Whether you are delivering a presentation to an in-person or virtual audience, there will be some anxious anticipation, especially if you are new to public speaking.
Let’s take a hypothetical meeting. Several speakers are lined up, and you’re fifth on the agenda. It’s just about to begin.
Take a moment, settle in, and remind yourself about the beginning of your presentation – the story.
Why start with a story?
As human beings, we are innately interested in each other – if you start your presentation with a spate of facts, you will quickly lose your audience – however, if you begin with a story that makes a connection between you and the attendees, you will grab their interest right off the bat.
As a speaker and Relationship Manager at Bucom International, a meeting and events service agency, I have learned that you only have a few seconds to get the audience on your side – and that means connecting right away.
Public speaking expert and author Kindra Hall explains how to do that in her Inc. article, How to Nail the First 30 seconds of Your Presentation.
Your opening story should be entertaining, intriguing, and in the end, enlightening. An engaged audience will pay attention to understand the obstacles and opportunities and the consequences of the actions taken.
If you’re not sure about the power of a story, spend a few minutes online watching TED speakers who have honed their stories to a fine point.
For about 18 minutes, viewers are fully engaged and patiently listen to details that are mixed in with a truly fascinating, enlightening tale.
So, what do you need to tell a good story?
Communication expert and professional speaker Nancy Duarte offers great advice in her TED Talk, The Secret Structure of Great Talks, and why human connections help to tell our stories with more impact.
Consider the four key elements when crafting your opening story, according to the four Cs:
Who will be your “hero”? Will it be a coworker, a client, a family member? It should be someone relatable who attendees can identify with. It can even be you.
Next, give some basic background information on the setting and the hero to set up your story – the audience will likely be more empathetic when they relate to the hero.
Set up the challenge your hero is faced with: What is the dilemma? Is it serious? Is it Frustrating? Give basic details to set the mood: what are the consequences of the conflict? Think in emotional terms: sadness, happiness, embarrassment, validation?
Tap into these emotions to create a subtle tension to the outcome. Tell what success and failure might look like – and help your audience to visualize it.
Explain what happens. How was the hero able to make the necessary changes in time for the desired outcome or were there more forces involved that resulted in a missed opportunity?
Share the consequences of failure – lessons can be learned just as much from failing as succeeding.
What was the outcome? How was the hero able to resolve the conflict and move on? Or was there a silver lining to the outcome? – what was learned? – we all ultimately want a meaningful ending, especially if it is a story that involves someone we care about.
Don’t forget theme and story type
The theme of your story should depend on your overall presentation. For instance, if the story is about delivering annual results, you may want to tell a story about work ethic.
If it’s detailing a new product during a product launch meeting, you may want to describe the positive impact the product has made on an individual.
Also consider what kind of story you want to tell. True stories work best. Do your research to know the details of your presentation, facts are important.
Think of experiences that reinforce the overall theme of the meeting program and the company’s objectives.
Also, reach out for help if needed – there are many online resources for storytelling – check out Medium’s 9 Places to Learn Public Speaking Skills for Free and Jay Acunzo’s How to Become a Great Virtual Speaker.
How to handle story delivery
Back at today’s meeting … as the fourth speaker wraps up, your nerves begin to get the better of you.
Remember, this is a good thing because it means you care and want to do well. You take a deep breath and understand that it’s only natural to feel some anxiety right before speaking.
You begin your presentation with a story. You pause at key moments to stress a point, keeping the story conversational as if you are talking one-on-one to an attendee. Soon you feel the power of the story: your audience is actively listening, hanging on every word, invested in the outcome.
You have rehearsed the story many times, making it easy to launch into the rest of your presentation. In the final minutes, you remind the audience of your story and its outcome and why it relates to the theme of your presentation and the company’s initiatives. Don’t be surprised if your story is the most memorable feature of your presentation.
You connected with your audience – you kept them engaged and enlightened throughout your presentation – and it started with – a story.
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