More Than a Meeting: How to Bring the “Story” Back to Your Business Presentations

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

PowerPoint, the main mode of communication for businesses, has become the antithesis of good storytelling. Here’s what you can do about it:

Throughout history, across cultures, stories have been the primary media by which people educate, entertain and instill moral values.

Stories are passed down from generation to generation. Stories are how we learn, and how we share information.

It’s not surprising then that the way people tell stories has an outsized effect on their love and business. Good storytellers are happier in life. The ability to tell a good story coincides with the ability to relate to others on an emotional level.

In short, good storytellers can tap emotions. And although we might hate to admit it, we all know and have personally experienced, that emotions are much more powerful at incentivizing action than logic.

In the business world, however, storytelling has fallen by the wayside. PowerPoint presentations, the main mode of communication for businesses, have unfortunately become the antithesis of good storytelling. 

Related Article: Slide Envy: 5 Awesome Methods for Creating Captivating PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint’s strength lies in its ease with which anyone can create charts and call-outs, combine them with images, and video to supposedly create a great, compelling, gut-tugging pitch. That’s great, right? No, not really. Often times, those charts and pictures just overshadow the story or even replace it entirely.

It’s linear one slide per idea, a list of bullets, etc. and deters the process of “telling a good story.” In business, we have a tendency to cut the bull and get to the point. No one has time for superfluous extras. After many iterations of this practice, your slide library becomes filled with disconnected content that frequently doesn’t support a broader message or brand. Here’s what you can do about it:

Putting the Story Into the Presentation

To help business folks incorporate storytelling and notion of evoking emotion to incentivize an action, here are ways to weave a good story line, into even the driest of subjects.

Related Article:Beyond PowerPoint: 10 Tools and Services for Better Presentations

  1. Close PowerPoint. And while you’re at it, close your eyes. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to chant your mantra). Tell the story of your product to yourself, in your head, as if you were talking to someone else. If you’re lucky enough to have a willing colleague or a 10-year-old nearby, tell your story to him. In doing so, you will force yourself away from the crutches of PowerPoint, and get your product down to its most basic attributes those attributes that positively affect someone else’s life. 
  2. Beginning, Middle and End. Good stories have a clear beginning, where your product is introduced, a middle, where your product is described and its reason for being is justified, a climax where your product is clearly the hero and solver of all problems making everyone’s life better, and an end, where your product has saved the day, and everyone is happy. Ask yourself, what is the beginning, middle and end for your product.
  3. How does that feel? Without sounding like an overbearing helicopter parent, consider the emotions associated with each phase of your product’s story. This is critical. This is how you relate to your customer, to tap their emotions, and ultimately get them to want your product.
  4. What does that look like?  Visualize the content. Now that you have an intrinsic understanding of your product story, you can incorporate images and videos that further the plot, and trigger emotion. Pictures are powerful. The trick is to ensure that the images you use support the story, and not overshadow it.
  5. Open PowerPoint. You’ve just created a story for your product. Now, you can put that story, with its human element and natural transitions from one idea to the next, onto the slides. Transitions, those things we were forced to write in Freshman year essay class, are essential to creating a story. Using transitions will also break the slide-slide-slide, bullet-bullet-bullet, rigid structure of PowerPoint. Remember the story drives the deck. Not the other way around.

Related Article:In the Can: 5 Types of Presentations Every CEO Needs to Have

Even though technology makes doing business much more efficient and productive today, than even five years ago. People, not slides, not algorithms, are ultimately in charge of the decisions. They ultimately determine who, how much, and when. People, not PowerPoint, are in charge.  So talk to them, talk with them, learn from them, and help them. A person, not an algorithm, will ultimately, buy or not buy, your product. So present like a person.

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