Stories sell: that’s what we’re told all the time. However, there’s an art to telling stories. If you tell a hypothetical story and don’t bring it to life, the audience won’t lean in and engage with the narrative. If your story lacks details, or the characters are flat and lifeless, the story’s message is unlikely to resonate with the audience.

Consider this:

I had a client, let’s call him Steve, and he was really good at his job but hated presenting in front of his board. He came to me for help. We worked on his confidence, focused his messaging and thoroughly prepared him. The next presentation he did for his board was really successful.

All the elements of a story are there, but I don’t get into the storytelling groove. It’s a top-line, whitewashed story.

It’s all about the details: What kind of person was Steve? What did he think? What did he feel? How was his challenge affecting him?

I had a client, let’s call him Steve. He was a brilliant guy and well-liked in his workplace. However, when he had to speak in front of his board, he froze. He got so nervous and tongue-tied that he, in his words, “came across like a deer caught in the headlights.” This was seriously affecting his career and he was frustrated. So he came to me for help. We worked together on his confidence. We clearly defined his message, his audience, and the added value he was bringing to the board. I gave him some breathing exercises and visualisation tools. We thoroughly prepared and practiced his next presentation, and with his newfound confidence he “nailed it.” Steve felt powerful and competent. And the result? His board agreed to his new project proposal, and the chair even congratulated him on his presentation.”

Here we understand the pain that Steve felt. We hear his frustration and feel for him. We also rejoice with him when he succeeds. His character is more likeable and relatable (oh, I know someone like that!), due to the feelings, thoughts and details that I’ve added. We also understand the journey he went through and more about the coaching that he undertook. The essentials of the story are the same, but I’ve injected a bit of storytelling magic.

When you add a story to your presentation, make sure you give it some colour. Bring the context and characters to life and delight your listeners with a tale that feels real and becomes something they can truly connect with.

A story only sells when it’s brought to life…

Questions to breathe life into your stories:

  • Where did it take place? (If country, town, or situation is relevant)
  • What sort of environment? (In a hostile place? A learning situation? Was it stressful? Was it business-as-usual?)
  • What sort of weather? (If relevant – a beautiful, sunny spring morning; end of a long, dismal winter; framed by a glorious sunset; stiflingly, stuffy and hot)
  • What was the context? (What does the audience need to know to understand the situation? Who’s in a powerful situation? What task needs to be completed, what challenge overcome?)

Questions to breathe life into your characters:

  • What kind of person are they? (Happy-go-lucky; serious and straight-forward; adventurous; careful…)
  • How do they feel? (Frustrated; carefree; powerless; scared…)
  • What do they think? (They know it all; they’re totally lost; they were wondering what happened to the life they used to know…)
  • Can you put their ideas or thoughts into words? (Instead of “He told me that he was unhappy,” say: “He came to me and said, ‘Helen, I’m really not happy about this situation.’”)

Inject some storytelling magic into your next presentation.

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