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Engaging your audience through storytelling [Blog]

Hand drawing Storytelling For ChangeIn my recent years of delivering training sessions in a variety of settings, including government and private industries, it has become clear that storytelling is what engages the audience. Even the most conscientious attendees (who do pre-reading) sometimes struggle to make sense of a challenging topic.

Stories can help explain what might otherwise be overly complex, or hard to relate to. In our corporate world with a myriad of bullet points in those never-ending slide sessions, stories enable us to connect emotionally, giving us a connection to another human.

Our brain is wired to understand and retain stories. We remember those stories more than we remember statistics and when combined together; the story and the data provide a persuasive and impactful experience.

Recently, I was in the audience for a presentation from an engineer who spoke about her 15 year career path to date. Given that she was presenting to a group of similarly minded analytical people I was expecting a multitude of statistics with perhaps a few graphs thrown in for visual appeal. Instead, what she presented was a series of stories, using photographs to capture the situations and roles she was describing. The encounter was engaging and persuasive – even I thought about becoming an engineer!

Attendees in my sessions can often encounter a lot of new information. While the nature of these sessions can vary, how often are we asked to present new content in an organisational setting? In a change management situation, how often do you need to provide reasons for people to change their behaviours? Simply telling them that the project will improve the bottom line is rarely engaging enough.

Female speaker at a business seminarConsider these elements to successful storytelling when incorporating a story into your presentation.

  1. Why are you telling the story?
    Remember why you are giving the presentation: you want the audience to leave understanding and supporting the ideas you just delivered. To achieve this, it is important to be clear about the purpose of your story. If you don’t have a clear vision of what the audience will know or feel by the time you have finished, it is unlikely that they will either.
  2. How will you deliver the story?
    Storytelling in presentations is a powerful way to grab attention, hold attention, and to change beliefs. To achieve this, it is important to consider both verbal (the words you say) and nonverbal (gestures, tone, pitch) communication elements. When communicating, 55% is body language, 38% is tone of voice and only 7% is the actual words spoken.
  3. Call to action No matter how fascinating you find the topic or content, your goal is to engage the people you are talking to. Place yourself in their shoes and endeavour to provide an answer to their unsaid “So what?” question.
  4. Beginning, middle and end… but not in that order
    Consider starting your story in the middle. If you are describing the story of a troubled project and the ultimate solutions, rather than describing all the relevant, but perhaps unnecessary facts that lead to the trouble, open your story with the warning signs first. Your story line can unfold like a good movie that starts in the middle, flashes back to the beginning then provides the climactic ending.
  5. Authentic
    Above all, be authentic in your narrative. If you don’t believe in your story, nether will they!

For further discussion, contact the team at solutions@tmsconsulting.com.au or (07) 3003 1473.

In addition to this, TMS Consulting recommends Jennifer Aker’s Harnessing the Power of Stories for more information on using stories to increase engagement.