As humans, we love stories.
It’s the reason why we freak out over the latest episode of Game of Thrones, why we keep a large collection of music that speaks to us, why we’d be willing to shell out the big bucks to see Hamilton. We want to hear a good story, well told.
Communication experts understand the importance of delivering a compelling story, drawing inspiration from disciplines like professional acting. Actors spend their lives seeing the way effective storytelling can change an audience. When you bring this concept to your professional communication and start taking advantage of the impact of storytelling in business, then you can get your audience to take action like never before.
Why? It’s because storytelling is:
A fast route to true human connection and influence: Have you been discussing a presenter after-the-fact and said, “I don’t know. I just didn’t CONNECT with them”? If so, you understand first-hand how important it is to forge a living, breathing, connection with your audience. While strong presentation skills go a long way towards building that connection, storytelling can be the thing that puts your presentation over the top.
Why? When you tell a story in a business setting, you’re personalizing your facts and putting a human face to the details you’re presenting. Suddenly, your data is applicable to real people, in the real world, and your audience gets a glimpse of how you, the speaker, have been affected by your content.
A breath of fresh air for data-heavy information: Sometimes, in order to process a big idea more fully, we need to step away from the situation and think about it in another context, or after a bit of time. Telling a story during a presentation gives your audience the opportunity to do just that. It’s the pause that refreshes and allows them to return to your content, post-story, with a new perspective.
Here’s an example: Say you’re trying to sell a new CRM to a sales force. They like their old one. Your Objective is to inspire them to take the leap and try something new! You decide to include this story in your presentation:
“I used to fly only one airline, for everything, as much as I could. For 10 years, I flew one carrier 95% of the time.
A few years back, I was scheduling a vacation. I wanted to maximize my leisure time and needed a return flight in a very specific window to do so. Instead of just going to my old standby, I decided to pull up a travel search site.
What I found really turned my head. Tons of flights, convenient times, closer airports, and most importantly, cheaper, more efficient travel. I clicked to buy a flight with a new carrier. Because of this, I was able to spend an extra half-day in Florida with my family.
I realized, then and there, that by sticking doggedly to my old ways, I was cheating myself out of a better travel experience. By avoiding this new system, you’re doing the same thing: cheating yourself out of a better experience.”
Suddenly, you’ve given your audience a new perspective. You’ve shaken them out of their old thought process, by using this story as a metaphor. You’ve also told them a little bit more about who YOU are, as a human.
How do you get started working with stories? There are 3 great opportunities to tell a story in any presentation:
- Use a story in your Introduction or Conclusion: Kick-off the proceedings with a story that will set the stage for the information to come. Or, end strong by telling a story during your Conclusion, and hit all those facts and figures home. Either way, be bold in your telling! Avoid phrases like, “Let me tell you a story,” or “I’d like to share a story about…” Just jump right in with your opening line. You’ll treat your audience to a mini-mystery — they’ll wonder what you’re going to say next.
- Put a piece of information into context: You can highlight a piece of data, and make it more memorable, with a story. For example, if you’re trying to get an event company to switch vendors to your organization, you might highlight the stats on the number of events you’ve serviced with a story — perhaps about a time that you made a customer’s party go off without a hitch, and how that event changed your client’s life. Suddenly, you’re not talking numbers. You’re talking real-world impact.
- Weave a story throughout: Draw people in at the top, and tell part of your story in the Introduction of your presentation. Share a few more details between major points. Wrap it all up in your Conclusion. When you tell a story that has the same overarching metaphor as your presentation (for example: perseverance in the face of adversity), it’s like couching your information in a great play or movie — not only will your message be more memorable, but you’ll keep your audience engaged.
When it comes to storytelling in business, the most important thing you can do is actually commit to it and give it a try. We’re storytelling creatures.
Use our natural inclination towards stories to create presentations that can change minds.
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