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The Art of Business Storytelling: 11 Tips to Keep Your Audience Engaged

Categories: Business Storytelling

You’ve probably told many stories in your life. It’s a natural part of human conversation: “Hey, listen to what happened to me today!”

Last week I wrote a blog about why stories are so powerful in a business presentation (and many other forms of communication!) Here are some pointers about effective storytelling that you need to know. Ask any best-selling novelist and he or she will likely tell you that the best novels have a specific structure, and the best stories also do.

Luckily, this structure is innate in how we communicate. It’s the way we naturally tell a story.

If, however, you are trying to make a point or get a certain message across by using a story in your business presentation, being consciously aware of this structure will help. It will keep you from rambling, from wandering off on a tangent, from including things that dull down the power of the story, and from losing your audience’s attention.

The six components behind a story’s structure are simple:

       1. Introduction (set the scene)
       2. Inciting Incident (what set the action of your story in motion?)
       3. Rising Action (how the action built)
       4. Climax (what the action led to)
       5. Falling Action (describe what happened as a result of the climax)
       6. Resolution/Dénouement (resolve the action, explain, where were characters left?)

Your stories should not be random. They should have a specific point you are trying to get across.

Perhaps you are telling a story that relates to an action you want your audience members to take or a decision you wish them to reach. Perhaps you are telling the story as a way to create a bond with your audience. Storytelling is used for all these things in business presentations.

Here are five strategies for telling a riveting story:

  1. Use colorful, descriptive words that paint a picture of the scene in the listener’s mind.
  2. Give some telling descriptions of the characters involved (“…never seen without his charcoal grey fedora”).
  3. Use active tense language and put the characters in action (“I teetered for a horrifying moment, then I slid down the embankment and knocked my company’s CEO into a mud puddle”).
  4. Let us know what kind of emotions the characters exhibited (“He was so mad, he was spitting like a cobra”).
  5. Help us hear the exchange between the characters. (“I hope you don’t think you’re still getting that promotion? You’ll be lucky to keep your job at all.”)

Other pointers include: Tell the story with relish, with enthusiasm, with heart. Consider using different voices for different characters, using relevant gestures, and moving about the stage as you speak. Tell the story in the mirror to find just the right level of gesture and animation.

Remember, you liked the story enough to choose it to share -- so, let us hear that in your voice. However, don’t forget that your story should have a point that clearly relates to your presentation.

When you put together the details of the story, when you rehearse it, keep asking yourself if your story is making your point. If your point is merely to entertain, create rapport, or break the ice, keep it short. Get the laugh, make the bond, and get to your points.

You are not learning to be a performer; you are learning how to integrate the power of a good story well-told into your presentation for a specific effect.

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