Storytelling? In Business Presentations? Yes!
by Kelly Vandever
“How do you tell a story in a business presentation?”
The question came from a colleague who thought of business presentations as being just about the facts. But more and more, business leaders are seeing the benefits of going beyond the facts to the story behind the facts — and the story of the facts.
So if you want to be a more effective business presenter, consider how to add storytelling to your repertoire. How? So glad you asked!
3 Common Ways to Use Storytelling in Business Presentations
1. The Story the Data Tells Us
The value in data comes not from just having the data – it’s from what the data tells us about what’s going on in the business.
Let’s say the leaders of a not-for-profit organization notice that the organization has been loosing money the past three years. The organization has had substantial reserves that have carried them through the last three years. But obviously, they can’t continue on this path.
This pattern of continued loss caused the leaders of this organization to ask, what happened in the last 3 years that impacted us and caused us to start loosing money.
They discovered that the primary differential was that one of their programs had been eliminated and that program accounted for what had kept the organization even. So now they need to find ways to bridge the gap, decide if they can bring back that program and what other things they need to do to turn around the financial situation of the organization.
The data is the 3 years of losing money. The story is the other details that surround what’s happening, why it’s happening and what we can do about it.
2. What Is Now – What Could Be
This type of story would be used to create a vision and motivate others to toward a better state.
This “story” starts with your current state of affairs – and the assumption here is that it isn’t good. Then we tell the story of what life could be like if the listener follows our recommendation.
For example, the current state is that your gross profits are 10% less than other business units of your size. (what is)
We have a way to help you.
If you do X to lower your cost, do Y to eliminate an unnecessary step in your process and Z to reduce your rework cost, then your gross profits will be up by 15%. (what could be)
3. Using the “Hero’s Journey” as a Framework to Tell a Story to Make a Point*
The hero (our protagonist) has a quest or a goal that he’s after.
The hero encounters obstacles that get in the way of reaching his goal.
The hero finds a way to resolve those obstacles.
The hero learns some new wisdom as a result of his journey.
That new wisdom can be translated into a universal truth that the rest of us can learn from too – even though we haven’t been through that exact situation.
For example: Daniel was trying to do a good job while assigned to two different projects. (Quest-to do good work)
But his manager gave him feedback that his two project leads didn’t think he was working hard. (Obstacles) Beth, the project lead on his first project, went looking for him at his cube and couldn’t find him… he wasn’t in his cube or in a near by cube… he wasn’t in the break room. She complained to the other project lead and to Daniel’s manager that Daniel wasn’t reliable. When confronted by his manager about the complaint and Beth not being able to find him, Daniel knew right where he was — he was in a conference room with the leader of the other project he was assigned to. Daniel could sense that his name was being sullied so he made a decision.
(Resolution) Daniel started sending a status report each week to his two project leaders — even though status reports weren’t required. He sent both project leaders an email each Friday detailing the work he’d completed that week and what he planned to work on next week. He also copied his manager on the email for good measure. The next time he saw his manager, his manager thanked him for turning himself around.
(New wisdom) It wasn’t that Daniel turned himself around. Daniel was doing the same good work he’d always been doing. But he found a new tool – a status report – that could help him better represent himself.
(Universal truth) That’s basically what we do during presentations skills training. Class participants are still going to be doing the same great work they’ve always been doing. But we provide them with tools that will help them represent themselves better when they present their results.
*With special thanks to Max Dixon who taught me this concept.
Those are common ways I see storytelling used in business. What stories have you to tell?
We’d love to hear them in the comments below!
Kelly Vandever is a leadership and communications expert who helps leaders and organizations thrive in today’s attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook world. Connect with Kelly and discover how opening up and speaking practically can bring you better business results.
Contact Kelly by phone at 770-597-1108, email her or tweet her @KellyVandever.