By Lisa Hester
Occasionally, a friend or family member who knows I work in public relations will come to me with a terrified look and say, “I’ve been asked to give a presentation for work…for 30 minutes! What do I say? And how will I ever fill that much time at the podium?”
The first thing I do is reassure them that 30 minutes is easy to fill. And I promise them that the time will go quickly…if they are armed with the right information and have practiced their presentation enough to be comfortable with the material they plan to cover.
While instructions on giving a presentation can in and of themselves easily fill a 30-minute explanation, I’d like to focus on one key ingredient. Storytelling. Storytelling is an effective way to make a point that you want to convey. When you see a presentation yourself, what do you remember when it’s over? And, what are you most likely to recount to others afterward? Likely some astonishing facts and figures, if provided, as well as stories used to bring the presenter’s points to life.
Storytelling can and should be employed to engage with your audience’s emotions, alter attitudes and behaviors and, in some cases, elicit change. If told well, stories should be filled with visuals, enough to put the listener right in the middle of a situation that perfectly illustrates a point the presenter is trying to make. The story may be true or fact-based and, when fitting, can include a personal experience you are comfortable in sharing.
Think about storytelling as if you were producing a movie. As the famed movie production studio Pixar puts it, storytelling is “visual language.” While telling almost any story involves words, characters and structure, making a film involves another aspect of storytelling that Pixar thinks a lot about…visual language. Visual language refers to how imagery is used to convey story ideas or meanings.
One advantage of putting storytelling into use is that the presenter can choose the story and its contents based on the audience’s level of experience with the material being presented. For those hearing about a particular subject for the first time, a basic story to help define a term or jargon of the industry can be developed. For those very experienced with the topic, an illustration of a very true-to-life situation may be a better alternative. Again, most importantly, storytelling should evoke feelings.
Nike provides an excellent example. Imagine hearing the story of how Nike founder Bill Bowerman went to his workshop one day after a brainstorming session and poured shoe rubber into the family waffle iron. That was the birth of the famous Nike waffle sole. Telling stories like that reflects “the spirit of innovation” at the shoe company and paints a very vivid picture in one’s mind.
So remember, before you step up to the podium, make sure you have at least one good, strong, very visual story to share…and be prepared and practiced.