Storytelling is the most important facet of effective presentations. Unfortunately, in the age of PowerPoint, many presenters rely too much on technology and forget how important stories are. To get the results you’re looking for, build your presentations on a foundation of great stories—not the other way around.
- In the world of presentations, many speakers rely too heavily on PowerPoint to get their points across—instead of emphasizing the importance of telling a good story.
- By crafting an engaging story that connects with your audience on an emotional level before putting a presentation together, your efforts will be more successful.
- To maximize the ROI on your stories, implement a presentation management strategy that enables all of your employees to access and leverage your best presentations.
Everyone Loves a Good Story
Stories put our brains to work. Stories are how we learn. They’re the way we educate society, share information, convey ideas and entertain. Stories are filled with emotions and empathetic characters. The best ones resonate deeply in our souls—and we remember them for the rest of our lives.
Not only do we enjoy listening to a good story, many of us enjoy telling them, too. In fact, studies suggest good storytellers tend to have happier lives—and better love lives—particularly when they frame their personal narratives in a positive manner.
When you’re able to tell a good story, it’s easier to relate to your audience on a deeper emotional level. Whether you’re trying to get your listeners to become engaged in your story, rally to your cause or make a particular purchasing decision, tapping into those emotions makes it easier to incentivize and encourage specific actions compared to trying to reason with someone logically.
In the business world, research has found that stories can actually motivate us to cooperate. Frame a story as well as you can—pique your audience’s interest with a focus on characters and tension—and you may have an easier time influencing their behavior.
In other words, the better your storytelling skills are—and the more reliant on well-crafted, engaging stories you become—the more effective your presentations will be.
Stories Drive Presentations
The best presenters in any given company are almost always the best storytellers. In many cases, this person is usually the CEO. There’s a reason they got to the top of the company in the first place, after all. Salespeople are also usually great storytellers, which makes sense because their success is directly linked to their ability to connect with customers.
Storytelling has fallen by the wayside in the business world over the last two decades. The rise and proliferation of PowerPoint and big data, for example, have encouraged presenters to increasingly rely on slideshows loaded with charts and graphs to get their points across.
PowerPoint certainly has its strengths: It’s easy to create charts and callouts combined with images and videos to supplement the content you’re trying to convey. Since we’re more likely to remember messages delivered with visuals, this functionality makes a world of difference: PowerPoint enables presenters to design compelling slideshows which allows them to take their presentations to the next level.
Unfortunately, PowerPoint has become somewhat of the antithesis of good storytelling in recent years. Charts, graphs, and other visuals often overshadow the story—or even replace it entirely. Many slideshows are filled with a seemingly endless amount of text, too, which often ends up confusing the audience even further as they squint to read what the slides say while ignoring the words coming out of the speaker’s mouth.
Today, businesses need to get to the point—and quickly. This is because the average human attention span is only eight seconds:
Lacking a centralized presentation management strategy, however, leaves many businesses with slide libraries full of disconnected content that doesn’t support a broader message or brand objective.
Fingers crossed your sales team can hit its goals despite the fact at least a good chunk of them aren’t telling the right stories.
How to Create an Awesome Story
How can you increase the effectiveness of your company’s presentations?
It starts with weaving a good story into every presentation you create.
Here’s a five-step approach that should help you create better presentations by penning stories that engage your audience and tap into their emotions:
- Close PowerPoint. First things first: Don’t start creating a presentation by opening PowerPoint. Instead, figure out the product’s story as if you were talking to someone about it. Once you’ve come up with a good one, track down someone—a colleague, a spouse or a friend—and practice telling them the story to see what they have to say. This forces you away from the PowerPoint “crutch” and ensures that you’re able to whittle the story down to the bare essentials that can impact the audience.
- Include a beginning, a middle and an end. Every good story—as you’ve no doubt heard your entire life—has a beginning, middle, and end. Unfortunately, though we were taught this in elementary school, not everyone remembers to include these essential structural elements in the stories they present. In presentations, a beginning should clearly introduce the product and set a foundation for a climax. Whenever possible, try to begin your presentation with a focus on a human-scale story that’s relatable and compelling. The middle incorporates the breaking point or climax of the story. The best part! During the story’s climax, the audience should learn why the product is the “hero” and how it will solve everyone’s problems. Finally, in the end, your story should show how the product has saved the day and make everyone happy.
- Ask yourself how your story feels. Remember, emotions drive behavior more than logic does. After polishing up your story, figure out which emotions are associated with each phase of the product’s story. While you want your stories to connect to your audience’s emotions, you need to make sure that you’re tapping into those emotions in a proper way. If you’re selling a fun product that’s supposed to entertain, for example, you probably don’t want to convey emotions that will make your audience feel sadness or sorrow. Instill the right emotions in your audience and you’ll ultimately get them to want your product.
- Visualize the emotions. Figure out what they “look like.” Once you have a handle on how your story feels, it’s time to visualize the content and determine what those emotions might look like visually. With a thorough and complete understanding of your product, you can incorporate images and videos to push the plot forward and trigger the emotions you want to bring to the surface. A word to the wise: Make sure the images you’re going to include in your presentation support the story—and certainly don’t overshadow or distract from it.
- Open PowerPoint and create your presentation. The final step in the process is reopening PowerPoint and beginning to put together a presentation with human elements and natural transitions. Think about your favorite stories. Are they disjointed? Or do they transition smoothly from one element to the next? Transitions are essential components of successful stories. Remember, the story should drive the deck—not the other way around.
Technology, like PowerPoint, can certainly help businesses be more efficient and productive. But technology by itself won’t get your business to the next level.
Remember, the people sitting in the audience are in charge of decisions. Present to them like they’re people—and like you’re a person, too. Don’t be a PowerPoint robot.
Create and Share Slides Across the Enterprise
Great work! You’ve crafted an amazingly compelling story and you’ve designed an awesome slideshow that supports the points you’re trying to get across and conveys the right emotions.
You’ve put so much time into building the perfect presentation. Don’t let that effort go to waste.
To get the most ROI out of your presentations, implement an effective presentation management strategy that ensures that all the time you spent preparing for a single meeting can be invested in the company over and over again. To do this, make sure that your company’s best stories—now encapsulated in great presentations—are readily available across the entire enterprise. By enabling your team—from the most skilled orators to the timidest storytellers—to leverage your best presentations, you are making everyone better storytellers.
Create presentations for the entire enterprise and it will only be a matter of time before everyone is presenting as effectively as the CEO.
James Ontra is co-founder and CEO of Shufflrr. His 30-year career has focused on the highest profile presentations for world class companies. His clients have included: American Express, Bloomberg, Epcot Center, Mercedes Benz, NBC Olympics, Warner Bros. and many more. His vision and strategy have been driving Presentation Management to become a recognized communication discipline. James combined this passion with technical development to build Shufflrr. Presentation Management is smart communication strategy.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.