Yes, this might sound like a pick-up line, but telling a story is also a great way to engage an audience for your next business presentation. People think and talk in stories all the time, but rarely realize it. For example, Why are you 5 hours late? (Were you at the bar again? Cheating on me? In an accident?) Where’s your homework? (the dog ate it! it blew out of the window as I was proofreading it); What influenced your career? (Jerry Lewis Telethons, my best friend’s father, The Dali Lama).
Being able to share a personal narrative when you present and then linking it to a business key message is a leadership differentiator; story is all the buzz for corporate presentations.
A few years ago, I launched my Story & the Presentation Connection workshop. My goal was to help professionals craft their personal narratives to help achieve business objectives and introduce their brands, products or services. As often happens, I learned so much more about storytelling from the workshop participants than I did from all my storytelling research. The participants’ transparency was off the charts! Personal stories about near death experiences, medical misdiagnoses, college choice dilemmas and the risk of liquidating one’s life-time earnings to start a business just as the market tanked, were shared with passion. These unique and authentic narratives engaged the listeners and made their presentations “pop.” The program went by in a heartbeat, leaving attendees wanting more.
I also learned that although storytelling is hard-wired into the human psyche and a natural gift that we all possess, people have difficulty staying on track, linking their story to their business message and delivering their story with the timing skill of a strong stand-up artist.
To get the most out of your story, consider the following:
- Entertain first; explain second. Avoid upstaging your story by starting with a self-introduction or business bio. For example, starting with “My name is…..and my business is……and I’m going to share a story that reflects……” is not the story. It’s the preview to the story. It’s like an actor preceding her monologue by reading her resume. While this previewing explanation is not the “end of the world” in terms of presentation performance, it certainly subtracts from some of the mystery and magic that makes a story connect with an audience. Practice and coached rehearsals can strengthen your storytelling skills. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd – tell that story and watch the audience stay connected.
- Listeners have short attention spans; be careful about going on too long. Stories are not your entire business presentation, but a technique that enhances audience engagement. Even super-strong stories need to be succinct. Replaying, the he said/she said or re-enacting a blow-by-blow description of story action, can be too time-consuming for a presentation story. In writing, the listener is an independent reader and has the leisure to be more involved with story details. In public speaking, because many people are listening at the same time, presentation openings, (of which story is one), need to hook the audience in a relatively short period of time, about 2-3 minutes, tops!
- The best story is compromised by a weak delivery. Speakers need to know how to engage their audience, not only with their words, but also with their bodies and voices. They will also benefit greatly from eye contact that is individualized. Speakers who know how and when to move or stay “planted” have skills that project additional polish. Allowing pause and variations in volume and intonation are learnable vocal skills that further support both the story and your listeners’ interest.
- Know how to end your story! Often, speakers start their stories well, but get stuck ending them. There’s a palpable awkwardness to the rhythm and cadence that says, The end! or That’s all folks! Early in my career, I took a presentation class at the New School in New York City and experienced this very problem. I said what I had to say, and then found myself clumsily searching for those final words. My voice said, How do I get off stage, now? How do I end smoothly? I had to do a half dozen re-takes of the last 45 seconds of my speech until the instructor felt I had learned this skill, (which was very embarrassing!) Knowing how to end is just as important as knowing how to begin!
- Stories within presentations must link to a key message. A good story may be entertaining and wonderful to hear, but if it fails to reflect or enhance your presentation message, it misses the mark. Participants frequently need support to succinctly express their presentation objective, access a personal narrative that helps illustrate their point of view, and then bridge the story to a bottom-line, call to action, ask, or conclusion. A presentation planning best practice is to build your message with the end in mind. The opening, whether a story, bold fact, quotation or rhetorical question is most often developed last, after the presentation key message and its supportive detail are established.
These guidelines will help you improve your ability to share a story that drives your business presentation message. To bring your presentation planning, delivery and storytelling to the next level of excellence and to engage and sustain your audience’s attention, check out my presentation workshop, 4 Points of Connection details available here.