What is storytelling, and how can it improve your presentations?

People learn best through compelling stories. Stats are easy to understand, but they don’t encourage connection. Storytelling can transform your speaking and information-sharing style.

Crafting a relevant narrative and problem makes it easy to engage your audience. They’ll want to hear about the solution and what your character achieved with your help.

Want to know how to hone your storytelling skills? Let’s get into why storytelling matters and seven tips to get you started.

What is storytelling?

Storytelling is a dynamic, interactive way of sharing information. Before you can excel as a storyteller, you need to know what makes a story different.

Stories involve the five Cs: 

  • circumstance
  • curiosity
  • characters
  • conversations
  • conflicts 

Stories build a character- and problem-driven narrative. They have a key figure for audiences to relate to, problems that sound familiar, and a natural progression to resolution.

But storytelling isn't simply repeating a tale. Rather than reading a script, storytellers dramatize key moments, improvise details and tune in to audience engagement

Imagine you’re training new hires in finance. Your story might feature an accountant or focus on Zoom calls instead of office meetings if they work from home. 

Relevant details hold the audience's interest and emphasize the main takeaways in a memorable, engaging style.

Why is storytelling important?

For thousands of years, generations have shared and held onto knowledge through storytelling, whether they’re cooking, thinking or inventing. 

But why does storytelling matter now we’ve got endless cloud storage for recipes? 

Stories are more memorable

Whether you're presenting to shareholders, employees, customers, or trade organization members, you’re not just sharing knowledge. 

An engaging presentation ensures your audience understands, remembers and uses that information. If it’s boring or confusing, your audience won’t remember it.

Stories make knowledge practical

Stories provide actionable context. Sharing how a customer completed certifications in your learning management systems and saw 5% revenue growth can help your audience relate. They see themselves in the story and take the next step. 

But if you simply say learning resources are available, why would your audience use them? It doesn’t motivate or add any impact without the story.

Stories build rapport between the storyteller and the audience

Your connection with the audience matters as much as the information. 

Storytelling is a dynamic, interactive exercise where you work together to build a story. This deepens your connection and encourages future interactions. 

Your presentation also leaves the audience with helpful, memorable takeaways, which matters in a world oversaturated with forgettable information.

Elements of storytelling

Knowing the key elements of storytelling will help you strengthen your presentations. 

Start building these characteristics into your stories to create a lasting impact. Your presentations will improve, your audience will enjoy them, and you'll notice when other people use storytelling techniques.

1. Storytelling is interactive, not dull

If you make many presentations, it can be easy to just memorize information and talking points.

But a crucial part of storytelling is interacting with the audience, which might look like:

  • assessing audience reactions and engagement to reengage them, change details and expand on areas that resonate
  • explicitly involving the audience by asking for examples, details and predictions that become part of the story
  • encouraging the audience to call out and raise their hands
  • creating reactions or laughter by leaving pauses or responding to their feedback

As you gain experience, you’ll develop a collection of relevant stories for different questions, problems and scenarios. These narratives help you craft an immersive experience during demos and presentations.

2. Storytelling requires words

Words distinguish what is and isn't storytelling. While miming and interpretive dance convey information, we don’t typically see them as storytelling. 

Language is one of the most critical components of your story, whether you speak, read or sign.

3. Storytelling uses vocalization and movement

Your dynamic gestures, tone and expression make a difference when you tell a story. 

Your expressions and body language can help you involve an audience or respond to their additions while finishing a sentence. 

Your gestures tell your story and underscore the punchline. Without movement, storytelling can bore an audience.

4. Storytelling presents a story

An interactive, dynamic conversation is a great presentation technique—but it's not storytelling. 

Storytelling revolves around a character- and problem-based narrative, has dramatic tension and keeps your audience engaged.

5. Storytelling encourages active imagination

Storytelling helps the audience visualize the character and obstacles. Your audience may think about what they’d do in your story or see a new perspective on their problem. They may also enjoy your story and keep thinking about it. 

7 tips on becoming a better storyteller

Looking for quick ways to improve your storytelling or add it to your presentations? Here are seven effective tactics:

1. Know your target audience

Knowing your listeners' backgrounds, problems or motivations allows you to craft your story to include those elements and make it relevant.

2. Choose your story's goal 

What is your story’s key takeaway? Keep that one main message clear throughout. 

If you're presenting a sales demo, do you want listeners to buy your product? Or do you want them to realize you can solve their marketing problem? 

If you're training employees, do you want them to know how to complete a task or understand a certain process? Try to focus on one key point per story.

3. Choose the right time and place

Good presentations are full of stories, but not every moment needs a tale. 

Decide where storytelling is the most powerful. Breaking down a complex concept, emphasizing an important process or making yourself more relatable are great areas for stories.

Sometimes, your audience will have simple questions or need clear instructions. They don’t need a story here. 

4. Use a hook to start your story

Hooks grab your audience's attention and raise their curiosity. It might be a sudden action, emotional situation or trending topic. 

Good hooks surprise the audience and make them pay attention immediately. They keep your presentation’s structure clear and easy to follow.

5. Tell your stories

Stories work best when they're personal, so use real-life examples. They’re more authentic and easier to remember since it’s your experience. 

In professional contexts, this can include your organization, as coworkers, customers and partners are part of your organization's storytelling style. 

6. Talk with your body language

We mentioned the importance of gestures, reactions and movement to engage your audience. Your body language is key to keeping them interested.

Are you smiling and appearing confident? Do you respond positively to audience reactions, or do you seem anxious? 

These elements will play a huge role in how successful your storytelling is. Confidence and enthusiasm are much more engaging than someone who clearly doesn’t want to be there.

7. Ask for feedback

Finally, the best stories improve with practice. If you’re starting out, tell your first story in front of an audience. Focus on using the right body language and tone to appear natural, not overrehearsed. 

If you can, rehearse with an audience that understands your subject and public speaking. They’ll be able to give you constructive feedback and help you improve your skills. 

Ready to try storytelling?

Storytelling transforms how you and your audience work together. 

You can humanize technical, boring details in an onboarding presentation or tell prospective customers a success story during a sales call. 

Start crafting stories that fit your audience's needs, and continuously refine your storytelling technique. Ask for feedback, learn more about storytelling and gather strategic resources for creating impactful stories. 

With resources on story arcs, presentation tips, and storytelling strategies from Pip Decks, you'll quickly become an avid storyteller in front of any audience.

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