If you’re asked to give a presentation in the final hours of a four-day conference, brace yourself, because you’re facing some serious hurdles. Your audience members have been on busy engagements for half a week. they are tired. They are ready to catch flights back home. And they are tapped on Charts and Data.
So what do you do if you’re in one of the more adversarial positions a public speaker can face? How do you engage the audience during the presentation? You let your guard down – and you let your audience in.
A Tale of Effective Professional Storytelling
If your immediate reaction is, “Great idea, but a story won’t engage the audience,” then you’re wrong. I’ve seen how powerful storytelling can be, even when your listeners seem to be on a wander.
Take the case of a presenter at a convention that I attended. This was the last dinner. About 1,500 of us were sipping coffee, playing cutlery, and shying away from listening to another speech. Our presenters, seemingly taken aback, confidently walked onto the stage.
His speech began on a distinctive note: He introduced himself as an employee of an organization committed to helping those who have successfully re-instated society after jail time. She shared some shocking statistics on how difficult it is for those in prison to get a fair jolt on the other side of justice.
So far, his approach has been informative. We poured cream into our coffee, listening politely (but not fully engaged in his speech). Then, it happened: She went full storytelling mode. With a notable change in her cadence and demeanor, she began talking about how she became a single parent years ago. After giving birth, she worked three jobs while trying to finish school. She hooked us up with stories about school bake sales and late-night essays.
Many of us in the audience can relate to her busy schedule and inability to juggle everything. That is, until she shared a story about the night a coworker offered her methamphetamine to help her stay awake. Within a few weeks, she was hooked. And we were excited by a presentation that got very personal.
When the bullets ran out, our speaker told us, she became desperate. She stole money from an employer, bought drugs from the streets, and eventually ended up in prison for 18 months. He lost everything – including precious time with his daughter.
No one in the audience took a breath. Somebody moved. No one reached across the table to collect sugar packets. We were all connected by a wonderful lady who understood how to really engage the audience during a performance. she just wasn’t Say one story. She Was Story. And it changed everything for the audience.
“There’s always room for a story that can take people to another place.” – JK Rowling
Using Storytelling to Be a Better Speaker
Now, you can never give a speech in such challenging circumstances. However, if you work long enough, you will be making some sort of presentation or speech during your career. As you prepare, remember that one of the most effective strategies for becoming a better speaker is to use storytelling.
Why do we love stories? Make it human nature: Stories are how we connect; They help us. And when we belong to something, we feel connected to something.
Consider how many times you’ve turned an event in your life into a story, used a story to illustrate a theory, or told a story to emphasize a point. We rely on these narratives relentlessly, but we often forget to tell the story when delivering professional presentations. As a result, we weaken our relationship with our audience. But often, it’s challenging to share yourself as storytellers—especially in a professional setting.
Curious to learn how to become a better presenter and engage your audience with storytelling? Consider these techniques:
1. Show, don’t tell.
Although fine-grained details are important, simply “telling” the facts isn’t the best way to engage an audience. Instead, use sensory details — sight, sound and smell — to invite your audience members to tell the story rather than tell them. This creates a more immersive presentation for your listeners, bringing them into the moment with you and, in turn, sharing experiences with them rather than talking directly to them.
2. Remember the ‘why’.
Stories are powerful and transformative, but only if you allow them to paint the full picture as it did. To do this, you need to know the “why” of the story you’re sharing. What are you trying to convey to the audience members? What do you want them to take away from their time with you?
The presenter mentioned earlier in the article had one goal: to help their audience understand what their organization can do. She could spend her time sharing tons of statistics, but those numbers aren’t as powerful or transformative as her story. She found a way to help us connect on a deeper level to her company’s purpose by sharing the “why.”
3. Resist the temptation to read aloud.
One of the biggest mistakes speakers make is reading from the script. Although children generally prefer to read, teen and adult audiences need more engagement. The less you rely on reading a page, the more you will be able to connect with your audience physically and emotionally and create an enriching experience. Set aside cue cards in favor of making eye contact, gesturing with your hands, and expressing emotions through facial expressions.
4. Connect your speech to something personal.
Whenever possible, share yourself and your personality in your presentations and speeches. If you’re naturally funny, add humor. If you’re a golfer, use the game as a metaphor for your message. Above all, provide personal experiences that are linked to the speech you are delivering.
When you share from experience, you invite the humanity of all to the table. And it changes the dynamic between you and your audience for the better. The more heartfelt and authentic you are when telling your personal story, the more memorable the presentation will be.
5. Allow yourself to be emotional.
It is often thought that it is inappropriate to be emotional in a professional setting. But emotions are the gateway to seeing another human being and the road they have walked. For example, when listeners see an actual tear in the corner of the keynote speaker’s eye, they are struck by the person’s presentation. Showing your feelings also allows audience members to embrace their feelings.
Stories are an art form in themselves. And mastering the art of storytelling is one of the primary ways to become a better speaker. The more you allow stories to be organically generated in your presentations—whether it’s in a five-minute speech at a Rotary Club or a 40-minute TED-style talk about your latest product—the more you can create your own. Can create rich and immersive experience for the audience.