Storytelling in Presentations
Surrounded by tablets, smartphones and AI, it’s hard to imagine we have anything in common with our ancestors from the Stone Age. But surprisingly, it’s only a small evolutionary step from the mammoth hunt to management level. Storytelling is as important today as it was thousands of years ago.
Storytelling in presentations:
Why you should send your audience on a mammoth hunt
Regardless of whether, when, where and why sales have risen or fallen – we are still hunters and gatherers in our DNA. We’re fascinated by stories of an exciting hunt or close escape.
How do we know this? Through stories we hear around the campfire.
Storytelling gives us life lessons. Even though most of us never find ourselves sitting around a campfire or confronted with predators, storytelling is still an important part of our culture. And a good storyteller can put that skill to good use no matter the situation.
How? By bringing the campfire to your next presentation and becoming a storyteller.
Without emotions, facts fall by the wayside:
Movies vs. PowerPoint presentations
We live in a world where communicating and sharing information is more important than ever – and presentations are a popular tool for this. In most presentations though, a lot is said and truly little is remembered. But why?
Think of the last movie that really grabbed you. You were immersed in the action. Your pulse raced when the killer chased the victim or when the hero saved the world. You were invested in the journey! Who cares that it was all pure fiction and had nothing to do with the reality of your life.
And now think of the last presentation you attended. The situation was probably a little different. Though what was told was important and pertained to reality, it was no doubt hard to stay focused.
Why does this happen? Even with the best content, there’s a good chance an audience will tune out. This information often doesn’t even get past the brain’s “bouncer”. The bouncer in this case is the amygdala – the part of our brain essential to our ability to feel certain emotions.
The amygdala wants a good story. Only then can our brains stay focused. So, when you want to effectively communicate facts, you need to link them to emotions. And if you want to present successfully, you need to be a storyteller.
Experiments at Stanford University have shown that stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone.
In short, stories sell.
Storytelling for the primitive brain:
When the rival company becomes a saber-toothed tiger.
Turning the current sales figures into an exciting story is not as difficult as it sounds.
Most stories follow a certain pattern.
This is when the scene is set and we’re introduced to the protagonists – their wishes, their goals, their personalities.
The plot develops. There is a crisis, a problem, a mission, and perhaps one or two nemeses. There is a struggle and sacrifices have to be made.
In the end, victory awaits. Or if all fails, disaster.
This storytelling model can also be applied to less spectacular scenarios. With a little thought and creativity, you can turn your company’s current situation into Act I. Employees, competitors and customers become heroes, opponents and prey. Act II’s mission is to conquer the market leaders. If you succeed, Act II will end with your company’s success and triumph for all employees. So, let’s go on the adventure!
This kind of storytelling structure has a completely different effect than simply presenting the company’s figures with the no-brainer conclusion that things could be better and more effort is needed.
A story provides explanations
People like stories because they provide explanations and context.
Conspiracy theories are a good example of this. They’re extremely popular during uncertain times because they offer explanations for the inexplicable, simple solutions for complex problems and a clearly defined image of the enemy. As crazy as it sounds, a conspiracy theory is simply a good, clear story.
Conspiracy theories don’t have to be large-scale stories, they can also be gossip told around the water cooler.
Storytelling in PowerPoint Presentations:
The presenter leads the way
So how can we apply storytelling to presentations? When only facts are provided, the audience will draw their own conclusions. If the how and why, right and wrong, beginning and end are not given by the presenter, the audience will create them.
As a result, the unavoidable restructuring of a department may be interpreted as just ruthless cost cutting. The new sales strategy may be seen as a direct criticism of the current strategy. So instead of motivating, engaging and empowering your audience, the exact opposite might happen. By leaving too much room for interpretation, you lose control of the narrative. But by creating a story, you set the course and take your audience along for the ride.
A story is only as good as its narrator
Anyone who uses storytelling presentations needs to think about his or her own role in the process. One’s own experience and motivation are what drive the story. It’s what makes the presentation credible and trustworthy. So, don’t just tell a story, tell YOUR story.
- What are you hunting?
- How do you face adversaries?
- Why are you doing this?
- Or in other words: Why should people buy into your story?
Credibility always requires a certain passion. If content is reduced to just a shopping list of content, the effect fizzles out. If you want a story to work for you, you have to commit to storytelling. Not everyone is a born storyteller, but it can be learned.
Learn from the best
There are many exemplary storytellers – Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Elon Musk – all passionate presenters who use storytelling to inspire their audiences. Even Donald Trump, whose statements are not exactly considered intellectual, successfully sold his followers the story of the wall as a solution to all of America’s problems.
Storytelling with PowerPoint can work in almost any setting, and when skillfully applied, it can inspire and captivate an audience. As the Argentinian author Jorge Bucay so aptly puts it:
We tell stories to children so that they fall asleep – and to adults so they wake up.”