A father was walking with his son through the woods. The boy was young – maybe 4.
As they walked, they came upon a large log across their path.
The boy looked at his father and said, “Dad, do you think I can move that log?”
His dad said, “If you use all your strength, I think you can.”
So the little boy went up to the log. He pushed. And pushed. He shoved. And grunted and pushed some more.
He gave one more mighty shove!
And he couldn’t budge that log.
So he looked up at his dad and, sadly, said, “Dad, you were wrong. I can’t move that log.”
His dad said, “Just give it one more try.”
This time the dad pushed with his little boy; and together they quickly got that log out of their way.
The dad looked at his son and said,
“See. You could move the log.
You just weren’t using all your strength. You didn’t ask me for help.”
This is what teamwork and collaboration are all about.
I’d like to collaborate with you here, on the topic of using stories in presentations.
We often hear presentation advice that says – Use Stories. I wholeheartedly agree; but it’s not always easy to know:
- What Types of Stories to Use
- Where to Find Stories
- When to Use Them.
- How to Use Them
What Type of Stories to Use
Taking stories from your own experience works extremely well. Sometimes these can be directly work related and sometimes more indirect.
Here are examples of both.
- A Lost Horse
In a presentation about Business Communities, I told a story about my horse. As hard as you might find it to believe that a horse story could be relevant to business communities, it was. And I had positive response to it.
A few weeks ago, I lost my horse. Who loses a horse?!
I was riding with a group, but I was alone on a path when another rider galloped by.
My horse loves speed so off he went with them. I didn’t. I was on the ground.
And then he just disappeared. For hours and hours.
Everyone in the riding club looked for him. People stayed late into the evening walking through woods, calling his name. And I started getting messages on my phone from people I didn’t know were searching. Many of those messages came from people I didn’t know. One person and her daughter walked through woods until well after dark, shaking a bucket of feed. I hadn’t seen either of them in years.
A fellow-rider had posted the situation online, (on his phone in the woods! Technology is great.) on a Lost Pets site. And the Community rallied. In less than an hour, hundreds of people heard about the situation and went out to help. They cared. And they stepped up. That’s a Community. Whether you’re a community helping each other find a lost horse, or find a lead for your business.
I found Tuffy the next day, after 23 hours lost.
Because of help from our Community.
- A Found Weekend
One of my favourite presales consultants had come to our presales team from implementation consulting. She didn’t have any presentation experience; but, her background meant she brought a unique and powerful strength. She had a wealth of real-life stories about how our customers were successful with our product. I watched her in one of her very first presentations. A little while into the presentation, a member of the audience asked her a question about payroll, which she was involved with from her implementation days. She told a simple story that totally engaged the audience.
I just recently had the best phone call from a customer in the same situation you’re describing. When I’d started the implementation, she had worked several weekends in a row. When I asked her about that, she said, “That’s just this job. It’s ruining my home life.” In order to process payroll, she had to do hours and hours of repetitive, manual work. You know how that is. (Here the audience enthusiastically agreed.)
We implemented the software and I went back to my job with other clients. Just last week she called me and said, “I just had to call and say thank you. You gave me my weekends back!”
How’s that for a benefit statement?
Where to Find Stories
Your stories can come from almost anywhere.
The story I used to open this article came from a TV show; and they got it from an old parable. As you hear stories, or see events in everyday life, use them in relevant ways if they help make your point or clarify your presentation.
For the software world, I really like real-life implementation stories.
After the Presales Consultant in the payroll example told that story, everyone on the team learned it and used it where appropriate. The story doesn’t have to be exclusively yours. A great thing to do with a big presentation, is call in your extended team and get their stories. Get permission to use customer names and references to go with them if at all possible.
Here’s a very important point – these real-life stories have to actually be real. I’m not advocating making up ANYTHING. Parables, obvious fiction, metaphors – these aren’t real-life stories but they can be extremely valuable as the Walk in the Park was for me. But real life must be real.
When to Use Stories
Stories are useful throughout presentations:
At the beginning of a presentation, a story can set the scene for the audience and create a tone for your presentation. A story is more engrossing than, “Good morning. Our agenda today is.” That might be your second sentence, after a story has grabbed your audience’s attention.
Emphasize key points and strengths throughout your presentation with stories.
The Lost Horse Story was used well into a presentation, when the topic of Business Communities was the focus. The Found Weekend Story came up as a question made it relevant.
A story is often a powerful and neat way to sum up a presentation. It can be a close that brings everything together and prevents the problem of a presentation just drifting to an end. The Boy and His Son Story has been useful at the very beginning and at the very end of presentations.
How to Use Stories
All these stories should be planned. If the presenter has a plan that includes Payroll Efficiency as an example of her product’s benefits, then she should have planned to include that story to emphasize the real-life impact of the benefit. This can be done on many if not all key points. It is possible to tell too many stories in one presentation, though!
Practice. A LOT. Presenters who are not experienced using stories often tell them either too quickly or too slowly. Memorize your story. Reading a story seldom works as well as telling one.
Be Creative. Use stories that you might not think are about business. See the possibilities all around you.
Use Your Strengths. For example, if Humour is a strength, that’s a great type of story to use. If Empathy is a strength you can definitely find stories to fit it. In addition to Signature Strengths, consider the Found Weekend story. The presenter wasn’t an experienced presenter. But she had a strength that made her presentations powerful.
Use Other People’s Strengths. Like the little boy moving that log, call on others when needed. If you don’t have any stories, spend time talking to people who do. Research your topic and your audience. When you find a story that suits and enhances your presentation, use it. Even if you didn’t live it.
Remember Your Audience is made up of People. They have children, pets, weekends just like you do.
Be brave at the front of the room. Tell Them a Story.
See More Stories about Being Brave at the Front of the Room: