How business leaders can master the art of storytelling in their presentations

We all tell stories.

You've probably already told them today to your family, friends, colleagues or team members.

And storytelling has become a buzzword - you'll often see it in management and leadership quotes.

It is particularly true when it comes to business leaders and CEOs and presentations.

But not all leadership stories are created equally.

So, as a business leader, how can you master the art of storytelling for your next presentation?

 

Business leadership, presentations and storytelling

Storytelling is nothing new. Humans have always told them.

It is the oldest communication strategy.

And it is a crucial part of leadership public speaking success.

Why?

Because storytelling helps create credibility and rapport - it enables speakers to find common ground with their audience.

It captures attention, entertains and keeps people engaged.

It also evokes emotions - vital for persuading and influencing.

And stories are memorable. Your audience might struggle to remember facts and figures. But a story can stay with people and affect what they think.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, who banned PowerPoint slides from meetings, once said: "You can have the best technology, you can have the best business model, but if the storytelling isn't amazing, it won't matter. Nobody will watch."

Think about the last business presentation you attended.

Is it the PowerPoint presentation or Google slides on business strategy that sticks with you? The bullet points on a slide about company structure, organisation vision, and new ideas to boost sales? The fancy graphics?

Or was it the storytelling?

There's a quote from Maya Angelou we often use during our presentation skills and leadership communication training.

She said: "I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

What makes a great story for business leader presentations?

Storytelling is increasingly viewed as one of the most crucial leadership skills and a way for companies to improve all communication.

But let's focus on leadership and management presentations for this blog.

How do you create a compelling story? And how do you develop your storytelling ability?

 

Relevant

Ensure your story is relevant to your audience, message and organisation.

Consider what they already know, what they care about and what you want them to learn.

If it is not relevant and people can't relate to it, they will lose focus and motivation.

It is also crucial to get the balance right. Your story should reinforce what you want to get across. It should not be the focus of the presentation.

 

Unusual

Don't tell people a story they already know. Or that feels unremarkable.

People want to hear fresh ideas and insights. They want to hear something unusual, unique or unexpected.

What would surprise or shock your audience?

 

Conflict

People love conflict, trouble and drama.

Tell them about a problem and how you took control and found a solution.

 

Be brief

There are no set rules about length.

You need to go into some detail to gain interest and ensure the story connects to your message.

But your presentation is not the place for a rambling tale - remember, the story should support your presentation.

If it is hard to follow, people switch off.

Use your common sense – most of us can recall sitting through speeches at weddings, for example, where we thought a story might never end.

 

Conversation

Keep it conversational. Even if you are talking to your workforce about a new process, ditch the jargon, corporate language, and management speak.

A tip we often use during our presentation skills training is to stick to language you would use if you were talking to a friend or family member in a pub or café.

In that situation, would you use loads of data and corporate language?

 

Don't use the 's' word

No, not that one. Story.

Sound weird in a blog about leadership storytelling?

Trust the process.

As soon as you say, 'I've got a great story I want to share with you', it feels scripted and unnatural.

It is not how we introduce them in everyday conversation. So, why here?

Instead, get straight into the story.

 

Practice

Your presentation is not the place to tell your story for the first time.

Present it to friends or family first.

What do they think about it? Too long? Too short?

What message did they take from it?

 

Let's get personal

These are all crucial tips and strategies.

But the most important one is storytelling should be human.

People want to hear about other people, not corporate strategy, management vision or process.

And it is personal ones which stimulate emotions in the audience, persuade them of your point and allow them to see your human side

That might feel intimidating.

But during our training courses, we notice those who choose to bring personal tales to the stage are the ones who we see most grow in confidence.

So, share your experiences when presenting.

 

Where do you find these stories?

Finding and creating the right story to influence, persuade and motivate your audience can feel challenging.

Sometimes you may need to dig to find the right nuggets.

But stories also happen as we go about our lives. So, consciously look for them and be disciplined about collecting them.

Then your story bank will build, and you’ll just need to choose the right ones to support your message in your next company presentation. Encourage your team to do the same.

When considering storytelling, don't overlook the importance of failure.

Leaders and managers are often reluctant to admit mistakes - particularly those who rely on an autocratic leadership style - preferring to focus on success. Others feel it is oversharing.

But everyone makes mistakes.

And a good leader should be comfortable showing vulnerability.

It helps business leaders seem more human, builds trust with the audience, and can help build a better relationship with employees and customers.

This can feel awkward. So, practice with a few friends or colleagues before taking them to a larger audience.

 

Does storytelling work in all business leadership presentations?

Business leaders present a lot and will need to give different types of presentations.

They might be on stage promoting new products or services to customers.

They could be presenting a new vision or process to a group of employees or senior management in a meeting. Perhaps the entire workforce.

They may be reporting progress on a new initiative. Or teaching something new through a webinar.

Whatever the format, storytelling is crucial.

During the past few years, we've all seen an increase in remote business meetings and events.

It can be harder for a leader to engage the audience and maintain attention through a screen because there are so many distractions.

So, storytelling can be even more vital in this situation than it is with in-person events.

 

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What other presentation skills do business leaders need?

There's lots of advice and strategies we can include for leaders on delivering presentations and overcoming challenges. And you can find plenty more information about public speaking skills for business leaders and managers in this blog.

But here's a quick guide to presentation success:

Prepare

Don't overlook preparation. Bullet points, mind maps and message preparation sheets are useful resources, which can help you plan effectively.

Consider your audience and what you want them to take away.

 

But don't overdo it

If you overprepare, you will deliver a robotic, scripted performance - and that won't engage your audience or inspire confidence in your leadership.

 

Nail the first impression

Even those in management roles could have as little as 30 seconds to make the right first impression. That's harsh.

Make sure you look the part. And avoid things like starting by tapping the microphone and asking whether people at the back can hear or opening with a phrase like, “I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare”. It is boring.

Consider starting with a story instead.

 

PowerPoint presentation?

Not every presentation needs slides. Only use them if your audience will gain something from them.

And, if you do use slides, don't read them aloud - people will switch off.

 

Questions

How will you manage audience questions? Research likely questions and plan how you will respond.

Another good strategy is to avoid leaving questions until the end. Why risk ending with an obscure question?

Control the ending and make sure you finish with a bang.

 

Need some help?

Does your business leadership and management team need some help with their storytelling and presentation skills?

Speak to us about your training needs.

 

Media First are leading media and communication skills training specialists with more than 35 years of experience.

We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications and leadership coaches, and media trainers. 

Discover more about our presentation skills training.

 

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