Presentation Fails and How to Fix Them #6: Stories

Check out this video, also on stories!

Let Me Tell You a Story

Everyone loves a good story. It can be the best way to start a presentation, because stories go straight into our brains, unimpeded by the usual barriers to understanding information.

Quite simply, we’re hard-wired to absorb stories. Our curiosity about the experiences of others (possibly the curiosity that enabled our ancestors to survive thousands of years ago) means that a good story is at the heart of good communication. Fairy tales, books, films and video games* all rely on our insatiable appetite for heroes, peril and resolution.

* Titles from the RPG genre of video games often feature words like ‘Story’, ‘Saga’, ‘Legends’, Adventures’, ‘Chronicles’ and ‘Tales’ (not forgetting the ironically interminable ‘Final Fantasy’ series).

Heroes

You may not think that you’re particularly heroic, but your experience can create a human aspect that elevates your communication – whether it’s a presentation, pitch, email or phone call – into something truly memorable, because it’s triggering the emotional, instinctive part of your audience’s brains, which also helps you make decisions. 

Peril

Your everyday tale of your perspective on the subject may not be enough, however. The novice’s way to tell a story often involves everything going to plan, which can be fairly uninteresting. What we want is your horrible day when everything went wrong. Tell me that you made a huge mistake (deleted lots of important files, broke something expensive, embarrassed yourself) and were then in serious trouble? I’m hooked. I LOVE hearing about someone else’s misfortune.

Resolution

That may sound unkind, but it’s only because I expect a satisfying end to the whole thing. Which is part of the reason we enjoy the story structure – it ties all the elements together and gives us the lesson to be learnt.

Next week: It’s all about the structure

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