Do you know why some stories are compelling and some aren’t?
The “why” we are attracted to some stories depends on many factors. Today, we roam through so much content on a daily basis, jumping from one meeting to another while exploring the vast lands of the online world. This makes most of us linger in the middle between being overwhelmed with lots of data and information and having little time to read a full article, process it and share it. The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is how can we create content that will be captivating, easy to understand, and meaningful?
I have read and done many business presentations. Yet, I learn new things about storytelling every time I need to tackle a new project. I’m deeply passionate about data and storytelling: capturing people’s attention and making sure they remember the most important elements is a fun skill once you know how to do it right.
So, how can you do it right? In this article, I’ll share some guidelines that I learned over the years that helped me improve and polish my storytelling expertise. However, before disclosing my “secrets”, I’d like to emphasize three things:
- When talking about storytelling, I refer to conveying business insights to an audience, meaning how to approach storytelling in a business context. Don’t ask me to tell you a joke or talk about my holiday in a very appealing way. Though there are definitely parallels between personal and business storytelling, they aren’t the same thing.
- There is only one objective of storytelling in a business context: you want your audience to remember the key insights, ideally 3 to 4 elements. If these are not clear for you or presented in a confusing way, they will also be confusing for your audience.
- Good storytelling and choosing the right narrative have become increasingly important as we transitioned from in-person to online meetings and presentations. Capturing an audience behind a laptop is even more challenging!
Ready to mesmerize your audience? Here is how to tie a bowline knot with storytelling!
1. Know your audience
It’s such a marketing cliché, but your audience is the best starting point. You must know who you are telling stories to. In the consulting world, we are telling a story in order to achieve a certain goal. That goal could be to define a pricing strategy or a customer targeting approach. In order to answer the client’s needs, first, you have to know who is listening to that story.
To understand your audience better, ask yourself the following questions:
- What does my audience need?
- What are their burning questions?
- Why should they care?
- How in-depth do they want to go?
- What is their attention span?
2. Keep it simple, keep it short
This is by far the most difficult tip to execute!
After 25 years of presenting to various audiences, I’m still struggling to follow the KISS principle (Keep it simple, stupid). Usually, there are so many interesting things and you’d love to share ALL of them with your audience. At boobook, considering we need to delve into many numbers, we also get all kinds of useful insights. This is where you need to be more like a ruthless editor – cut the unnecessary and focus only on main takeaways. So again, start from the most burning questions, and think twice before you share everything you find interesting. Your client might not find it equally interesting.
Simplicity refers not only to what is presented but also to how. Slides created in PowerPoint (or in any other similar tools) slides are a great assistant to prepare your presentation. If done correctly, your storytelling will be more engaging through the combination of visuals and words. This can help the audience to remember the key elements. If you are wondering what I mean with “correctly”, it’s where simplicity does come in again.
Clients sometimes ask us to include fancy charts or infographics. Even though I like these elements from a design perspective, if they take more than 30 seconds to understand or explain then they are rather pretty and complex than informative and simple.
3. Be bold
This point is closely linked to critical questions to which your audience is looking for an answer. In our industry, we often use terms such as summaries, conclusions, insights and recommendations. There are definitions for each term and when to use what, but at the end of the day, what a client wants is to have clear guidelines on what to do next – regardless of how you want to label it.
I believe it matters less if something is written as a conclusion, insight or recommendation, as long as your audience gets actionable points they can start applying immediately. That final input needs to hit the core, and making bold statements of what are the next steps is a good way to do it.
4. “Translate” complex concepts
“What does this mean for you?” is a question I use a lot when I try to see from the perspective of a client. While every presenter knows his or her topic insight out, as well as the materials he/she presents, the audience might not understand it immediately. Talk in short, direct sentences. Yes, even if you are convinced your audience is full of smart people. Getting lost during a presentation happens easily, and if that happens you risk losing your audience interest and engagement.
5. Repeat and connect
Last but not least – my favourite tip I use all the time. A good story is built on a good flow and good flow means that you continuously build further on what you told or presented previously, meaning: continuously connect the dots. This helps to gradually build up the story, enhance the dynamics in it as well as reinforce the information shared so far.
These tips barely scratched the surface of the science behind storytelling. To keep consistent and follow the tips mentioned, I will leave you with only a few recommendations. However, if you are hungry for more advice and you want to upgrade your storytelling skills, feel free to reach out and book a coaching session in storytelling with me!