What’s your favorite movie? Without knowing the answer, I’ll bet I know the basic storyline:
- Someone wanted something
- Something got in his/her/their way of getting what they wanted
- A struggle took place
- It looked like your someone wasn’t going to get what he/she/they wanted
- Your someone learned an important lesson from the struggle
- It helped him/her/them get what they originally wanted or something even more valuable
That’s the storyline of pretty much all great stories from Homer’s Illiad right on up to this year’s Academy Award winning films. Times change, people’s names change, what people want changes, but the structure of great stories remains the same.
The Story about Stories
Stories always revolve around facing and overcoming struggles and the lessons we learn from going through the struggles.
In any presentation, any keynote speech, any meeting, stories can help you convey a key point or a sub-point far more powerfully than a PowerPoint slide.
Stories help you as the presenter connect with your audience in ways that content alone can never do.
Why Stories Work
Here’s why: Your audience won’t always understand or be able to relate to your content. But if you use a story that the audience can relate to, then you create a connection. The stronger the connection, the more willing people are to follow you. Period.
A few years ago I was delivering a keynote speech to a large HR conference.
I am not an HR professional and I don’t play one on TV.
About 80-percent of the audience were female professionals. The event organizer shared with me ahead of time that after she booked me to speak she received some negative pushback from people wondering what a TV sportscaster and consultant was going to tell them about HR!
My talk focused on managing change in a world ever present time demands.
So here’s how I began my talk.
My Makeup Story
“Like many of you, I wear makeup every day (chuckle). Not because I want to. It’s an occupational hazard. For years I thought I was doing something wrong because one day it would take me five minutes to put on makeup. When a makeup artist came in, it only took her five minutes. When I had to do it myself it might take me fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, ten minutes. I got frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how much time I should budget for makeup before each newscast because I couldn’t figure out the answer to this question: ‘How long does it take to put on your makeup?’
“How long does it take you? (I pointed to a woman in the audience) And you? (I pointed to another). And you? (I pointed to a third).
“Now it sounds like each person gave me a different answer. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes. But after wrestling with this issue for years, conversations like this with other people who wear makeup every day helped me to understand that each of those professionals gave me the same answer. You see it takes exactly how much time we have available to put on our makeup. No more. No less. And like most things in life, we never have as much time as we want.”
What Stories Help You Do
That opening, a story, let me do three important things:
- Create a connection with the audience. I was talking about something we had in common—not HR or sportscaster, but make up.
- Make a key point. I made a key point that we never have as much time as we want to do the things we want.
- By using my “makeup story,” I caught the audience by surprise, I calmed down any tension caused by people wondering ‘what’s he going to teach me?’ And I did it using a classic story format.
- I wanted something: I wanted to know how long it was supposed to take me to put on make up
- I struggled with trying to figure it out on my own.
- The more I asked others the more confused I became.
- Once I realized I had to look at the question from a different angle, I discovered what I was looking for
- By sharing my insight with others, I created connections.
When you use stories in presentations, you create connections with people who might have no other connection to what you are talking about or where you are coming from. Once you create a connection you have far greater influence with your audience.
Try This in Your Next Presentation:
- Pick a place in the presentation where you think a story will help you create a connection to your audience
- Use the story to help get a key point across
A Few Things to Remember about Stories:
- All great stories are about people
- All great stories involve struggle and overcoming struggle
- Avoid telling your audience, “And the moral of the story is…” You aren’t talking to children. Trust the intelligence of your audience
A Final Thought on Stories:
Never make yourself the hero of the story.
Make yourself the person who learns an important lesson, but never the hero.
No one likes this kind of story:
I was driving to work the other day and I stopped at a 7-11. I bought a scratch-off lottery ticket, and I won a million dollars!
There are two things wrong with that story:
- There’s no struggle
- You’re the hero
That’s a formula for failure with stories.
Audiences prefer this kind of story:
I was driving to work last Tuesday, running about five minutes late for an important meeting, the kind of meeting with a prospect that can change your career—or end it. A light illuminated on my dash board: Check engine. Now! I looked at my watch. If I stopped to check my engine I was going to miss my meeting.
I ignored it.
Two miles down the road, another light went off. This time bells rang too. Was that smoke coming out from under my hood? $%^!. I pulled over on the side of the road and what happened next changed my life forever.
Bet you want to know what happened next, right? That’s the power of story. No one ever sat through a PowerPoint-heavy presentation and quietly wondered, “Hmmm, what’s coming next?”
This is where you would finish the story with the lesson you learned on the side of the road and then connect that to the topic you are talking about in your presentation.
Stories keep your audience engaged.
Okay, Your Turn:
Start using stories in your presentation.
Start off with one until you get the hang of it.
Then gradually start using more as your comfort level increases.
Your audience will thank you.