March 7, 2017

Storytelling techniques for memorable presentations

By: Kryshana Ananthan, Visual Designer

Stories are emotional. As children, our parents tuck us in with a bedtime story. As we get older, stories are how we share who we are. We’ve heard them our entire lives. It’s no wonder that, when they’re told with honesty and conviction, stories can be more effective than any other way we communicate. They allow us to connect to each other.

The greatest presentations are simply well-told stories—they tell us what we need to know, but also inspire us to see the world in new ways and adopt new ideas. They resonate and stay in our hearts and minds long after we leave the room.

At Comrade, we try to bring stories into everything we do, and have found three storytelling tips that go a long way when preparing for a presentation.

Take risks. Lose the fear.

We keep our creativity by taking risks. To be a great storyteller, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. Kids tend to be highly entertaining storytellers, because they’re unafraid. They’ll convince you their backyard is the Milky Way if that’s what they really believe. Second-guessing isn’t really something they do. As we get older, we seem to second guess ourselves more and more and we lose the spark that comes with vulnerability.

Yet, some of the best stories require us to be vulnerable—to lose our fear. If you share something you truly believe in, you’ll connect with people more naturally.

We can all relate to happiness, sadness, and all kinds of emotions. The best experiences I’ve had are the ones in which I was able to be raw and honest, whether that was on stage or in conversation with a friend.

As a designer at Comrade, I have to find ways to present my ideas every day.  I have to think about ways to tell visual stories and make things more appealing to the eye, but also find ways to talk about my work that resonate with my clients and colleagues. It’s always easy to turn to facts and figures, but losing the fear means being able to let myself go and share the stories that will connect my audience to the work they’re seeing.

Remember, your audience is the hero

A presentation is not about power. It’s about connection. One of the most common misconceptions is that the presenter is the most important person in the room. That’s just not true. You may be presenting, but you’re not the focus—your audience is.

You’ve already written the story and taken the journey—your audience is doing the real heavy lifting. They need to follow along, see things with a fresh new perspective and get on board with your ideas. You’re simply helping them get there. Think of yourself as a mentor—the voice that guides them. Connect your data to relevant stories and take your audience on the journey with you.

Know your tool, use it well

When we think about presentations, we often think about all the PowerPoints we’ve had to sit through—charts and graphs and numbers and clip art and words and words and more words.

But PowerPoint doesn’t have to be ugly. It’s simply a tool, and how you use it makes all the difference.

The trick to a good presentation, like to a good story, is to always focus on the big picture. There’s only so much your audience can absorb in the 30 seconds it takes you to get through a slide—so think about what absolutely needs to be on it.

Visualization can be powerful. Use big pictures and big ideas. If people can visualize the journey you’re taking them on, you’ve won half the battle.

Ask yourself these questions and let them guide you:

  • Why are you presenting?
  • What’s the story you’re telling?
  • What’s the journey your audience is taking?

Stories give people a reason to care because they make them feel. It’s not just about the words on your slides—when you get to know your audience and give them your authentic self, you’re more likely to draw them in. People relate to people. Use your empathy and your presence to create trust and guide your audience.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

 –Maya Angelou