What’s Your Story?

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 Dalai 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 the buzzword for corporate presentations.

When I launched Story & the Presentation Connection in July, my goal was to help professionals craft their personal narratives to introduce their brands, products or services, or achieve other business objectives. As so often happens, I learned so much more about storytelling from the workshop participant than I did from all my storytelling research. The participants’ transparency was off the charts; personal stories about near death experiences, misdiagnosis, college choice dilemmas and the business risk of liquidating one’s life-time earnings to start a business just as the market tanked. These unique and authentic narratives engaged the listeners and made their presentations “pop.” The program went by in a heartbeat, leaving attendees wanting more.


Why Tell a StoryI also learned that although story-telling is hard-wired into the human brain and a natural gift that we all possess, people have difficulty staying on track, linking the story to their business message and delivering their story-pitch with the timing skill of a strong stand-up artist.

What follows are some storytelling tips to help you get the most out of your story.

Make your story “front and center!” Avoid upstaging it 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, or a musician sharing the history of a specific song before playing it. Entertain first; explain second. Beginning a personal story is a moment of vulnerability. That’s why many speakers fall into that pre-story pattern. 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 make the “good,” even better. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

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. 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.

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 also will 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. And, allowing pause and variations in volume and intonation are learnable vocal skills that further support both the story and listener interest.

Know when and 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 as a Speech-Presentation Coach, I took a presentation class at the New School in New York City and had this same problem. I said what I had to say, and then found myself awkwardly searching for how to finish. My voice said, “How do I get off stage, now?”) My instructor had me practice the last 45 seconds of my speech at least a half dozen “takes” before letting me sit down. Knowing how to end is just as important as knowing how to begin.
Create Presentation ConnectionTHE MESSAGE
Stories within presentations must link to a business or professional message. A good story may be entertaining and wonderful to hear, but if it doesn’t reflect or enhance your presentation message, it misses the mark. Participants frequently need support to succinctly express their presentation objective, access a personal narrative/story that helps illustrate their point of view, and then bridge the story to a bottom-line, call to action, ask, or conclusion. Always begin with the end in mind by building your presentation around a key message. The opening, whether a story, bold fact, quotation or rhetorical question is developed after the presentation key message and some supportive detail is clear.
These guidelines help to improve your ability to share a story that drives a business presentation message. To develop and incorporate story into  presentations for you, your team or organization, for a customized coaching or training program in Story & the Presentation Connection, please contact us here.