How To Prepare A Story For A Business Presentation

Stories are the secret ingredient of presentations that make a difference in the world and also achieve the desired results that inspired the presentation in the first place.

If you deliver a presentation that is comprised of nothing but stats and facts, you will fail to engage the imaginations and emotions of the audience members. Activating the emotions and imaginations of presentation attendees is essential if you want your audience to remember your presentation and also take action based on your presentation.

Storytelling can be a challenge for most presenters, so here are a few tips to simplify the potentially daunting task of integrating stories into business presentations:

1. Identify A Purpose

Every minute of your presentation matters. You cannot waste any time, or risk confusing your audience by including a story that adds no value to your presentation. However, since every presentation can benefit from an appropriate story, the trick is to find a story that will enhance your presentation. 

To help you develop a tale that will add meaning to your presentation, look through your existing presentation content to identify one or more parts of your presentation that might benefit from a story.

Perhaps you notice the middle of your presentation is less dynamic than the beginning or end of your presentation. If so, the middle of your presentation might be the perfect place for a story.

Or, you might discover that the main point of your presentation lacks any emotional appeal, and therefore you decide to add a story to the beginning of your presentation, when you first introduce the main idea of your presentation.

Once you identify a weak area within your presentation, you can then craft a story that will truly improve your presentation in a powerful way.

Additional Resource5 Storytelling Tips for Presentations

2. Discover The Story

Keeping in mind the section of your presentation that will benefit the most from a story, start considering stories that will be the perfect fit for that part of your presentation.  You might not be able to think of a story immediately, and that is okay. Hopefully you have given yourself enough time to prepare for your presentation so you can let a good story come to you, instead of trying to force an inappropriate story into your important business presentation simply because you lack the time to do it right.

presentation storytelling

As you contemplate various story options, read books, articles, and blogs, as well as listen to podcasts, and watch movies. While you are looking for a story, you need to live and breathe stories. If a story comes to you from one of these resources, feel free to use it, as long as you give appropriate attribution. If a story does not come to you from an outside source, let the stories you consume inspire the development of your personal story.

In addition, as you consider story options, keep in mind the audience that will be present for your presentation. 

For example, if you will be presenting to an audience of millennial professionals, you should try to share a story that will help you connect to that demographic, such as a story that demonstrates your commitment to community service, or your development of non-traditional business practices, such as working from home options for your employees.

On the flip side, if you’re presenting to executives from the baby boomer generation, you might want to pick a story that subtly highlights your many years of professional experience, as well as the positive results that you produced.

It is most important to pick a story that will improve your presentation, however if you can tailor your story for your audience while also enhancing the overall message of your presentation, your story will be more likely to help you achieve the objective you set for your presentation. 

Whether you choose a personal story, or a story that comes from outside your personal experiences, look for a story that has a defining moment, ideally two defining moments: a moment of complication in the beginning and a moment of transformation in the end. If possible, your story will have a strong ending as well as a strong beginning so you can hook your audience right out of the gate, and also leave them with a memorable conclusion.

Additional Resource: How To Find A Story To Enhance Your Public Speaking Presentations

3. Write It Out

Once you have a loose idea for a story that will improve your business presentation, think of how you want to end your selected story. Then, write the ending before you write any other part of your story.

Ideally, your story will end with a powerful statement, or describe a moment of transformation. If your conclusion is weak, consider ending your story at a different point. If shortening your story does not result in a more powerful ending, be prepared to scratch your chosen story and select a more impactful tale. Once you know where your story is headed, outline the beginning and middle of your story.

When outlining the beginning of your presentation, look for a moment of complication, struggle, or change of circumstances that can serve as the launching point for your story. If you cannot think of a complication that can function as the beginning of your story, try to think of another interesting element that will give the start of your tale a nice hook.

For example, can you start your story with an exciting action, or unusual setting?

Or, can you start your story by revealing something unexpected about yourself, or something funny?

presentation storytelling

As you’re outlining the middle of your presentation, only include details that relate to your presentation, and/or are needed to get listeners from the beginning to the end – and nothing more.

Remember that your story is meant to enhance your presentation, and that is it. Yes, you want you story to give listeners insight into who you are, and also hopefully more information about your product/service/idea, however only as much as is needed to support the main objective of your presentation.

Once you have outlined your story from beginning to end, fill in the holes of your outline by scripting your story word for word. Write your story with a conversational tone, as well as active language instead of passive language, and descriptive vocabulary. Being conversational will help you appeal to the emotions of the audience; they will feel as if they are listening to a story told by a friend. Active language will help the audience feel as if they are living the story themselves. In addition, descriptive language will also help the audience imagine the story, and take it in as their own experience. You will not need to follow your script verbatim when delivering the story during your actual presentation, however a script will be helpful as you rehearse your presentation. 

Additional Resource3 Storytelling Tips from Acclaimed Writer Burt Helm

4. Test It – Thoroughly

Once you have developed a solid draft of your story as well as a draft for your entire presentation, practice in front of several people who are similar to the people who will be in the audience for your presentation. 

Be prepared to go back to the drawing board if your story does not resonate with the audience during your practice sessions, or if the audience likes the story but does not feel as if the story enhances the overall presentation.

You might need to craft a different story, or you might need to revise how you present your chosen story. Since there is a chance your story will not result in a standing ovation during your practice sessions, go into your practice sessions with an open mind, as well as gratitude for the feedback you are about to receive. Remember: the audience you select for your practice sessions is doing you a favor, so keep a positive attitude and be thankful for the opportunity to improve your presentation. 

To get the most out of the practice sessions, be prepared to ask attendees the right questions. Don’t simply ask if they liked your story and presentation; that question will not lead to the type of insight you need to edit effectively. Here are some sample questions to help you think of ways to get the most our of your practice sessions:

–     How did the story enhance or detract from the presentation?

–    What emotions did you (the audience)experience during the story?

–    At what point were the emotions the strongest? And why?

–    How did you imagine the story?

–    IE: Can you describe how you envisioned the setting, the characters, and the main actions of the story?

–    How did you feel at the end of the story?

–    What was the most exciting/boring part of the presentation?

–    In your opinion, would the boring section(s) benefit from a story?

–    If so, do you have a story to suggest?

–     If you had to summarize the story in one sentence for a friend, what would you say about the story?

–     What sections of the presentation can be improved? How would you suggest improving those sections?

–    Do you know of a story that would be a better fit for my presentation?

Additional Resource: The Importance of Emotions In Presentations


How do you prepare to tell stories during your presentations? Tweet us your favorite storytelling tips at @Ethos3. We’d love to hear your ideas!

Additional Resources:

The Science of Storytelling For Presentations (Infographic)

Storytelling Ideas for Presentations

The 5 Elements of Storytelling

Why You Must Tell Stories, Not Dump Information, In Your Presentations

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