
- Memorability. Finally, stories make your information more memorable to an audience. People are bad at memorizing specific facts, dates, and other discrete pieces of information, but are good at remembering general stories, moods, and directions. It’s why competitive memorizers use a “memory palace” to build a framework for otherwise contextless information, like the order of a shuffled deck of cards.
Integrating More Storytelling
If you’re giving a presentation about the life and death of a specific person, the story’s already told for you; you won’t have to do much to integrate storytelling into your presentation. But if you’re delivering something more abstract, you’ll have to go out of your way to find a narrative arc.
Consider these approaches.
- Have a beginning, middle, and end. Every story should have some kind of basis with a beginning, middle, and end. Because there are thousands of types of presentations you could give, there are practically infinite ways you can apply this. For example, you can talk about the literal past, present, and future of a business or an artifact. Or you could describe the path your team took to come up with this final concept. In any case, you’ll need to set the stage for yourself, develop your ideas, and lead your audience to a final conclusion.
- Personify inhuman elements. Telling stories about people is easy, but it’s harder with inanimate objects, animals, and other inhuman elements. You can work around this by personifying your inhuman presentation elements. What kind of personality does this building have? Can you assign a name to this animal or this car? People love to personify things, so this shouldn’t be hard.
- Show, don’t tell. Some of the best advice for creative writers is to “show, rather than tell.” This may seem like dumb advice for a public speaker, since you’ll be telling your audience everything (technically). But think about this conceptually. The advice is meant to force your readership (or in this case, your audience) to draw conclusions, rather than being force-fed those conclusions. For example, instead of saying “Lana was nervous,” you could say “Lana was biting her nails and looking over her shoulder.” The latter implies that Lana was nervous, rather than spelling it out. Use these cues in your own presentation, letting your audience figure out the crux of your story.
- Introduce conflict and resolution. There are many ways to do this. You could talk about the obstacle your company is facing, and how investors could help. You could talk about the struggle of finding a perfect design and the thrill of finally finding it. Whatever you do, introducing both tension and a mode of resolution will keep your audience engaged and make your message seem more relevant.
Storytelling isn’t always straightforward, and if you’re a novice presenter, you’ll likely struggle with your first few attempts. However, with practice, you’ll find it easier and easier to integrate narrative arcs and emotional elements into your presentations.
Use it to your advantage, learn from your mistakes, and keep improving as you develop.