Home » Storytelling in Presentations: The Why & How + Tips

Storytelling in Presentations: The Why & How + Tips

In the realm of public speaking, storytelling in presentations is a powerful tool that can captivate, inspire, and persuade an audience. Whether you’re giving a business presentation, a TED talk, or a lecture, weaving a compelling narrative into your speech can make your message more memorable and impactful.

Have you ever heard a powerful speech that didn’t include a story? Have you ever seen a presentation—especially a TED talk level display—without storytelling involved?

There’s a reason all good presentations have storytelling.

Let’s explore how you can use storytelling effectively in your presentations through the following means:

  1. Storytelling structure
  2. Merging story and presentation
  3. Further education for story

Understanding Structure for Storytelling in Presentations

A well-structured story can make your presentation more engaging and memorable. But more than anything, it gives you a clear way to write and rehearse the story for maximum effect. We humans have been using storytelling for longer than they’ve been written down.

The stories that lasted long enough to eventually be written down give us insight into an impactful story, and there’s a clear structure they follow.

Let’s take Brené Brown’s famous TED talk with over 21 Million views to deconstruct using storytelling in presentations.

Here’s a simple story structure that you can use in your presentations.

1. Beginning

Set the stage by introducing the main characters (if applicable) and the setting. Be descriptive here. Paint a picture for the audience so they can being to use their imagination. This is a big step in getting them engaged for the story.

In Brown’s talk, she begins with a story immediately. Remember, this is one of the top performing TED talks of all time.

She begins with:

“So I’ll start with this, a couple years ago, an event planner called me because I was going to do a speaking event. And she called and she said, ‘I’m really struggling with how to write about you on the little flyer.’ And I thought, ‘Well what’s the struggle?’ And she said, “Well, I saw you speak and I’m going to call you a researcher, I think, but I’m afraid if I call you a researcher, no one will come because they’ll think you’re boring and irrelevant.’

Now she dove right in with this story, and it was easy to picture because we see her on stage, we can imagine her with a phone to her head, we can imagine what an event planner might look like trying to put together the details.

2. Build to the Challenge

Building tension or conflict is an important part of any story. For those who want to make a strong point, this can be used to highlight the lesson to be learned. For others, this can continue to serve as a hook. Most people want to hear how conflict unfolds.

Describe the challenges or obstacles faced by the characters or people involved. This is where the main message or lesson of your story is conveyed. What will get in the way of success in your story? There is always something. Build up to that something and make sure to highlight the adversities in facing the challenge.

You can even think about voicing the stakes, what there is to lose.

If we continue with Brown’s opening story, we’ll find some initial tension (although humorous) here:

“And she said, ‘But the thing I liked about your talk is you’re a storyteller. So I think what I’ll do is just call you a storyteller.’ And of course the academic, insecure part of me was like, ‘You’re going to call me a what?’ And she said, ‘I’m going to call you a storyteller.’ And I was like, ‘Why not magic pixie?’ *sarcasm* I was like, ‘I don’t—let me think about this for a second.'”

This build and tension is showcased by Brown not liking or being okay with the fact that this event planner wants to call her a storyteller for a big speech that she’s to give at this event. There’s an internal struggle present in the character (Brown) in this moment.

One that, with any luck, will tie into the point of her talk…

3. Tie-In

The way to get through the conflict and challenge is to utilize the lesson you want to teach. In your story, there must be actions taken by the character/s (or entities) in order to reach the end. The tie-in will be the lesson you wish to teach on illustrated in events—in story form.

For Brown’s story, it looks like this:

“I tried to call deep on my courage. And I thought, you know, I am a storyteller. I’m a qualitative researcher. I collect stories; that’s what I do. And maybe stories are just data with a soul. You know, and maybe I’m just a storyteller.

Here, the tie-in is more subtle. Because this is also technically Brown introducing herself and a unique way of giving herself a bio, the tie-in to her main talk isn’t necessarily the point, but even here she calls on a big piece of her speech on vulnerability.

She mentions courage. She had to call on her courage. To look inside herself is a big part of what she continues to talk about during her speech.

And because this is actually the beginning of her whole talk, it’s a subtle way for her to foreshadow the topic she’s about to speak on.

