What are your favorite stories from childhood? If you have kids, what’s their favorite story that you read to them when they were young? My daughter loved Charlotte’s Web. My son loved Cars and Trucks and Things that Go. My daughter is 25. My son is 21. They still remember those stories. That’s the power of stories. They stay with us. You still remember your favorite story from childhood. Think about how long ago you first encountered that story.
Audience members won’t, for the most part, remember the bullet points on your PowerPoint slide. They won’t remember more than 90 percent of what you say—especially numbers, facts, and data. They will remember your stories if you tell compelling stories.
Stories have power since we remember them and they help us link something we do know and understand to something we don’t know or understand.
Here’s an example: You could try to tell your audience that if they change their beliefs, they will also change their results. You can almost see that on a boring PowerPoint slide right?
Change Beliefs = Change Results.
And the audience reaction would likely be something along the lines of “Sure, whatever.”
Or you could use a story of Roger Banister and the four-minute mile to illustrate that idea.
An English runner, Bannister, came from a working class family that couldn’t afford college tuition. He dreamed of becoming a doctor and earned a track scholarship to Oxford so he could pursue a medical degree. In 1952 he went to the Helsinki Olympics as the favorite to win the 1500 meters. He was going to be a rags to riches story. But he finished fourth in the 1500 meters in those Games. His pursuit of a medical degree would likely keep him from training for the 1956 Games. He felt like a failure. He wanted to redeem himself. So he set his sights on becoming the first runner to run a mile in under four minutes. Scientist had long said that was impossible, and most runners believed the scientists. The core belief was that it was physically impossible for a human to run a four-minute mile. For the next two years it looked like they might be right. Then on May 6th, 1954 Bannister ran a mile in three minutes, fifty-nine point four seconds. A sub-four-minute-mile. The first one anyone had ever run.
Just 46 days later, Bannister’s world record of 3:59.4 was broken by Australian John Landy. Within one year, 24 other runners had broken the four-minute mile too. The only thing that had changed was one runner who believed it was possible. First the belief changed. Then the results changed.
Roger Bannister went on to become a neurologist and in 1975 the Queen of England knighted him for his service. Not bad for a kid whose parents didn’t have the money to send him to college.
Fair to say that story is more memorable than a PowerPoint slide?
Let’s break it down so you can see the three main parts to a successful story:
1. The set up
2. The struggle
3. The solution
The Set Up:
These are the details that put the story into context:
- English runner
- Family couldn’t afford college
- Wanted to be a doctor
We all have struggles in life. This is where we relate to the main character because of his or her struggles:
- 1952 Olympics. He was the favorite and finished fourth.
- Bannister thought about quitting running.
- He felt like a failure.
- Because of his studies he wouldn’t have another shot at the Olympics.
- Wanted to redeem himself by running a four-minute mile, but scientists said it was impossible.
This is the outcome of the story that always has a powerful teaching point. And you don’t have to hit the audience over the head with the point. They’ll get it.
- May 6th, 1954 Bannister ran a mile in 3:59.4
- 46 days later someone broke his record.
- One year later 24 other runners had done the “impossible” too.
If you follow that formula, you can bring your key points to life in your next presentation too:
1. The set up
2. The struggle
3. The solution
There is no perfect length of a story. Stories can be long. They can be short. Make the no longer than they need to be in order to make your point. I told you the Roger Bannister story in 275 words. It would, interestingly enough, take less than four-minutes to tell that story to an audience.
Try using the story formula in your next presentation. In next week’s blog, I’ll show you where to find the dozens and even hundreds of stories that you have available from your own life that will bring your presentations and speeches to life!