Jackanory – presenting information better through story telling

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I am sure most of us will agree that stories are great, they can make us laugh, they can make us cry, uplift us, perhaps inspire you, or move you, or even motivate and educate. More importantly a narrative enables you to have a far better chance of being remembered and remembering important points or the message a speaker may be trying to make. So, why is it then that so many presenters in business back away from using a story telling narrative? Is it because in the business, we are so often discouraged from using techniques and methods that might stir the emotions or perhaps create drama? In my work coaching clients approaching interviews, giving important presentations, providing information on a subject, or even sell a concept or product – a story helps cement the information into a memorable and emotive structure. 

Chances are the most memorable speakers are not someone simply standing on a platform and spouting out reams of facts and figures, or simply showing yet another mind numbing sequence of “death by PowerPoint” slides. No the best speakers told a story or a narrative to make and illustrate the main points. The very best speakers in business realise that this art form not only engages human interest and curiosity but has been used since time immemorial. Moreover it is a wonderful way in which to wrap-up your message up for audiences to engage in and enjoy. So those executives & sales people looking to motivate or emotionally engage customers, supervisors and managers looking to help teams focus & leaders wanting to project a more authentic impression then read on.

So how and why does story telling in business work and how can it be achieved. Well the phrase “narrative thinking” is a way we psychologically tell ourselves stories to connect thoughts and create meaning from our experiences. Indeed stories can help prevent “conformation bias” where we can favour information that satisfies our prejudices & preconceptions regardless whether or not the information has truth or not. As a result, we tend to gather evidence and recall information from memory highly selectively thus interpreting it in a biased way. So if someone is trying to change our minds on something using facts and figures, we often dig in our heels and resist. Conformation bias crops up regularly in change management and sales initiatives, financial decision making, politics and our own values and beliefs. Narratives therefore, guide the listener without a proposition of opposing facts thus allowing us toward our own conclusions of the information.

Here are a few points to consider when starting the process

  • If possible, tell a personal story about your challenges, an organisational tale or a colleagues experience –  it’s unlikely that anyone else will have heard it before and will therefore tell a very compelling story without the need for notes.

  • Try to have plenty of obstacles or problems that needed to be overcome – all stories need to show a journey from the problem to how it was overcome

  • Focus upon simple and compelling story telling. Look at the information you want to impart – is it strategic, the future, business values, a brand or perhaps encouraging innovation or creativity

  • Engage your audience by using effective body language/non-verbal communication and gestures. Use varied pitch of voice, focus upon pacing, pausing, pitch, tone and volume. 

  • Lastly preparation, preparation and more preparation – rehearse intensively so that when you tell your tale it flows effortlessly

Practice the skills of telling effective narratives at work, for interviews and helping people understand new concepts and to perhaps call to action. Interestingly, most people are unlikely to remember more than three points made in a presentation and they will probably be forgotten in a short time too. Needless to say, telling your compelling story will no doubt help the listener remember your message longer. Lastly, be prepared to refine your stories to adapt to different audiences, therefore keeping the information relevant and helping them engage with your message. Think about those inspirational speakers, how they made you feel and what you remember……you can do that too. So are you sitting comfortably – yes well let us begin!