A story is a tool. You have to know how to use it or it may do more damage than good. You wouldn’t pick up a hammer to affix a screw. You use a hammer to pound in nails. And stories—used correctly— are used to pound in truths.
In a previous blog, we saw the powerful effect stories can have on your business presentations. Compared to mere facts and figures, stories are remembered up to 22 times more often. Not to mention that more of your brain’s total mass is engaged when hearing a story (than if only facts and data) as are more individual brain processes.
We also saw that not all stories are created equal—nor do they have the same effects. Those that are more salient will reap greater benefits because they are more relevant, more significant, more timely, and better able to enhance the overall and individual points of your presentation.
But just because the brain is predisposed to hearing a story and you may have identified some salient stories for your upcoming speech, doesn’t mean you are “all set.” There is a definite art to storytelling and skills needed to set one up, deliver it well, and apply it to the rest of your presentation
Here are some tips for more productive storytelling:
Set up your story in an intriguing way.
When introducing your story, don’t just wave a flag by saying, “Let me tell you a story that illustrates why I think this is such an important point.” Instead, try something like, “Going the extra mile with a customer can really make the difference between simply making a business transaction and building a lasting relationship. Just last week I was faced with the opportunity to… “ And you’re off into your story. Whatever setup you use should be natural and lead listeners to say, “Tell me more.”
Use your vocal tone and pitch to engage your audience.
Listen to good storytellers and you’ll immediately realize that they transport themselves out of their ordinary, everyday world into another, taking their audience with them. That’s done primarily through their voice where they rarely stay on the same pitch level nor do they hover at the same monotonic level for very long. Variety of highs and lows make for more compelling narratives.
Use timing and planned pauses to your advantage.
Not only can the tone and pitch of one’s voice be modified for maximum effect, but the pace, timing, and use of intentional pauses can add suspense and excitement to your tale. The master storyteller leads his audience on an emotional roller coaster ride from point to point, well aware of every sharp turn and sudden drop, enhancing the overall pleasure of the ride. You might use a hurried pace to convey action and slower pace and pauses to build suspense or add a feeling of expectation, for instance.
Keep story details relevant and to a minimum.
Especially in the middle of your story, where the momentum tends to slow and wander, it is important to keep things moving forward. Facts and story elements that don’t on point will likely distract and take you off course, potentially losing your audience along the way. Use only the story elements that are essential. The audience typically won’t need to know that your story character was wearing a Armani suit, he earned his law degree from the University of Texas, or that he always arrives at the office 15 minutes late. Include the necessary; nix all the rest.
Identify and accentuate your story’s main point.
Just as knowing when to tell a story is crucial to the success of your presentation, knowing when to land that all-important main point, or punch line, is equally important. Everything needs to build up to it, not only in content but also in delivery, so that when you present the punch line, people have no doubt about it and are knocked out by it. Release it too soon or too late and you’ve lost the moment—and the opportunity to wow the crowd.
Tie your story back into your presentation.
Remember, the main reason for your story isn’t to tell a story. The relevance and significance your story has and your ability to compare or contrast its details with a main point will determine whether you’ve enhanced your presentation or not. A good story told well needs little explanation yet has a profound enhancing effect. Tell the story, show its application, and move on.
There’s an old Hopi proverb that states, “He who tells the stories rules the world.” In business presentations, those who can engage their audience, deliver a compelling story well, and apply it to their overall message will go a long way in ruling the world they’re trying to influence.