The Recipe to a Powerful Presentation Includes an Engaging Story | Perficient Digital

The Recipe to a Powerful Presentation Includes an Engaging Story

If you’re like me, you spend what feels like a decent portion of your professional life creating and compiling presentations. Or perhaps you’re like the other half of the professional world where a lot of your time is spent listening to those presentations.

I reflect back on conferences I’ve been to which are often a string of presentations and I try to think about which ones really stood out to me and stick in my mind. Chances are the ones that stand out include three things. A charismatic presenter, interesting subject matter, and a good story.

It’s something I’ve always suspected to be true, but the story concept is actually backed by scientific research. This New York Times article talks about what happens to your brain when someone tells you a story, fact or fiction. Here’s a excerpt:

In a study led by the cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading (or hearing) about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.

When we tell stories of emotion, describe smells and actions, our listeners brains become engaged in all of these areas even though this experience isn’t happening to them.storytelling

Certainly scientists aren’t the only ones that understand this. In the presidential debates, why did Obama answer questions about what he plans to do with our country with stories of growing up with his grandmother and the farm life struggles his family went through?  Why does Brian Tracy, a professional business speaker tell us stories about other business folk to demonstrate how to organize our calendars instead of using bullet points? Pharaoh’s lives and lessons described in picture painting cartouche’s. The bible uses parables.

Clearly not new ideas… These are all stories that are meant to engage us and make us understand new thoughts, or to make us want to get up and do something. We remember them better than presentations with bullet points.

Don’t just give a presentation with facts and figures. Find a way to weave in a story that truly engages the full mind of your audience. They’ll remember you far past the coffee break if you do.

2 responses to “The Recipe to a Powerful Presentation Includes an Engaging Story”

  1. Amit Malhotra says:

    Another great post Abbey! We all need to be better storytellers. I wonder how does one become a better story teller? Is it just practice? What works? What are some techniques?

    Like you said, the power of storytelling is not limited to presentations and has been leveraged in other forms as well. For example, the “Head First” series of books uses the story-telling metaphor to teach technical topics and their books are far more engaging than any other technology tomes.

    Similarly, can we make “requirement documents” more engaging by structuring them like a story.

  2. Abbey Smalley says:

    Thank you for the feedback Amit! I absolutely agree with your thought on transitioning this skill to requirement documents. These can be often near 100 pages in length and a hard read… But keep them short and too the point, so not to add too much fluff to important details.

    As for how to improve your story telling skills, I am such a huge fan of Toastmasters! They give you experience giving presentations and telling stories, and you get a wealth of feedback. The key is absolutely practice. Killing off the nerves with practice, and seeing what your audience reacts to is always the best way.

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