Adding a story to a presentation may seem like simple entertainment, but it does far more than just wake up a tired audience. When you tell a good story, you change your connection to the audience and how they perceive you, and that change renders the audience more likely to accept your presentation’s substance. But telling a story is just as much science as art.
Storytelling has a rich and well-studied history. Most academics agree that a good dramatic structure, or “arc,” has five key parts: the exposition, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the denouement (resolution):
- Exposition: setting the scene by introducing the characters or events
- Rising action: the series of incidents that build interest and set up the impending climax
- Climax: the turning point where worlds collide and a significant change results for the protagonist
- Falling action: the series of events that explain and bring the puzzle pieces back together
- Denouement/resolution: closing loose ends of the story
A story can be told in just a few sentences and still touch on each of these five components. But when a story falls flat, it is typically due to a lack of investment in the rising action. We are naturally eager to get to the punchline, but building suspense in any story is the hallmark of a great storyteller. (This is another example of the need to use pacing and silence effectively.) Take your time, and the audience will reward you.
Storytelling is an important asset to any presenter because it allows you to create an emotional connection with your audience. Remember that rhetoric breaks down into three key means of connecting with your audience: through credibility (ethos), through emotion (pathos), and through logic (logos). When you create a presentation focused solely on facts and figures, you are ignoring the emotional aspect of connection, whereas audiences–even audiences in formal business meetings–want to feel a sense of emotional satisfaction with any decision. By presenting a good story, you should yourself as genuine, compassionate, human, and relatable in a way that accentuates your credibility (ethos) and makes them “feel” something (pathos) at the same time. These feelings change the way the audiences listens, lowering the guard so that your ideas can sink in better.
Audiences that feel an emotional connection to the speaker are far more likely to adopt the ideas and recommend them to others, so in your next presentation, do more than just educate your audience; connect with them through a well-crafted story.