Master Your Message Blog

Using Stories to Connect and Persuade

Kids having a story told by their grandfatherStories are THE most important elements of a speech or persuasive presentation. Stories are always about people and because of this, we connect with them.

Over 35 years in television, the most important thing I’ve learned is that people are compelling. As humans, we love to hear stories about other humans. Over the past decade certainly, animation and graphics have tended to take center stage in television and film. BUT (and this is a big one) we don’t connect with them. We connect with human drama.

Now I’m not suggesting that we incorporate overly dramatic stories in our business presentations. However, relating your hard facts to the affect they have on humans, or peppering your talk with short anecdotes that serve to illustrate what you’re talking about is extremely powerful.

One of the rather common techniques that politicians use (President Obama is a good example here) is to cite an example of a real person (by name) who has benefited from a recent policy and then go on to tell a short story as to what the situation was and it humanizes the talk. The example is usually one that the speaker knows relates to that audience. People relate to people like them who have similar trials and tribulations. Very powerful.

So what is a story? Let’s go to wikipedia, as it’s the most accessible source of information on the web. From wikipedia: Storytelling is the conveying of events in wordsimages and sounds often by improvisation or embellishment.

Notice the word “embellishment.” Stories are typically changed to leave out elements that don’t necessarily support your argument and events enhanced that do serve to make your point. So, the smallest of situations may serve to help you make your point. As presenters, we have to be aware of events that happen to use that can be used as “teaching moments” – to coin a phrase that’s being somewhat overused today.

Painting from cave man days

Stories can take many different forms in presentations and speeches. They can be short anecdotes, or longer stories woven into the fabric of a talk, with the climax near the end. The latter keeps the audience involved waiting to hear how it all turned out. These types of stories is the reason Hollywood exists.

We can find stories as far back as cave man days. They were all over the walls: Pictures. And that reinforces the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” A picture can be many things to many people. They’re stories in themselves. So, the use of pictures is your presentations is far more powerful than words.

We remember stories; we remember images. We don’t typically remember text.

If you want to engage your audience, keep them with you throughout your talk, incorporating pictures and stories is the way to do it.

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