Everyone has heard the advice about incorporating stories into a presentation to make your message more "sticky" and easier to understand. So we're all on board there. But if you're not a natural story teller [and I count myself firmly in this camp]...you know, the person who always has an anecdote, a colorful example or a yarn to spin...then how exactly do you go about telling a story?
Think back to some of the stories you heard as a child or perhaps read to your own child. A story has a recognizable beginning and end. A story has engaging characters. A story has action. A story has conflict...a problem, dilemma or challenge that needs to be solved. These same elements are what you have to work with in your business stories.
The story you create should underscore and amplify the business message you're communicating. Including a story that seems to have no relevance to the content and message of your presentation is just confusing for the audience. Make sure you know and the audience knows why you told the story.
WHERE WILL I FIND A STORY?
Fodder for stories is everywhere...newspaper articles, TV shows and newscasts, your colleagues, your family, famous people and of course, yourself. Personal stories are always intriguing and can lend authenticity to your message. If you don't have any personal experiences that will work, another option is to interview other people and tell their story.
WHAT DETAILS SHOULD I INCLUDE?
The amount of detail in a story should be just enough to make it vivid but not enough to make it rambling. Remember, this is a story within your presentation, not a stand-alone tale you're telling around the camp fire.
Ditch the backstory unless it's relevant to the audience's understanding...you don't need to say that Sydney, the hero of your story, backpacked through South America before he came to work at XYZ, Inc. if his travels have nothing to do with your point.
CREATE CHARACTERS THAT COME ALIVE
It's the characters -- what they do and what that means -- that form the heart of your story. Give them life, give them color, give them dialogue.
"He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders..." [Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim]
HOW LONG SHOULD THE STORY BE?
Each story within your presentation should be only long enough to make your point. Strive for around 2 minutes, with an absolute maximum of 3 minutes. Anything longer likely includes extraneous details or side issues that don't move the story ahead. Aim for a crisp rendition, leaving the audience so engaged that they want more.
Pacing and tone are the keys to grabbing and keeping the audience's attention. Vary sentence lengths to create anticipation -- short, staccato sentences suggest action. Know when to pause...for effect and to let the audience absorb what you've said. Slow down your speech and clearly articulate each word when you want to add a bit of drama.
"It was a dark [pause] [lower voice slightly] and stormy night." [E.G. Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford]
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE...AND THEN DO IT AGAIN
Rehearse your story until you have the language and pacing perfect. Say it out loud, tell it to a colleague, record yourself and really listen to what you sound like. Your goal is to have your story crisp, relevant to your overall message and engaging enough that the audience feels like they were there.
Here are some other posts on various aspects of stories in presentations: