Storytelling in presentations: how to captivate your audience

Who doesn’t love a great story?

There’s a reason so many people have fond childhood memories of storytime. Stories are an essential component of the human experience.

If you know how to tell a compelling story, you’re well on your way to becoming an influential leader and presenter. Storytelling enables you to attract your audience’s attention and build emotional connections. When your story is relatable, your core messaging will resonate.

Don’t doubt your storytelling skills. You probably already tell stories in your everyday life without even knowing it. It’s human nature to want to jump in and tell a story when taking part in a conversation. Now, you need to bring storytelling into your presentations and learn how to make them impactful.

This guide is a jumping-off point for your creativity. Read on to learn more about the storytelling techniques you can infuse into your next presentation. We provide a step-by-step breakdown of how to create a compelling and engaging presentation that converts.

Why storytelling matters

You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.” And while many people think of this as a cliche, it rings true in the context of the importance of storytelling.

When you tell a story, you share important information and context about how you, your product or your business got to where you are now. A well-crafted story gives the audience a chance to learn about your backstory. It helps create intrigue, suspense and emotional attachment, making your presentation more engaging and impactful.

You can quickly gain your audience’s trust and interest within the first few minutes of your talk. How? By using identifiable storytelling techniques and well-loved story templates to highlight your core message. Once you have established those hard-won feelings, transmitting your core message and leading your audience to your call to action becomes significantly easier.

At the end of the day, we all want something or someone to root for. So, if you play your cards right, your story-driven presentation can foster a strong emotional connection to yourself or your brand.

Why storytelling is a valuable tool for presenters

As a presenter, your goal is to share your message with your audience in a clear, engaging and memorable way.

While there’s no one way to guarantee these outcomes, including storytelling in your presentation is a tried-and-true method that connects with all types of audiences time and time again.

If you’re on the fence about adding a storytelling narrative to your next presentation, consider these common benefits:

Stories make your brand or business more relatable

Your business, brand or product isn’t a living, breathing thing, but that doesn’t mean people can’t relate to its value or purpose.

Humans are wired to care for and connect with each other. We naturally want to build relationships, learn about past struggles and triumphs and get a better understanding of backstory and context.

You can use storytelling as a powerful narrative tool to build a more humanized “persona” around your brand or product. Doing this correctly makes your pitch feel more relatable, authentic and impactful.

Here are some well-known stories that have created an impact:

  • Nike: Nike’s storytelling captivates by weaving narratives of triumph, resilience and self-discovery. Its “Just Do It” slogan resonates with consumers, celebrating athleticism and participation. Authentic voices and emotive visuals highlight individual journeys, fostering a sense of empowerment and unity within Nike’s diverse audience.
  • Starbucks: Starbucks crafts narratives around community, sustainability and the coffee experience, creating a sense of belonging and purpose. Their stories highlight the journey from bean to cup, emphasizing quality, ethical sourcing and cultural connections. They invite customers to feel comfortable and relaxed when they are in a branch, as though they are part of a wider global coffee community.
  • Airbnb: Airbnb’s storytelling revolves around the idea of belonging, adventure and cultural immersion. They celebrate travel’s transformative power through personal anecdotes and diverse perspectives. Showcasing unique stays and local experiences inspires connection and exploration, inviting customers to unlock the world’s hidden gems.

We’re not saying you need to make up human experiences for your brand, as this is often offputting and confusing. But, there’s a particular type of magic in using storytelling to create a compelling story of the work, effort and challenges your business has overcome to achieve its goals.

Stories improve knowledge-sharing

Did you know that humans are 22 times more likely to remember information when they hear it as a story?

Whether you’re trying to land a sale or raise awareness of an important issue, being able to share knowledge effectively is essential for audience buy-in.

Context (the background information that makes your cause important enough to care about) is king when it comes to incentivizing action. Making a point about your topic and backing it with a story can make it more compelling and memorable.

Creating a compelling narrative surrounding your core messaging opens up more opportunities to share information. It also raises the likelihood of your audience listening to, remembering and acting on the information you share.

You don’t just want to TELL the audience the story; you want to SHOW them the story, too. Don’t shy away from painting a picture for your audience.

Stories foster emotional attachment

Emotions play an important role in the decisions we make, and great presenters know how to pull on our emotional heartstrings, compelling us to act.

Playing to your audience’s emotions is a powerful presentation tool – especially if you’re encouraging them to invest their time, resources or money in your cause or product.

But just because you can elicit an emotional response in your audience doesn’t mean you have free reign to do it however you please. Great storytelling is emotionally charged, but it must be respectful to have the desired effect.

Some salespeople instill fear in their audience to get a reaction. This, unfortunately, is a common and unpleasant marketing technique. You’ll have seen “this is your last chance!” style marketing lines, which are designed to cause panic.

Instead of this approach, why not go with a bit of humor?

Lay’s chips recently released the latest edition of their “No Lay’s, No Game” campaign, an ad featuring two top ex-footballers, David Beckham and Thierry Henry. The ad’s story is that fans in the stands need to have a bag of Lays to be able to watch the match with the superstar ex-footballers and enjoy a VIP experience. This is an example of highlighting product power and generating hype. The ad was funny and charming all at once.

Connect with more meaningful and substantial feelings to avoid causing your audience stress. Meanwhile, build a stronger sense of community around your presentation and message. Achieving these tasks may sound challenging, but if you want to become a great presenter, this route is the best way to build brand loyalty and become a trusted voice in your niche.

Stories help you sell (without being aggressive)

No one likes a hard sell. Pushing your product and its benefits on your audience often comes across as desperate, intense and overwhelming.

Thankfully, you can encourage your audience to make a purchase without being ultra-assertive.

Use the power of a well-crafted narrative to gently (but deliberately) nudge your audience in the right direction. They will feel as though they are deciding on their own accord. Sharing your own positive experience with a service or product can be a subtle yet persuasive approach.

Persuasion and influence are two significant advantages of effective storytelling. They can help the buyer see themselves within the story and persuade them to get on board. By choosing to add a narrative line into your presentation that highlights the benefits of your core message, you can sell without selling directly – a win-win for everyone.

The best structure for storytelling in presentations

Every story is different, but many share narrative arches that help the audience know how to feel or react.

Using the right type of story to promote or sell your ideas is one of the best ways to leave a lasting impact on your audience. With this in mind, here are a few of our favorite presentation storytelling techniques and when to use them:

The hero’s journey – take your audience on a ride

The hero’s journey is possibly the best-known story template of all time. It provides a clear step-by-step path to creating an engaging and hopeful story that inspires emotional connection.

In a nutshell, the hero’s journey can be broken down into three primary acts:

  • Going on an adventure: the beginning of the hero’s journey story starts with the protagonist stepping out of their comfort zone and exploring something new. Sometimes, they may know why they are doing it, and other times, they may not.
  • Facing a crisis or challenge: at the climax of their journey, the hero will face a life-altering ordeal that challenges them to make decisions and change their behavior. Sometimes, they do this with help from friends or people they meet on their journey. Other times, they face the challenge alone.
  • Returning changed or transformed: the hero’s journey ends with them having learned information or changed their behavior to be a better or different version of themselves. In most cases, this change is for the better.
  • Within this simple framework, there’s plenty of room for nuance, twists and turns. But, at its core, stories that follow the hero’s journey formula help lead their audience to a particular conclusion, showcasing how following the same event arch can improve their lives or situations.

    Heroes like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars are an excellent example. At the beginning of the movie A New Hope, the arrival of the droids at Luke’s farm is the inciting incident. This sends Luke on a journey, leaving his comfort zone and going off on an adventure. Ultimately, he grows and becomes a hero.

    For new presenters looking to add a story to their pitch decks, this is the safest and most reliable structure to follow. We recommend mastering this type of storytelling in your presentations before you move on to other options. In most cases, other storytelling options are variations or subvertions of this original story outline.

    Other storytelling structures worth exploring

    Once you have mastered using the hero’s journey in your presentations, you can try out some less conventional storytelling structures to improve your audience’s experience:

    In media res – kick your presentation off with a bang

    If you want to break away from the common storytelling mold and keep your audience on their toes, using an in media res story structure is a great option.

    As a Latin phrase meaning “into the middle of things,” an in media res story starts in the middle of the action. The storyteller doesn’t kick things off by giving the audience the information they need to understand what’s happening.

    By dropping your audience into the action right away, you start your presentation with energy, intrigue and mystery. This will help improve engagement and encourage your audience to wonder about any withheld information.

    Authors and movies often kick things off this way, leaving you wanting more. Deadpool takes this storytelling genre and runs with it. You learn about the protagonist and his goals through a dynamic action scene.

    Moving away from Hollywood and thinking about a large-scale launch event as an example, using hyped-up dramatics and excitement to set the stage for what the presentation is actually about gets the crowd excited and invested in your talk early. This is great for improving engagement and infusing energy into your talk.

    Sparklines – instill hope and incentivize action

    The sparkline story structure can be a helpful way to emotionally connect with your audience if you’re in the motivational speaking or transformational coaching spaces.

    Originally created by graphic designer Nancy Duarte, sparkline stories involve highlighting reality contrasted by moments of what could be.

    This tool is common in inspirational speeches. Choosing to alternate between sharing facts about the current situation and adding vivid imagery about a hopeful, positive future helps naturally direct your audience towards action that leads to positive change. You can give the solution by the end of the presentation, and you’ll probably find that buy-in is easier as the audience will already be invested.

    Martin Luther King Jr did this beautifully with his “I Have a Dream” speech. He showed the crowd what was possible versus the reality they were living at the time. It is one of the best-known and admired speeches of our times.

    This storytelling technique allows the audience to understand, feel and connect with the future you are projecting, which can have powerful emotional resonance.

    The false start – disrupt audience expectations

    If you really want to take your presentation skills to the next level, consider using the false start story technique. It’s a great way to flip the script and keep your audience guessing what you will do next. This method disrupts a predictable story’s natural flow by dramatically changing the outcome or events part way through.

    As a classic technique used in emotionally compelling sales pitches, this “bait and switch” style of presentation encourages your audience to go back to the beginning and reassess their assumptions. This causes them to be more mindful and intentional about their feelings.

    Use storytelling to improve your next presentation

    Human beings want to connect and relate to each other. We share information, emotions, hopes and dreams through stories. Your best chance of becoming a better presenter and leader in your space is tapping into a compelling narrative.

    Use storytelling as a powerful tool to improve your presentation skills and win over any audience you face. It enables you to provide the necessary context, backstory, emotional impact and possible outcomes of getting involved in your core message.

    Ditch dull presentations and tell great stories. Tap into your inner storyteller and receive expert guidance to help you write compelling narratives that resonate with your audience with the help of the Pip Decks Storyteller Tactics Card Deck.

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