Storytelling is the new “black” of marketing, the buzzword on every advertiser’s lips. And for good reason - who doesn’t like a story? In this post I want to show you the easiest way to incorporate a story into your next presentation. You'll be amazed at how well it works.
I know that it’s tempting to start out with your name, your position in your company, a dictionary definition of a key word, maybe a quote or "interesting" question (good luck with that, lol). This kind of introduction feels familiar and safe. Don’t succumb to this temptation...I beg you. If it’s valuable information, like an impressive statistic or little known fact that illustrates your point, great...save it for later, after you've hooked and impressed your audience, and start with a story instead.
Here’s why. Even if the audience is already interested in your topic, they want to know that yours is going to be a great talk - that you are not only going to provide valuable information, but that you are going to do it in a way that is interesting and even entertaining. Open with the phrase “I’d like to begin today by telling you a little story” and the effect will be nearly palpable. Your audience will settle into their chairs, tension draining from their face. They will be all ears. That is a magical moment that won’t last forever. Think of it as your first impression. The better your start, the more your audience is willing to stay tuned for the rest of the ride. Start poorly and you will be hard pressed to gain their full attention later in the talk. So, seize that magical moment with both hands and run as far as you can with it.
Let me illustrate. I once had a student giving a speech about how to cope with stress. He was having trouble coming up with a relevant story for his introduction, so I asked him to tell me about a time that he got really stressed out. He told me a story about how he was once on an elevator and it got stuck and stopped. Everyone in the elevator started talking at once, and he couldn’t take it. His anxiety got the better of him and he shouted “BE QUIET!”
“Really?” I asked. “You shouted?”
“Yes!” he said.
I persuaded him to use that story as his introduction. I coached him on how to clearly explain the setting and how to describe the details of how he’d felt when the elevator got stuck, his panic rising by the second. I even convinced him to actually shout when he came to that part of the story. The students listened attentively, and they all nearly jumped out of their chairs when he shouted. Needless to say, it was a wonderful introduction, and they were hooked.
So how do you know what story to use? If you can say yes to the following 3 questions, you likely have a good story for your introduction.
1. Is this actually a story?
An actual story has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning describes the setting and the problem you (or someone else) faced. The middle describes your attempt(s) to resolve this problem. The end tells us how the problem was finally dealt with. All of this might seem obvious, but it’s easy to confuse a situation with a story. For example:
“One night, I got really lucky. It was poring outside, but I had to go to a dinner for my friend. So I put on my rain boots and a slicker and took my extra large umbrella, and when I got to the party, only my hands were wet!”
This is a situation and not a story because there is no real problem. This person had all of the equipment to deal with the rain, and did so without incident. In contrast:
“I'll never forget this one night.... It was raining really hard, but I had to go to an awards dinner for my best friend. So I put on every piece of rain gear you can think of. But when I stopped at the curb to grab a taxi, a big van came skidding around the corner. It was just like in a movie - I couldn't believe it. I jumped out of the way, dropped my umbrella and water from the van spalshed all over me. I was soaking wet. Well... all except my hair. At least my hood worked. I imagined myself sitting around a fancy dinner table, a little puddle under my chair. Then I imagined how Shantal would feel if I wasn't there. I didn't know what to do.
So now we have a real problem. And curiousity. What is this person going to do? Will she try to go anyway? Will she go back to her house, change, and then arrive late? Will that be horrible? If you tell us what she did to finally make it to the event successfully (or even, not so successfully), you’ve got a story.
2. Can I clearly connect my story to my topic?
Let’s say your presentation is about teaching financial literacy to young adults. You could tell a story about a time when you or someone you know: was trying to save money, lost money, was trying to figure out how to earn money, made a bad decision because of money problems, was in a huge financial bind, etc.
These are the obvious stories. But there are also the non-obvious ones in which what happened in the story serves as a metaphor for your topic. For example, you could tell this story (which I have greatly abbreviated):
The summer that I turned eight years old, I spent all my time collecting beach glass. Then one day I took my whole collection to show my friend Trinity, and I accidentally left it on the bus on the way home. I did everything I could think of to find my bag of beach glass, but I never saw it again.
You could then compare that sense of dread you felt when you realized you’d lost something important (a feeling we can all relate to) to how it feels when you’ve lost money, or even when you realize you don’t have enough for something that you really need. You can then go on to explain that financial literacy is a way of avoiding that situation.
Either kind of story will work as long as at the end of the story, you make the connection between what happened in the story and your specific topic.
3. Is my story interesting?
That is, is it interesting to anyone besides me, lol? Does it have any unexpected twists? Does it have humor? Can lots of different types of people identify with it? Crafting interesting stories is a whole art form, but there are a few elements you can include which will increase your chances of your story being a good one. See my blog post here for help in this regard.
Bonus Question - Is my story real?
It's not mandatory, but I strongly suggest telling a story about something that really happened to you. Not only do real stories tend to be more interesting - I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase life is stranger than fiction - but they are easier to create, and easier to tell, because you already know what happened. Also, everyone likes to hear juicy details told by the person that lived them.
Once you’ve chosen your story, you’ll want to work out what details and parts to include based on the amount of time you have, and then practice delivering it until it feels comfortable. Remember, beginnings are especially important because they are your first impression, so give yourself time to get it right. Hook your audience, and they will thank you for it.
If you’d like some help working on a story of your own, go here to schedule a session with me, and we’ll get right to work!