A good story can increase an audience’s memory retention by 65%. That is not a small number when it comes to the effectiveness of your presentation. However, many of us fall into the trap of underdeveloped stories. The key to great stories is understanding an age-old formula to storytelling and using this formula to create your own. If you want to experience that 65% jump in memory retention, start by understanding the Arc of the Story.
Check out these 5 steps to telling a great story.
An inciting incident is defined as an episode, plot point, or event that hooks the reader into the story. This is a crucial part to every story. The inciting Incident is what makes your audience stick with you throughout the remainder of your story. Don’t skimp on this – use this moment to draw in your audience and bring them to the edge of their seats.
Example: I still remember the first time I presented in front of an audience. My hands were sweaty, and my nerves were skyrocketing. As I sat waiting in the wings of my college auditorium, thousands of my peers filled the room, and I began to panic as I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into.
The rising action in a story is a series of relevant incidents that create suspense, interest, and tension in a narrative. This is the bulk of your story where you develop your characters, expose character flaws, and highlight character strengths. As a presenter, it is important to press in to this section; use your words to paint a picture, and draw your audience into the moment you are expressing.
Example: Time seemed to move in slow motion at this point. As the final seats filled with last-minute stragglers, I knew there was no escaping. I began to question my preparation, my abilities, even my clothing choices. I found myself asking why anyone would trust me to speak to this room. Then I heard it – my name was called, and I was being waved onto the stage. As I stepped onto stage and looked out over the audience, my nerves began to dissipate. I sat down on the stool to begin my presentation.
The climax, is a Greek term meaning “ladder.” It’s that particular point in a narrative at which the conflict or tension hits its highest point. This is the mountain top of your story and the point where you audience either cringes in horror as you describe a fatal error or cheers with excitement as you unveil your victory. As a presenter, this is an opportunity to humanize yourself. Don’t ever hesitate to tell a story where the climax ends in defeat. In fact, audiences are much more likely to empathize and understand your narrative if it’s relatable and vulnerable. Show how you failed and then found success to prove that you know what you’re talking about.
Example: As I sat down on the stool, I started my presentation. The audience was engaging, and I felt like this was my moment. The more comfortable I became, the more I began to lean back into my stool. Before I knew it, I was leaning back using just two of the three legs for balance. Anyone who has ever been to grade school knows how bad of an idea this is…. I turned the corner to close my presentation, and the unthinkable happened. Still to this day, I don’t know how, but the two legs that were supporting my stool suddenly slipped from underneath me, and, as it always does, gravity won. I immediately crashed to the floor, mortified as 3,000 of my peers broke out in laughter.
The falling action of a story is the section of the plot following the climax in which the tension stemming from the story’s central conflict decreases and the story moves toward its conclusion. For presenters, this part of the story is where your audience can take a breather. If you have done your job correctly, you will have created enough tension that they will be ready for you to lift the suspense. Allow them to breathe in the emotion you were feeling in the climax and take them on a journey to the end of the story.
Example: There I sat, unsure of what to do. Everything inside of me wanted to run away and transfer schools immediately. How could I ever face these people again? Somehow, I slowly stood to my feet, trying hard not to make eye contact with anyone while I felt the heat radiating off my flushed face.
The resolution is the part of a story’s plot line in which the problem of the story is resolved or worked out. For presenters, this is the time in your story to bring everything full circle and make the point you were trying to illustrate. If you want your story to be more than just a funny moment or a chance for your audience to check their social media, then you have to make it mean something. You’ve worked hard to create a great story – don’t blow it by skimping on your resolution.
Example: All of a sudden, from the corner of my eye, I spotted my teammates who were giving me a supportive thumbs up and the encouraging sign to keep going. That encouragement was just enough to give me the courage to finish my presentation. My face eventually returned to its normal hue, and I was able to re-engage with my peers. I learned an amazing lesson that day: no matter what your experience or how much life can take a turn, if you are surrounded by the right people, you will always be able to get back up and keep moving forward.
Stories are powerful. They keep your audience connected and humanize you as a presenter. Utilizing them in your next presentation not only elevates your audience’s ability to retain your content, but it also draws them in to your humanity.
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