Narratives and storytelling are vital to making presentations more cohesive, relatable, and engaging. Regardless of the audience, content, and allotted time – presentations should always be clear and succinct to ensure audiences understand the presenter’s purpose and potential value.
Presentations that lack a compelling narrative can seem generic and irrelevant to audiences. This can make the content seem unclear or the presentation could suffer from ‘death by PowerPoint’. Presenting a generic PowerPoint with no thought or consideration for narrative can be off putting and confusing for audiences.
The human brain craves narratives, particularly as storytelling is how people think and make sense of the world around them – we tell each other and ourselves stories to better understand the way life unfolds. The ability to craft and relate to stories has remained a vital survival skill for humans and one of the critical characteristics that separates us from other creatures.
The power of storytelling and narratives can influence how we make decisions and how we persuade others. Using stories in presentations also helps the presenter and their audience better organise the information, helping ideas translate and driving audiences to action.
Without a good narrative, presentations are just a regurgitation of facts and figures, which means there’s no story for audiences to understand and latch onto. This means audience members will have to work hard to try and figure out what is being said, where the presentation is going, and what the presenter needs them to do or think.
A key rule of storytelling is giving the audience an emotional experience. Purposeful stories that resonate with audiences ensure the content is better retained, clearly understood, and moves them to action. One of the most effective and efficient way to do this is through metaphor and analogy. These linguistic devices are critical components of how we think – the building blocks of knowledge and understanding that are used to evoke images and activate memory to transform viewers into active participants.
Storytelling and narrative make comprehension and engagement easier for audiences as the presenter has structured content in a clear, simple, and logical manner. Stories convey information in a meaningful way that is cohesive, conclusive, and compelling. Stories also makes content easier to remember, so audiences are more likely to act upon the presentation or easily recall information afterwards.
Without a narrative, presentations are just a series of slides. There’s no story for the audience to understand, just a presenter speaking at them rather than to them. It’s about providing context, empathy, and value through stories that connect with audience members. Since a presentation is all about getting the audience to act – such as adopting an idea or moving to the next stage of their buying process – presenters need a clear narrative argument that lays down why audiences should do what they want them to do.
Creating a Presentation Narrative
While we believe in focusing on the audience, it’s important to take this idea one step further and determine the action audiences should follow post presentation. This is essentially the purpose of any presentation – driving the audience to take action that is specific, clear, achievable, and fits with their processes. Remember, it’s uncommon for deals to be brokered off a single presentation, so it’s better to leave a lasting impression that brings the audience one step closer to signing the deal.
With a clear end goal for the presentation, now we can focus on the audience. Understand what problems they’re trying to solve, what challenges they face, and what goals they hope to achieve. Presenters should also have a clear picture of who’s in the audience – their job roles, the market they operate in, the current trends and challenges impacting their industry, plus the products and services they commonly seek.
Once a presenter understands these details, it’ll be much easier to distinguish a unique value proposition, presenting a product or service that could benefit the audience. Then it’s a matter of framing this value through a cohesive and engaging story that audiences can relate to, ensuring that they understand the details, risks, and benefits that could help drive their decision.
Basic Narrative Structures
Author and journalist, Christopher Booker, penned a seminal book about the importance of stories their psychological meaning. Within this book he outlined seven basic plots that help writers structure their narratives. The seven basic plots he outlined are: overcoming a monster; rags to riches; voyage and return; the quest; comedy; tragedy; and rebirth.
Each of these storytelling structures have clear stages and consequences. Whether you’re using narrative structure to inspire, build a cautionary tale, or demonstrate the value of what’s being presented, the key is making your character’s motivations clear, ensuring their decisions seem realistic/relatable, and not including any superfluous details.
Another classic structure for presentation narratives is the three-act formula, which uses the basic story arc to build and release narrative tension. At its simplest, the protagonist and their goals are identified, then they go through challenges and obstacles, and finally emerge transformed.
Regardless of which narrative structure a presenter uses, every story must fit within the context of the presentation, or at least tie in with the presenter’s remarks. Forced stories have the opposite effect, they disconnect the audience and make it harder for them to understand where you’re going with the presentation. Stories need purpose. They must be relevant to the experience and interests of the audience. Each story should have a point to it that listeners can easily grasp and identify with. Presenters should use stories to put information into perspective, not replace it. By making stories clear and relevant, a presentation is better supported, better understood, and better structured.
Presenters should usually opt for a personal story as these are naturally embedded with emotion, which makes the presenter vulnerable and better connects them to their audience. Personal stories also make it easier for presenters to select how they want to tell the story, what details to include, and what elements are most likely to strike a chord with the audience.
The power of storytelling also comes from scarcity. Avoid going overboard with stories; instead, using them sparingly ensure sure that they are the right narratives to stay with the audience even after the presentation is over.