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Part Two in a series devoted to presentation skills. Read the previous post on teaching presentation skills here.
I am a devoted fan of National Public Radio and suspect many who are reading this post also find their news stories both informative and memorable. Nina Totenberg, who covers the Supreme Court, is a particular favorite of mine. Each time she reports on a particular case, she begins with a detailed description of the facts—the story behind the case. Totenberg then describes the court, lawyer presentations, questions and arguments pro and con, the ruling of the Court and its larger impact. Using the initial story for context, she helps us better understand the ruling in a larger perspective.
The rest of us would be wise to imitate Ms. Totenberg when drafting our own presentations. Whether making a keynote address to an industry group, serving on a panel with others or presenting a significant case or ruling to practice group colleagues, our presentations will be better received when they are wrapped in a detail-rich story.
Stories can add much to any presentation:
- Stories can provide a natural structure to any presentation. A single story can serve as the “bookends” of a presentation, integrating introductory remarks with the conclusion. They can serve as the launching pad for discussion of a broader topic as well as “home base,” the place where the audience completes the presentation journey with the speaker.
It is common for a U.S. President, when delivering the State of the Union address, to include individual stories to highlight select themes and proposals. The individuals are often seated in the audience and recognized during the address.
- Stories help speakers connect with their audience in an emotional and personal manner.
Garrison Keeler, who has served as host on the weekly radio program “A Prairie Home Companion” since the early 1970s (also on NPR), is well-known for stories about his fictitious hometown Lake Wobegon. Brimming with fresh content each week, the structure of Keeler’s stories has remained predictably consistent through the years. His stories begin with a small number of different people doing ordinary (or sometimes extraordinary) things. Then, by introducing additional facts and context, the individuals and their stories are carefully woven together in (or into) a common theme.
- Stories help audience members learn and remember important messages more easily.
Each of us develops a personal learning style or preference. Many of us learn visually, for example, while others are more comfortable with auditory or kinesthetic styles. Good presentations can accommodate all of these styles through effective storytelling—mixing visual images with auditory and tactile descriptions.
Good stories are an important part, but only a part, of any powerful presentation. They connect speaker and audience in ways that “facts and figures” fail to do. Good stories help our audience remain interested and engaged while enhancing understanding and key messages. Isn’t that the point? Nina Totenberg would agree, I’m sure.