Three sought-after speakers explain why they use stories to enhance their speeches
As I got more experienced, I’ve become ‘audience conscious’ and now can sense what the audience needs story-telling wise. Do I need to speed up, slow down, do they need an exercise or is it time for a joke? I can’t really rationalise this, it is very much a feeling. Where I am now, in many presentations I have a bag of storytelling ‘tricks’ which I can use real-time, based on what I get back from the audience. It’s a bit like a jazz piece, you have your standard theme, with a beginning, middle and end, but throughout you can improvise.
To give three storytelling pro tips for presentations:
1. Identify with the audience’s real-time emotions
For example, I present an insight that is hard to believe at first glance. Then I will say from the stage: “I know some people find this hard to believe.” I will look around the audience and mimic a puzzled facial expression or defensive body language. This will lead to a response where the audience feels that I understand them. Then I can identify more “I felt completely the same when I read this study, but then… etc” And then after some more explanation go back to that first emotion and see if the audience has accepted the insight.
2. It has to be fun
A client once described my style as intellectual entertainment. I agree. Not because I have the secret wish to become a stand-up comedian, but because messages stick better if strong emotions are involved and laughter is arguably the best one for a presentation. I always look for fun/edgy facts in research. Abroad, I make fun of my home country or myself – not the country I am in or my client. And if the insight is totally boring, but relevant, I’ll find a storytelling solution to make it entertaining. “And now for the most boring slide of the year, brace yourself, here we go!”
3. Visuals are part of the story-telling
I know exactly when I am going to advance a slide. Visuals should not distract or take the energy away from me, the presenter, but enhance the energy and add to the story-telling. I recommend using as little text as possible and never show something onscreen that you are going to talk about while you are still on a previous topic. There are great places online where you can find awesome high-res rights free visuals, so there is no excuse! Eg. www.unsplash.com
I have studied leaders for twenty years. I have written four books and read hundreds on the topic. I have interviewed hundreds of people and spoken to thousands. I have looked at thousands of data points and gathered tens of thousands of facts. Yet my most often quoted contributions to the topic are two stories. One concerns an argument with my daughter over pocket money and the other is about how pandas can help us predict successful change.
Stories matter. They are not ephemeral fiction. Stories are the vehicle through which we make sense of the world together. Stories are integral to the intricate language of humanity. If your job is to connect you must speak that language. If you want to influence, you must become fluent in storytelling.
1. Hit the spot: According to Stanford marketing professor Jennifer Aaker our brains are wired to understand and retain stories.”
2. Connect both teller and listener: Uri Hasson Assistant professor of psychology from Princeton found that personal stories actually synch the brain of the storyteller and listener.
3. Bring people on a journey People can see themselves in a good story.
4. Deliver a Positive drug rush! According to Paul Zachs When someone tells you a compelling story it releases chemicals that helps makes you pay attention, feel empathy and feel good.
5. Increase your ROI – In an experiment devised by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn called Significant Objects they demonstrated the effect of a story/narrative on any given object’s subjective value. The objects, purchased for $1.25 a piece on average, sold for nearly $8,000.00 in total.
6. Get your message shared: In the earlier part of this century Storytellers or Seanchai as they were called in Ireland used to weave their magic on audiences around the fireplaces –stories that were subsequently shared throughout the community.
And now if you still don’t believe in the importance of crafting a story think TED! Think back to your favourite TED Talk. The best TED speakers all start with a story. You might notice what they don’t start with is a long introduction about how happy they are to be there, how grateful they are to the organisers and what a wonderful city they are in!
Finally, the good news is that everyone has access to an anthology of stories – FAILURES/VICTORIES, FIRSTS/LASTS, BEST ADVICE/WORST ADVICE, TRAVEL… The story doesn’t need to be worthy of an Oscar nomination – all that needs to happen is that the person can identify with the story. We all have the stories – the question is #whatsyourstory?
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