How to leverage storytelling in your business presentations [6 tips]
If I list down buzzwords of this decade, then storytelling has a top place on this list. It’s an ancient concept when people crafted stories to make sense of the world around them. Also, pass on knowledge to future generations.
If history taught us anything, storytellers have succeeded. That’s how we know the past. Not because stories are interesting to listen to, but because they’re the most memorable form of information. The idea is pretty simple…if you want someone to remember something, tell it in a story form.
How does this work? Try a small mind activity. Go back to your childhood & think about the time when someone told you something. Do you remember it well? If yes, I’m sure it involves a story around it.
For example, my grandmother told me that India got its independence when she was 5 years old & told me some stories of the time. Today, if anyone asks my grandmother's birth year, I’ll say 1942 without thinking twice(India became independent in 1947). Why do you think this stayed in my memory? Because there were stories involved. She told me stories that stayed in my imagination & memory.
You see, stories are the best way to cast an impression on someone & stay in their mind for a long time. If it works for every human, why can’t it work for your audience/customers? Why can’t storytelling be leveraged for business success?
How did storytelling enter PowerPoint presentations?
The old belief was that the business world is a tough place where decisions are made rationally. Anything that’s not facts & figures doesn’t stand a chance.
But, that’s not true. Your audiences, no matter how seasoned professionals they are, are humans. If they’re humans, they could be engaged & persuaded by storytelling. This became a topic of discussion & Creative Directors got obsessed with this idea. One thing led to another & now storytelling & presentations are synonyms.
Note: Storytelling has other applications like brand design, user-experience design, movies, etc. As we’re a presentation design agency, we can only write from our experience & expertise in PowerPoint presentations.
How can you leverage storytelling & dazzle with your presentation?
1. Choose a story structure
Have you watched the Lion King? It’s a great & inspirational story. What you don’t know is that the movie follows a narrative structure called “Monomyth”. Also known as Hero’s Journey. Hands up if you’ve heard this story structure before: A lonely hero who is trying to find himself. A sudden and unexpected journey, promising adventure and peril. A test of character, strength, and skill. An ultimate battle that tests the hero’s resolve. A triumphant return home. That’s the Hero’s Journey I’m talking about.
Hero’s Journey isn’t the only story structure on this planet. You can also refer to other narrative structures like linear narrative, non-linear narrative, quest narrative, viewpoint narrative, etc. I’ll write another article about these individual structures but for now, you can google them for reference.
If you’re aiming at presentation storytelling, the first thing you need to do is set up a story structure. How does this work with business? For example, if you’re presenting your research, you can craft a story of challenges you faced & how you came out victorious.
2. Business context is of the essence
I know exactly what’s the biggest challenge you’ll face in presentation storytelling. You’ll get carried away & lose business context. It’s dangerous because if you write too much personal, the audience will think, “How’s this relevant??”.
How to stop yourself from making this mistake? After writing each slide, ask yourself this question, “Does it make sense for the business?”.
For example, while delivering a sales presentation you went on & on about the Founder’s struggle - the pitch will fall flat. Know the circumstances! The prospects are interested in knowing how you can make their life better. Try this instead- build a before/after picture of imagination & a rationale to act now. (Refer to the Zuora sales deck)
3. The magical element of surprise & humor
The other day I came across a brilliant presentation from HubSpot (on SlideShare). The presentation started with, “YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE BETTER AT MARKETING THAN YOU”. Then the presentation went on about how the customers have learned to ignore brands & their content. The best thing about this presentation is that it starts with a challenging bold statement, an element of surprise. When I saw this slide, nothing could stop me from exploring it further.
You can always use the “element of surprise” to challenge existing beliefs, bring revolution & attract attention. How do I know it works? When I saw this slide, nothing could stop me from exploring it further. If it worked on someone who makes presentations every single day…it would work on anyone.
4. Build their stake in your success
Want to know what’s the ultimate level of presentation storytelling? Making the audience feel they have a stake in your success. I know only a few presentations that have been able to achieve this level. The Zuora Sales Presentation & The Airbnb investor presentation. The Airbnb pitch deck from 2009 was so good that it raised $600k from Sequoia Capital & Y Combinator.
But there’s a catch to making this happen. You need everything figured out with excellent ideas. The Airbnb pitch deck I referred to had no logical loopholes & they presented a rationale + vision to the investors. It made sense logically & was a great story too.
You can read our full analysis of the Airbnb pitch deck in this article: https://www.inknarrates.com/post/airbnb-pitch-deck
5. Claim your space
“Respect the time while presenting” is what we’ve been told all our lives. It’s a good ideology but causes rushed presentations. Presentation storytelling doesn’t work well with time constraints. If you have a great story to tell, don’t rush it. Relax, take up space & claim attention.
“Easier said than done, most events allot time to the speakers”. True, doesn’t mean you have to rush. Know your allotted time, rehearse your story & manage the pace. Not too fast, not too slow & you’ll do just fine.
6. The art of visual storytelling
As a Creative Director, I like the word “Visual Storytelling” better than “Storytelling”. What I mean is that a presentation is incomplete without a great design. Design matters more than you think. It has the potential to make or break your brand’s reputation.
Let’s refer to the Lion King again, no matter how good the storyline is, would you have enjoyed watching it without those Disney animations? I’m guessing the answer is no.
Similarly, do this favor for your audience. Make your presentation look good with proper layouts, emotional imagery, fun illustrations, conceptual icons, relevant typography, etc.
All in all!
Presentations have always been a great tool for business communication. Add storytelling to it & you have yourselves a brand communication masterpiece.
In case I haven’t made it clear, we design presentations as well as craft presentation stories. Feel free to reach out if you’d like to work with us, firstname.lastname@example.org