4. End

Resolve the conflict and deliver your key message. During this time, it’s important to provide a clear and satisfying conclusion that ties back to your presentation’s main theme. We’ve already mentioned the tie-in.

As your story goes through the conflict, it will naturally unearth the lesson you wish to present. Maybe not literally with words, but through the story the audience will get a good understanding of what has happened.

Now you just have to end the story. Often, there will be a resolution that looks a bit like “winning” the conflict.

In other cases, one gives up the fight, so to speak, and the ending takes on a different angle. It depends on your purpose, truthfully. A story told at the end of your presentation will often have a very satisfying story that contains a “win”. One told at the beginning, however, might not have an ending at all until you reach the end of your presentation.

For Brown, her story is actually a self-introduction version, so it goes on to say this:

So I said, ‘You know what. Why don’t you just say I’m a researcher-storyteller.’ And she went, ‘Aha-ha! There’s no such thing.’ So I’m a researcher-storyteller, and I’m going to talk to you today, and we’re talking about expanding perception. So I want to talk to you and tell you some stories about a piece of my research that fundamentally expanded my perception and really actually changed the way that I live and love and work and parent. And this is where my story starts…”

Of course, as she promises, there are more stories in this speech. I recommend everyone who wants to learn good storytelling in presentations listen to the full thing and watch not only the structure Brown follows, but also the way she sounds, the pauses she takes, and more that we have tips on just below.

brene brown ted talk example of storytelling in presentations

Incorporating Storytelling into Your Presentation: Stage Presence

Now, Brené Brown isn’t just a great speaker because she’s a widely accomplished researcher who puts her story in a good structure. She’s also great at stage presence.

AKA, the how of her storytelling makes a big difference in how engaged the audiences is and that determines the impact she has through her story. Great presentations, whether delivered by keynote speakers like Tony Robbins or Joe Schmo in the office’s quarterly meeting, have things in common.

Here are some tips you’ll want to keep in mind when using storytelling in presentations:

  1. Start with a Hook: Begin your presentation with a compelling story that relates to your topic. This will immediately grab your audience’s attention and set the tone for the rest of your speech. You can even start the story, stop after the conflict has been shared, and teach your lesson. Then you’ll come back to the story at the end.
  2. Use Vivid Language: Paint a vivid picture with your words. Use descriptive language to create imagery and evoke emotions in your audience. Nobody wants a “he did this, then they went here” with nothing else to create a picture in the audience’s mind. Use your senses. Describe the environment a person was in. Share context that adds to the intrigue.
  3. Change Your Tone of Voice: You shouldn’t speak at the same volume and in the same tone the entire time of the story. People use audible cues in order to better understand what’s happening. Think of your tone and volume as the music score of a movie. You want the audience to understand the emotions of the story by your volume, speed, and overall tone. Lower your voice during sadder, deeper moments. Slow down during important tidbits. Speed up when the moment is exciting and raise our voice a little.
  4. Use Body Language: Your body is as much a part of the story as your voice is. Make sure you clue the audience into the message by engaging your body in the story. If things are heightened and exciting, move around, use hand gestures. When things slow down and you want to harness the audience’s attention, stop moving. Let your voice be what conveys the story so all eyes are on you.

This stuff takes practice. The best thing you can do is practice, hire a speaking coach, or even utilize Toastmasters in order to get feedback about how you’re doing.

Books That Will Aid in Storytelling in Presentations

To get a truer sense of how to position storytelling in presentations, it’s always good practice to further your education. These books will help you understand the powerful impact stories can have and how to utilize them well.

  1. Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall
  2. Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte
  3. The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo
  4. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo
  5. Lead with a Story by Paul Smith
  6. The Story Factor by Annette Simmons
  7. Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks

Being a good speaker and presenter and being a good storyteller go hand-in-hand. Next time you want to make a presentation, no matter how big or small, use a story and feel the difference for yourself.

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Bella Rose Emmorey
I'm a multi-creative in pursuit of doing exactly whatever I want in life. Former speaker of book things, fiction author in progress, life figure-outer in progress, societal rule breaker extraordinaire. Smells like: homemade bread, book paper, potted plants, & potential.

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