Use storytelling to make your presentations even more engaging

Use storytelling to make your presentations even more engaging

Sometimes presentations can be boring. This blog article will help you raise your ability to engage with your audience. We look at how storytelling can help you put your message across in a way that keeps your audience’s interest from start to finish.

Some time ago I wrote a blog, ‘Presentation Skills – It’s all Greek to me’. This article focused on how, according to ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, ethos, pathos and logos play a key role in communication. In this article I’d like to focus on how to structure a presentation using storytelling.

Grabbing attention

Without structure a presentation can wander – and so can your audience’s attention. A meandering presentation can leave your audience wondering what comes next and where this is leading to. Eventually your audience will switch, start scrolling on their mobile devices and think about more important stuff. This isn’t what you want or need.

First let’s think about your opening. Look to grab your audience’s attention. For example, start with a quote and ask a rhetorical question such as ‘What does this mean for you?’. Then you can begin your story.

What makes a good story?

Think about it. Most stories, especially the good ones, have a beginning, middle and an end. We are all familiar with the concepts of ‘Once upon a time’, good triumphing over evil and maybe even a moral or two. Making a presentation that makes an impact and becomes memorable (for all the right reasons) includes these factors.

Let’s look at storytelling in more detail. In particular the thoughts and theories of German author Gustav Freytag. A renowned author and playwright in his day, his view is that a good story has 5 components i.e.,:

  • a disruption or major incident.
  • a struggle that follows that event.
  • a climax or tipping point which is the decisive moment.
  • a solution that follows.
  • a resolution e.g., the new world, a new beginning or a new way of life.

This is shown in the diagram below, which is known as Freytag’s pyramid.

Of course, the diagram may over simplify the story. For example, the straight lines may be better shown as zig-zags to resemble the setbacks, trials, tribulations and subplots that the struggles and solutions need to overcome. However, using the pyramid to structure your own presentation can help by telling your story rather than a data dump of information that overwhelms your audience or sends them to sleep.

Here is an example of storytelling to follow

Let’s use an example that I am sure you will be familiar with - the Covid 19 pandemic. Here goes:

Once upon a time life was plodding along on for most people as normal. Then suddenly there was a lockdown - shown as (1) in the above diagram. A struggle ensued with many rules and regulations, PPE being put in place, incidents when certain public figures broke the rules and, of course, the very sad loss of life (2). The hero was the development of vaccines (3) which was followed by vaccine rollouts, new variants of Covid 19, roadmaps, anti-vaccine campaigns etc. etc. (4). Most of the world is now living with Covid 19 (5) in our new normal.

Creating your own story

Now let’s think about constructing your own story. Perhaps life was jogging along at work. Then bang – something happened, an event that you had no control over (1). You then embarked on a plan to resolve the issue (2),perhaps struggling to convince key stakeholders and finding it difficult to persuade others. Then something or someone happened to overcome the situation (3). It may have been a new supplier, a new innovation or perhaps just a stroke of luck. However, the crisis situation was tackled and defeated by your hero, showing a path and way forward to come out the other side (4). This may have had challenges too, such as budget restrictions, non-compliance or maybe unforeseen headwinds. However, eventually your change project succeeded and you are now living 'your happily ever after…'

Some other points to consider in how to tell your story

Planning out your presentation in this way may seem whacky at first but do try it. It works. Of course, you still need to speak clearly, vary your voice tone and pitch to place emphasis etc. Leaving your audience on a high (or even wanting more) is key too. But a presentation without structure is not a presentation at all. It’s a mess and will be a disappointment for you and your audience.

For more information on our presentation skills training please click here.

Paul Beesley
Director and senior consultant
Beyond Theory

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