4 steps to incorporate storytelling in your next talk

Dramatic structure applies to compelling presentations just as it does to riveting movies and page-turner novels. Here’s how to use those techniques to enthrall your audience.

A good story increases audience engagement and improves retention by 65–70 percent.

Compare that with the 5–10 percent audience retention generated by mere facts and statistics.

Stories work; it’s shocking that presenters don’t focus more on them. Here are four foolproof steps, based on dramatic structure, to create an engaging story:

  1. Set the stage. Draw your audience into the story, transporting them to a specific time and place. Failing to do so will leave your audience disconnected and cause your story to fall flat. As with painting scenery, setting the stage takes time and attention to detail. As you develop your story, don’t skimp on vivid details. They draw your audience in.
  2. Create tension. All great novels and exciting movies create tension, drawing the audience to the edges of their seats. Without tension, your story will come across as dull and inauthentic. When creating a tense moment, make it emotional. Emotion drives humans, and it increases memory and accuracy.
  3. Build the plot. Building your plot invites your audience to come along for the ride. As you develop the story, tell everything through the lens of tension. This will keep your audience guessing what will happen next. (For research, watch any TV show written by Shonda Rhimes, who has mastered the art of keeping her audience in suspense.)
  4. Stick the landing. This final phase is all about being prepared, knowing not only how to end, but also how to transition out of your story. Finish by tying in your overall presentation point so your audience understands why the story was important.

Great stories are a powerful tool for presenters, but they can be difficult to get right. Take the time to prepare. Even if you have told the same story 100 times to your friends, it is different in front of an audience. Rehearse your story, and be ready for whatever might come your way.

A version of this post first ran on the Ethos3 blog.

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